Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in August

People enjoying al fresco eating in the summer

With so many of us enjoying staycations in the UK this year, it provides the perfect opportunity for us to fully enjoy all the glorious foods currently in season right here.

Everything tastes better when we eat foods at the time of year nature intended.  In fact, foods tend to come into season at exactly the right time for our bodies to gain the most benefits from their nutrients when we need them.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives us a taste of what’s on offer this season.

Runner beans

With so many people now enjoying ‘growing their own’ in allotments or gardens, runner beans are a great ‘go-to’ vegetable.  After the initial work involved of creating a support network for the growing beans, the results are well worth the effort.

A bunch of runner beans on a wooden background

Runner beans are closely related to other beans, referred to as legumes, including black and pinto, but contain less calories.  And whilst they all contain some of the same nutrients, the greenness of runner beans means their chlorophyll content is high.  Chlorophyll is often referred to as the ‘blood of life’ because it helps to naturally cleanse the blood but also provides a range of vitamins and minerals.

Runner beans also deliver a good source of vitamin C and bone and heart-loving vitamin K.  However, their overall strong nutrient content can be easily diminished from over cooking, therefore lightly steaming is always best and will retain their crispness.

Globe artichokes

Whilst not always the quickest of vegetables to prepare, artichokes deliver some wonderful and unique health benefits, so patience will be rewarded.  Globe artichokes need the tough outer leaves removed, together with the inedible fibrous ‘choke’ in the middle, revealing the edible heart. The active compound in artichokes is called cynarin which is great at detoxifying the liver.  Research also suggests they are supportive of heart health, helping reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Close up of artichokes

Importantly, artichokes help replenish the friendly gut bacteria that is so essential for good overall health.  They need around 30 minutes of gentle boiling until softened and when cooled are great simply served with vinaigrette and lemon juice. Alternatively, they’re delicious grilled when cut in half lengthways.

Mackerel

Mackerel is often referred to as a very ‘fishy’ fish because it has a strong flavour. Mackerel is a fantastic source of the super-healthy omega-3 fats.  The body can’t make omega-3s, so they must be eaten regularly in the diet, and we know that as a nation we are incredibly deficient. Omega-3s are needed for a healthy heart, brain, eyes, hormones, and joints so they’re pretty important!  It is recommended that we eat at least two portions of oily fish per week to get what the body needs.

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

Mackerel is often sourced in UK waters or from the North Atlantic or Mediterranean.  It’s strong flavour, and oily texture, means it can be simply served with lemon and herbs or with a fresh salad that includes sweet tomatoes.

Plaice

Whilst plaice is available throughout the year, it is generally much fleshier and tastier at this time of year.  As with all white fish, plaice is a great source of low-fat protein and is great for easy everyday meals grilled with other flavours.  Indeed, since it has a subtle taste, it works well with stronger flavours of olives, tomatoes, spring onions, rosemary, and chives.

Thai fish dish

Plaice is also a good source of the mineral iodine which is often deficient in women and is essential for the growth of babies and children as well as being well utilised for cognitive function.  Plaice certainly provides a low-cost, easy, and nutritious food option this season.

Plums

The season for plums is short so they need to be grabbed and enjoyed whilst they’re around.  There are over 300 varieties of plum available, but it’s always good to choose the sweetest ones to avoid having to add too much additional sugar to a dish.

A bowl full of plums

Their beautiful orange flesh signals plenty of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed by the body. Plus, they’re rich in vitamin C and also tryptophan from which our body makes our happy hormone ‘serotonin’ – that’s something to smile about for sure! Even better, plums work really well in sweet or savoury dishes; try them in a crumble, with chicken, or simply poached with cinnamon and honey.

Many people perhaps don’t realise that prunes are dried plums, and both are therefore rich in essential fibre.

So, why not visit some local markets or farm shops this August and be sure to enjoy the season whilst it’s here!

Stay well.

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Back to basics: everyday nutrition tips

shutterstock_335465993 nutrition words Mar21

The whole topic of nutrition has been highly glamorised in recent years, partly down to social media.  Whilst this is great in many ways because good nutrition is the cornerstone of wellness, it has left many people confused about what is right and what is wrong.

When it comes to a balanced diet there are a few simple rules which we can all follow to ensure we are getting the optimum nutrition we need.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes us back to the basics of daily nutrition.

What are macros?

As the name suggests, they are big, and in this case refer to the groups of food that we eat most of.  Essentially, there are three macronutrients: proteins,  carbohydrates and fats. Some people also talk about fibre as being another macro such is its important in overall health, although technically fibre is a carbohydrate.

Protein – essential building blocks for life

All macros form an essential part of the daily diet, so any restrictive diet is going to lead to nutrient deficiencies somewhere along the line.  Protein is literally the building block of life. It is essential for every bone and muscle in the body, as well as producing hormones, neurotransmitters and supporting the immune system.

A range of foods containing protein

There are nine essential amino acids that must be eaten in the diet (there are other amino acids that are essential, but these can be produced in the body). These nine amino acids are found primarily in animal produce including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy and plant sources quinoa, buckwheat, and soybeans.  If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you should combine grains and pulses to get sufficient amino acids, although this does not need to be in the same meal.

Carbohydrates – energy and nutrient providers

Carbohydrates, including fibre, provide an essential energy source for our muscles and brain.  Indeed, the brain requires around 30% of all carbohydrate the body intakes. Carbs are not all created equally in that slow releasing ones (essentially whole foods and fruits and vegetables) provide sustainable energy throughout the day. Conversely, fast release carbs primarily found in processed and refined foods give an energy boost then an energy crash due to their adverse effect on blood sugar.

Foods,Highest,In,Carbohydrates.,Healthy,Diet,Eating,Concept.

Carbs are often maligned but this food group contains some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and are loaded with antioxidants, so the body is missing out if they are not being consumed.

Fat – protecting and sustaining

Another maligned food group is fat.  However, fat provides the second energy source for the body, and it is essential for absorbing our fat-soluble vitamins vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

There is often confusion around good and ‘bad’ fats.  Essentially, good fats are the omegas 3 and 6 which must be eaten in the diet as the body cannot make them.  The omega 3s are crucial for hormones, joints, the heart, brain and eyes. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends in this respect.

shutterstock_196052645 avocadoes Oct15

Monounsaturated fat found in avocados and olive oil is great for the heart and should be included in the diet.  However, try to avoid the damaged fats; the trans fats found in margarines and refined foods.  The body cannot deal with these and trans fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, so try to be aware of not overeating the foods that contain them.

Fruits and vegetables – overflowing with goodness

As nutritionists we talk endlessly about getting sufficient fruits and vegetables into the diet.  Why? Because quite simply they are loaded with nutrients, especially the trace minerals that are so often deficient in the typical western diet.  It is all about colour and variety and not over thinking it.  Try to have plenty of colour on your plate at every mealtime.

A range of fruits and vegetables

There’s also confusion as to whether juicing is good or bad.  Juices are a great way of getting more nutrients into the body.  You might lose the fibre content, but juices are still loaded with nutrients.  Try to include more vegetables than fruits in your juices or blends to keep fructose (a fruit sugar) content to a minimum.

Water – pure and simple

We talk about the body being around 80% water.  Of course, this is not pure water because it is made up of solutes and everything within cellular tissue.  However, the body still needs plenty of plain water to keep it sufficiently hydrated.  It will quickly complain if dehydrated and you’ll feel low in energy, suffer brain fog, plus constipation may be problematic.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Our water needs vary depending on activity levels.  However, as a general rule, if you are having around 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily you will be doing ok, plus fruits and vegetables can count towards this target since they’re high in water.

The body’s needs are relatively simple so there is no need to overcomplicate diets; just try and stick to the basics for well-balanced nutrition.

Stay well.

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How to pack a healthy picnic

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

It’s a National Picnic Week which means it’s a great time to celebrate everything we love about picnics as well as spending time outdoors in green spaces.

There’s always a great temptation to pack too many ‘treats’ into the picnic basket but there are some great ways to get nutrition without missing out on flavours.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy picnic swaps, but which don’t swap out the taste!

Swap white for brown

This includes using brown bread or wraps rather than white if you’re packing sandwiches, but also wholemeal pasta rather than white. White bread and pasta have been refined, meaning much of the healthy fibre, essential for good digestion,  been stripped away. So too have many of the nutrients, especially energising B-vitamins and essential minerals such as chromium.

Sandwich,With,Ham,tomato,,Cucumber,And,Arugula,On,The,Wooden,Cutting

Brown pasta has a much fuller flavour and more of a texture than white.  And pasta salads are great for taking on picnics.  Why not try beetroot and cold poached salmon wholemeal pasta, adding some avocado, cucumber, dill and a little natural yoghurt.  This is a really delicious super-food pasta salad.

Swap potato crisps for veggie crisps

Most picnic baskets include crisps in some shape or size. Unfortunately, potato crisps are generally high in fat and low in nutrients.  So, why not swap potato crisps for veggie crisps? Think beetroot, parsnip, or carrot (or all three?) – there are a lot of veggie ‘crisp’ options available in supermarkets.

Home made kale chips in a dish

Even better, make your own kale crisps.  Kale belongs to the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family which are high in heart-loving vitamin K, relaxing magnesium and are loaded with antioxidants.  Simply pull off the leaves and rub them in a little olive oil and salt. Then roast in the oven for around 10 minutes and once cooled, you’ll have some of the healthiest veggie crisps to take on your picnic.

Swap ham for turkey

If you’re taking sandwiches, then what you put into them can make all the difference.  Ham sandwiches are often popular in the picnic basket.  However, ham is a processed meat and generally also contains high levels of preservatives.  Ham also contains saturated fats which are best minimised in the diet.

Grilled,Turkey,Breast,With,Salad

A far better choice is to use turkey meat instead. Turkey is very low in fat and high in protein (at 31 g per 100g, more than chicken). Why not cook up some turkey breast steaks the day before, which can be quickly grilled.  If you cook a few extra, they’re delicious eaten with Jersey Royal potatoes (now in season) and salad.  For the picnic, turkey steaks can be chopped, mixed with a little pesto and tomatoes, and made into delicious brown bread sandwiches.

Swap cheese spread for nut butters

There is a plethora of ready-made cheese spreads in supermarkets.  Whilst they might taste good, they are high in fat and are not especially nutrient dense.  Why not swap these for some delicious omega-3 laden almond butter.  Omega-3 fats are essential and whilst we need to be mindful of the amount of saturated fats we consume, the omegas are seriously deficient within the UK population and are essential for the heart, brain, eyes, skin and hormones.

Nut butter on rye bread

Almond butter is also high in protein so will keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Why not add some watercress (one of the healthiest salad vegetables around) for colour and a nutrient blast?

Swap fizzy drinks for kombucha

Fizzy drinks are always popular on picnics.  However, they are certainly not the healthiest of drinks.  Sugar-free versions are packed with sweeteners which have a detrimental effect on mood, but also encourage cravings for sweet food so you still end up eating all the wrong things!

Kombucha,Second,Fermented,Fruit,Tea,With,Different,Flavorings.,Healthy,Natural

Kombucha, however, is a great alternative. It’s a fermented, lightly effervescent, green or black tea drink, which is low in sugar but high in health benefits.  Fermented foods and drinks provide probiotics which are great for feeding the good bacteria and are essential for healthy digestion, good mood and effective weight management. Once you’ve tried them, there’ll be no turning back!

So, get outdoors and celebrate National Picnic Week with these super-healthy food swaps.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Five breakfast boosts for a healthier start to the day

Healthy,Breakfast,Set,On,Grey,Background.,The,Concept,Of,Delicious

As we approach mid-year, with hopefully the promise of some summer sunshine, now is a great time to overhaul your breakfast to ensure it’s as nourishing and energising as possible. 

Each mealtime is an opportunity to fuel the body with some of the 45 nutrients it needs every day, and a well-balanced breakfast is very important. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five breakfast choices to super-charge your day!

Avocado on wholemeal bagel

Cream,Cheese,And,Avocado,Bagel,Against,A,Black,Background

Avocados are really ‘on trend’ food wise, and for very good reason.  And whilst many people avoid avocados because of their high fat content, this is actually one of their plus points. The body needs a certain amount fat in the diet, not least because it’s essential for absorbing our fat-soluble nutrients, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

Avocados are also rich in monounsaturated fats which are help support heart health. Choosing a wholemeal bagel as opposed to white will deliver lots more energising B-vitamins, in a balanced way, and sprinkling a few pumpkin seeds will top up protein levels and essential omega-3 fats too.

Chia seed porridge

Vegan,Breakfast.,Oatmeal,With,Chia,Seeds,,Berries,,Seeds,And,Caramel

Porridge is another breakfast staple. It can be eaten hot or the oats can be soaked overnight in a little apple juice and then eaten cold the next day.  Either way, oats are packed with fibre, so are great for digestive health, plus they naturally include beta-glucans which help reduce cholesterol levels.

It’s great to mix chia seeds with flaxseeds as a topping as both are rich sources of the essential and healthy omega-3s. Then add some vitamin C-rich berries and delicious oat yoghurt.  This is a great option for vegans and will help you power through until lunchtime.

Eggs and mushrooms

Poached,Egg,With,Spinach,,Portobello,Mushrooms,And,Vine,Tomatoes

Eggs make one of the best starts to the day because of their high protein content.  This helps balance blood sugar levels and, in turn weight, mood and energy.

Button mushrooms, which are a source of immune-boosting vitamin D, are gently cooked, sprinkled with thyme, in a little olive oil with chopped tomatoes for additional antioxidants and flavour.  Spread them over the plate and poach one or two eggs and pop on the top.

Gluten-free buckwheat pancakes

Buckwheat,Pancakes,With,Berry,Fruit,And,Honey.selective,Focus

Despite its name buckwheat contains no wheat at all.  This makes it the perfect base for the many people who find they can’t tolerate gluten which predominates in wheat-based foods.  This is because gluten is rather ‘sticky’ and tends to cause digestive problems for people even if they’re not allergic or intolerant to wheat.

Buckwheat is also high in protein and low on the glycaemic index, meaning energy levels will be sustained through till lunchtime. These pancakes can be made with egg if desired, and your choice of milk with a little butter and sugar to suit your tastes. Top with fruit and natural yoghurt for a wonderfully delicious and nutritious start to your day.

Protein-powered oats

Oatmeal,Porridge,With,Berries,In,A,Bowl,On,Rustic,Wooden

Whilst oats do contain some protein, if you want a powerful re-fuel after your morning workout, then this breakfast is a great choice.  All nuts are high in protein and although peanuts are not actually nuts in the true sense of the word, they still deliver on the protein front and help repair worked muscles.

If you’re short of time after a workout (or just generally pushed for time), then why not soak some oats overnight in some water with frozen berries of your choice.  It’s always great to have some frozen fruit to hand and it’s just as nutritious as fresh, so there’s no need to worry if getting to the shops is an issue.  Simply stir in some peanut butter or other nut butter such as cashew, and you’re super-charged and ready for your day.

Try not to skip breakfast, as this can often lead to poor food choices later in the day and instead enjoy one of these recipes to charge up your day.

Stay well.

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Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in August

People enjoying al fresco eating in the summer

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

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

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

Runner beans

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

A bunch of runner beans on a wooden background

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

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

Aubergine

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

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

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

Watercress

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

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

A bowl of watercress soup

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

Beetroot

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

Beetroot and goats cheese salad

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

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

Raspberries

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

A punnet of fresh raspberries

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

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

Stay well.

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Celebrate National Vegetarian Week with these top five vegetables

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

It’s National Vegetarian Week, celebrating all things great about adopting a totally or predominantly plant-based diet.  However, there has also been a rise in people becoming flexitarian; still eating some animal produce but significantly increasing their intake of plant-based foods. 

Whilst all vegetables deliver wonderful health benefits, there are certainly some stars in their field.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourites.

 

Soy beans

Whilst you might not think of soy as a vegetable, it’s part of the legume family. Soya is one of the best vegetable sources of protein, therefore makes a great addition to a vegetarian diet.

Soya is widely consumed in Eastern diets but importantly it’s eaten in its fermented form in foods such as tofu, tempeh and kombucha, produced from the whole bean.  Refined forms or those that have been genetically modified should ideally be avoided.

A sack of soy beans

However, apart from their impressive protein content, soya beans are high in important trace minerals such as copper, manganese and phosphorus, essential for joints and bones.  Plus, fermented soya works on the body’s natural gut bacteria to produce bone and heart-loving vitamin K and energising folate.  There is also plenty of research to suggest soya delivers a number of cardiovascular benefits, especially raising good HDL cholesterol levels.

Spinach

Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet. It contains around 30% protein so is great for both a vegetarian and flexitarian diet.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

As with all green leafy vegetables, its nutrient profile is impressive.  Spinach is also a great source of vitamin K but is probably famously known for its iron content. Vegetarians can sometimes be lacking in iron since red meat provides the most bio-available form, therefore spinach can help plug the gaps. As with any green food or vegetable, spinach is great for alkalising and detoxifying the body and is in season right now!

Asparagus

Another vegetable with good protein content, asparagus is at its absolute best right now.  English asparagus has so much more taste and ‘bite’ than at any other time of the year.  Make sure you grab some, gently steam or barbecue and serve simply, seasoned with pepper and salt and a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Close up of asparagus being grilled on a bbq

Asparagus provides plenty of energising B-vitamins, as well as trace minerals such as magnesium, frequently lacking in the Western diet.  Plus, it is known as a prebiotic food which helps feed the good gut bacteria, providing benefits to the immune system, especially important during the current situation.

Broccoli

Often referred to as a superfood, broccoli has some amazing health benefits, partly because of the range of nutrients and flavonoids it contains.  Broccoli has some of the highest amounts of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.  Plus is helps improve liver health by stimulating detoxification processes and antioxidant compounds in the liver.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Just like these other vegetables, broccoli contains some usable amounts of protein so is great for the vegetarian diet, plus it is packed full of immune-boosting vitamin C.  It can be steamed, roasted or sautéed and works well with garlic, chilli and sesame seeds for a real taste punch!

Collard greens

From the same family as broccoli, cauliflower and kale, these dark green leaves also deliver wonderful health benefits, and contain the same profile of antioxidants and other plant compounds.

A dish of collard greens

If you worry that greens are too bland, it’s all about what they’re served with. Greens work really well with strong flavours such as onions, leeks or mushrooms.  And in order to preserve maximum nutrients, taste and texture, they’re much better steamed or sautéed, perhaps with some garlic.

As with all green vegetables, collards are rich in trace minerals especially magnesium, manganese and calcium – all frequently deficient in the diet and essential for many aspects of our health.

So, embrace National Vegetarian Week and serve yourself some super health vegetables to celebrate!

Stay well.

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Growing your own: health-giving, home-grown ideas

Close up on waomn in an allotment holding a home graon carrot

Whilst we’re all rather restricted in what we can and can’t do right now. But for those with vegetable patches, pots or allotments, it’s the perfect time to be growing your vegetables.  For those of you without access to outside space, a balcony or even just a windowsill can give you the opportunity to grow some delicious and health-giving herbs.

Growing your own produce has big advantages over shop-bought as the produce is all pesticide-free and additive-free.  Importantly, time from harvest to plate can be swift, helping to keep valuable nutrients intact, and helping the planet at the same time.

This National Gardening Week, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer suggests a few things to start cultivating right now!

Broccoli

An all-round superfood, broccoli certainly lives up to its acclaim. It is very high in antioxidants provided by its vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content. Plus, it’s great for the heart (it helps reduce cholesterol) and helps to protect the immune system. It can help to keep the digestive system moving smoothly and supports the liver’s ability to detoxify. Broccoli is also packed with lutein and zeaxanthin which are great for healthy eyes and eyesight.

Purple sprouting broccoli

In terms of nutrient content, broccoli is rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, bone-loving vitamin K and energy-boosting folate. There are so many different varieties of broccoli that you can sow right now; the purple sprouting type may have the slight edge in terms of antioxidants, which is down to its beautiful colour.

Carrots

A real mainstay vegetable, no garden should be without carrots. They are best known for their ability to help you see in the dark. This is because they are loaded with beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body, and which is essential for eyesight.

A selection of rainbow carrots

Why not grow a rainbow variety, which means you’ll have a combination of orange, purple and white-coloured carrots?  They will all have slightly different tastes and the varied colours will deliver wonderful healthy phytonutrients.

Beetroot

If you plant some beetroot seeds now, you should have some wonderful beetroot globes available for the traditional summer salad season. However, beetroot is not only great in salads but is delicious roasted, pickled or cooked, and used in juices and smoothies.

Whole beetroots

Another superfood, beetroot is a great liver cleanser. Packed full of antioxidants, it also supports energy and is a good source of iron.  Indeed, this is probably one of the reasons it has traditionally been known as a tonic and given to people whilst convalescing. Needless to say, it’s loaded with great nutrients and is incredibly versatile in many dishes, both sweet and savoury.

Basil

Basil is one of the tastiest herbs you can grow indoors. Plus, it smells beautiful and will always remind you of the Mediterranean.  Basil makes a great accompaniment to any tomato-based dish and is an aromatic addition to salad and pasta dishes. It also great for the digestive system.

A fresh bunch of basil on a wooden board

Basil is a pretty hardy herb that prefers full sunlight and now is the time to plant your pots for readiness by July. It will also happily grow in a pot amongst other herbs if you have room.

Chives

Chives are another great small pot herb which can be grown alone or in a slightly larger pot with other herbs such as coriander and parsley.

Some chopped chives on a wooden board

A member of the onion family, chives are very easy to grow and produce some pretty and edible flowers. Both the stems and flowers are great chopped for garnishing potato salad, in scrambled egg, soups and many other savoury dishes. As with all herbs, they have been hailed for many different health issues over the years, and chives have been used as a tonic and to stimulate appetite after illness.

So, get planting!  And if you’ve never undertaken any form of gardening in the past, now could be a great time to start.

Stay well.

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The wonders of asparagus

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of fresh asparagus

Asparagus is one of those vegetables that when eaten in season is magical. So, as we enter English asparagus season (which is also quite short), grab it, enjoy it and benefit from its wonderful nutritional profile. 

Whether you eat it as a side, as part of a salad or pasta dish or in a soup, asparagus is a highly nutritious vegetable worth adding to your menu right now.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives us the low-down on the wonders of asparagus this National Asparagus Day!

Asparagus was once viewed as a delicacy and also widely used in medicinal folklore as a tonic and sedative, as well as easing inflammatory conditions. Nowadays, it’s widely known as a diuretic vegetable, meaning it helps excrete sodium, an excess of which can contribute to high blood pressure.

Nutritional benefits

Asparagus has now been honoured to be part of its own family, Asparagaceae, further underscoring its uniqueness of taste and nutrient profile.

Close up of asparagus being grilled on a bbq

Around 100 different phytonutrient compounds have been found in asparagus.  These are responsible for delivering many health benefits, including having an antioxidant action.  Asparagus is rich in energising B-vitamins (especially folate, found in higher levels than in any other vegetable) and bone-loving vitamin K. It also contains immune-boosting vitamin C and vitamin E, plus a number of trace minerals including selenium which is frequently lacking in the daily diet.  Indeed, asparagus contains about 22 key nutrients, so it really is a nutritional powerhouse!

Anti-inflammatory action

Past generations were not too far off the mark using asparagus for inflammatory conditions.  Research has found asparagus contains quite a unique profile of anti-inflammatory compounds called saponins.  Inflammation is responsible for many of our degenerative health conditions as well as health niggles such as painful, swollen joints or skin complaints.

Close up of knee representing joint pain

It’s also very high in antioxidant capabilities which protect the body against aging and many serious health concerns.

What’s cooking?

Asparagus has become hugely popular in many restaurant dishes or as a side. Importantly, it needs to be really fresh as it can degrade quickly when stored and become tasteless and chewy.  The spears need to be firm, smooth and vibrant in colour (unless you’re going for the white variety!)  It’s delicious quickly steamed, drizzled with a little olive oil, black pepper and sprinkled Parmesan cheese. Or why not try wrapped in parma ham?

Grilled asparagus wrapped in parma ham

Asparagus is often traditionally served with hollandaise sauce (you can also add a poached egg) or lemon mayonnaise.  However, it works well in a traditional summer salad with Jersey Royal potatoes (also now coming into season), broad beans, peas and shallots.

Asparagus with hollandaise sauce

Asparagus is an easy addition to any stir fry. It also works brilliantly in a quiche with salmon, or in a soup.

The less time it takes from harvest to plate the better as the sugars turn to starch quickly, giving it that tell-tale hardened feel.  Much English asparagus takes only 24 hours to reach us from field to plate, hence the reason it is so sought after during these months.

What about the urine odour?

Most people will notice a distinct smell to their urine after eating asparagus which is perfectly normal and is down to something called asparagusic acid.  Some people will notice it more than others.  However, this compound is also cited as providing one of its amazing health benefits due to its function in the antioxidant pathways, so it is also doing you some good!

So, be sure to enjoy tasty English asparagus at its very best this season as well as the health benefits it provides.

Stay well.

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Summer nutrition: the best foods on offer this season

Woman holding up frshly grown beetroots

When the sun shines, it inspires us to prepare fresh, healthy meals. With a wealth of wonderful foods in season, there’s no excuse not to make the most of what nature is delivering right now.

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Whether you’re creating deliciously crispy salads or and fresh and fruity desserts, summer foods are packed full of colour and flavour.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite and super-healthy foods currently in season.

Raspberries

Often forgotten and sometimes overshadowed by another red berry fruit (aka the strawberry) raspberries have plenty to be nutritionally proud of, as well as their delicious taste. Raspberries are one of our classic summer fruits and at their absolute best at the moment. Interestingly, most raspberries currently in our shops are grown in Scotland.

They are high in one of our key antioxidants, vitamin C, and their overall antioxidant content is increased the riper the berries. Plus, raspberries are high in something called ellagic acid which is an anti-inflammatory compound that seems to be especially helpful in cases of Crohn’s disease.

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Raspberries have leapt to fame in more recent times with the discovery of raspberry ketones, a phytonutrient which may increase metabolism in fat cells, thereby reducing the risk of obesity. Whatever your reason for choosing them, you’ll not be disappointed in any respect. Enjoy raspberries with your morning cereal or with some natural yoghurt. Try them as a topping to pancakes or made into a coulis that can be drizzled over savoury dishes or sweet desserts.

Watercress

Watercress makes a great staple salad ingredient with a distinctive peppery taste so it really adds some flavour. Even better it’s highly nutritious, containing vitamin C, calcium for healthy bones, plus energising folic acid and iron. Watercress is also a great tonic for the liver and kidneys. Furthermore, it contains high levels of vitamin K for great bone health and beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A and is great for vision.

A bunch of watercress on a wooden board

Watercress actually makes a great soup ingredient, alongside onions, celery, diced Jersey Royal potatoes (also in season) with some chicken stock and takes no time at all to prepare. Its lovely fresh taste makes a perfect soup ingredient even during the summer months.

And did you know that watercress has more vitamin C per 100 grams than oranges!

Mackerel

This is an ocean fish that lives in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean waters and has some very distinctive grey stripes. Most importantly, it’s an oily fish that’s very high in those essential omega-3 fats we talk so much about.

A fillet of grilled mackerel

Omega-3s are absolutely essential for healthy hormones, bones, joints, eyes, heart and the brain and can’t be made in the body, so have to be eaten very regularly. Indeed, oily fish should be eaten three times a week to get what the body needs. The oils make mackerel quite rich to eat, so it’s often best simply grilled with some spices or sharp citrus flavours.

Aubergines

Whilst aubergines were native to India, they’ve become a very popular food the whole world over. They’re especially popular in Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, and in African folklore to treat convulsions. Aubergines are also known as ‘eggplant’ because of their egg shape. And interestingly they’re technically berries and not vegetables!

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

As with all fruits and vegetables that have gorgeous, rich colours, aubergines are packed with anthocyanins – plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. Plus they contain plenty of fibre and energy-boosting folic acid.

Whilst they taste delicious added to the popular dishes I listed above, they’re great simply griddled alongside some peppers with just a small pasting of oil. Aubergines are very low in calories but they do soak up oil like a sponge, therefore are best not fried.

Beetroot

Another vegetable with an amazing colour, highlighting its rich nutrient content, beetroots really add to salads at this time of year. In fact, they’re the perfect addition to a goat’s cheese salad, making a great starter or main course dish.

In ancient times, only the leaves were eaten, which can be cooked in the same way as spinach (gently wilted in the pan) but these tend to be less popular now, although they’re a great source of calcium and beta-carotene.

Whole beetroots

Beetroots are loaded with nutrients, especially vitamin C, folate, iron and heart-loving potassium to help reduce blood pressure. They also make a great tonic juice with carrots. They are brilliant for restoring health if you’ve been under the weather (yes it can still happen during the summer months). It’s best to enjoy beetroot either grated raw or cooked rather than pickled, which destroys some of the nutrients.

So enjoy a wonderfully healthy summer by adding these delicious and nutritious seasonal foods to your plate.

 

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Five ways to clean-up your diet this spring

Happy woman in field showing spring time

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to spring-cleaning everything. Hopefully, you’ll be feeling quite proud of yourself at the moment if you’re eating a fairly healthy diet.  However, there’s always room for improvement and new ideas, plus eating food in season is always going to be better from a nutritional perspective.

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So what are some of the new things you could be doing to revamp your diet and wellbeing this spring?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for spring-cleaning your diet and life!

Eat purple sprouting broccoli

It’s no secret that broccoli is a wonder food. This is because it contains such a wide range of nutrients. Broccoli contains vitamin C, vitamin K and folate as well as the minerals iron and potassium in abundance. It also has immune-boosting beta-carotene, alongside many other disease-preventing compounds. Broccoli (and indeed, all vegetables within the brassica family) contains compounds called indoles which may offer protection against some diseases. Broccoli also contains sulforaphanes which help detoxification.

Purple sprouting broccoli

The great news is that purple sprouting broccoli is in season right now! Its deep purple colour actually makes it even healthier due to the presence of flavonoids which are rich in antioxidants. These phytonutrients are retained whether broccoli is fresh, frozen, raw or cooked. However, much of the vitamin C content is lost by from boiling, therefore always lightly steam your broccoli to retain the most nutrients.

It’s a great spring vegetable to be enjoyed as much as possible and works really well as part of a spring cleansing plan.

Spring clean from the inside

What’s going on in the digestive system directly affects how you look and feel on the outside. You don’t necessarily need to be making drastic changes to see real improvements. Try making a ‘detox’ water with lemon, cucumber, mint and ginger.

Glass of water with lemon

Lemon helps the production of pepsin in the stomach, which in turn helps break down food and nutrients, aiding digestion and a flatter stomach. Cucumber is a great diuretic, helping cleanse the bladder and kidneys. Mint is brilliant for the digestive tract and eliminates excess wind and ginger is an all-round great anti-inflammatory and gut-lover. The combination of all these ingredients mixed into your detox water and drunk every day will thoroughly cleanse the system and make your skin glow! Drinking about two litres daily is a great place to start.

Banish the bubbles

This may sound harsh but fizzy drinks all cause bloating and wind and are certainly not going to help your spring cleanse. The other problem is that most fizzy drinks are either loaded with sugar or sweeteners, the latter being one of the main causes of digestive upsets.

Additionally, fizzy drinks are high in phosphoric acid, encouraging greater acidity in the body generally, which can cause calcium to be leached from the bones.

Fruit tea with berries next to a cup

Make this spring the time to resolve to kick the bubbles (yes even prosecco and champagne) and opt for detox water (as above) or herbal or fruit teas for your daily brew.

Beat hay fever with asparagus

Unfortunate hay fever sufferers probably don’t need reminding that the season is fast approaching. However, as with anything, prevention is better than cure and the flavonoid, quercetin, high in asparagus, can really help if eaten regularly enough. Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine and seems to work more effectively when eaten before symptoms really take a hold.

Other great sources of quercetin include apples, green tea and onions. However, asparagus has a truly excellent nutrient profile of vitamins and minerals. It also contains inulin which feeds the beneficial bacteria and acts as a ‘hoover’, sweeping out all the bad guys.

Asparagus tied in a bunch

Many people resist eating asparagus because it produces unpleasant-smelling urine! However, this is merely the result of one of its more beneficial antioxidants being broken down. Asparagus is just doing its work and should certainly be part of your spring cleanse, particularly as it’s in season right now.

Resolve to be more positive

There are many positive benefits to being part of social media platforms. However, it can also breed dissatisfaction with our body and life in general, which is certainly not going to put a spring in your step.

People often find that having a social media detox can really help their mood and body self-image. Write down some positive affirmations about yourself and say them every morning to the mirror. Focus on what you (and others) really love about yourself and keep repeating them over and over.

A happy woman in from of a blossom tree showing spring time

Part of feeling great for the new season ahead is having a positive attitude to life. Resolve to be grateful for one thing every day, whether it’s seeing the first tulips, a great cup of coffee or watching rabbits run across the field. Being positive is work in progress and, like anything worth having in life, takes practice.

So with a few easy tweaks, your spring-time cleanse will have a really positive impact on your wellbeing.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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