Healthy body, healthy mind: top brain-boosting foods

 

Sideways view of a happy woman's face with her brain outlined and glowing

It’s no secret that what we eat has a massive impact on brain function. However, wouldn’t it be great if we could really improve concentration, mood and stress just by changing up the diet a little?

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There are plenty of small changes you can make which will have a real impact not just on how you feel but also in supporting your cognitive functioning.

Suzie Sawyer shares her favourite foods for getting brain health on track.

Avocados to beat stress

There are a number of nutrients involved in the stress response. Vitamin B6 is one of the major players, and delicious avocados are a great source. In fact, avocados are all-round good guys, loaded with great nutrients, including vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant which is also protective of the brain.

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

On trend right now as a favourite breakfast is smashed avocado on sour dough bread, which makes a wonderful start to the day. Or why not include half an avocado in your morning power smoothie with banana, frozen berries, almond butter and coconut milk, to start the day right?

Turkey is not just for Christmas

For some reason, people forget that turkey is a really healthy, protein-packed food and should definitely be eaten all year round, especially if you want your brain to fire on all cylinders.

Sliced turkey breast

Turkey is high in vitamin B3 which is key in the production of brain neurotransmitters. A lack of vitamin B3 can cause low mood and depression, so turkey can really keep you feeling happier. Turkey breast meat has slightly less fat than chicken. Therefore, cooking up a turkey stir fry with plenty of colourful veg makes a nutrient-packed, easy and low-calorie meal.

Sharpen your brain with lecithin

Lecithin is a phospholipid (fat) that is essential for brain function. There is evidence that people have seen great benefits in their memory and all-round cognitive functions from increasing lecithin in their diet.

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

Lecithin granules, which can be bought at most good health food shops, may not sound particularly appetising but they can be added very easily to soups, stews, cereals – in fact, any hot or cold dish, as their health benefits are not destroyed by heat.

Egg yolks are also a great source of lecithin so make sure you’re eating around six eggs per week, if you can. Lecithin granules can be suitable for vegetarians – always check out the label.

Boost your mood with beans

Many people avoid all types of beans as they’re worried about the all-too common digestive distress. However, the flatulence that beans often cause is generally because the body is not making enough of the enzyme which breaks them down. The more beans you eat however, the more the enzyme reaction will be uprated – something else to smile about!

A range of beans

All types of beans are high in B vitamins, plus the amino acid tryptophan, needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin. Plus, they’re so easy to include in the diet on a regular basis, in soups or mixed with tinned tomatoes, onions, peppers and some chipotle, for a tasty dinner. YOU can even go for the old faithful of beans on wholemeal toast for breakfast. If you’re having tinned baked beans, make sure you opt for the sugar and salt-free versions though.

Keep focussed with pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fats and the mineral zinc. Even better, they contain protein to help balance blood sugar levels; another reason concentration levels will be improved. The brain contains lots of fat, much of that being the essential omega-3s, hence it’s really important to include them in the diet to support concentration and good mood.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are very easy to include in many dishes and are certainly great sprinkled over smashed avocado, porridge, cereals or mixed into natural yoghurt with fruit in the mornings. Pumpkin seeds are best not heated as this can damage the omega-3 fats.

We are what we eat. Just like the body, the brain can only function optimally with the right fuel so give it some help with these brain-boosting foods.

 

 

 

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How to practise Self-Love this February

Close up of a note book with a woman writing 'Love Yourself'

Valentine’s Day and the month of love is upon us. And whilst it’s often a time when we think about how best to treat our loved ones, we shouldn’t forget about the greatest love of all – the love we should have and show to ourselves.

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Practicing self-love and self-care has wonderfully positive effects on health.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite ways of practicing nutritional and lifestyle self-love.

Sleep like a baby

As we know, babies always prioritise their sleep. It’s just their exhausted parents that don’t manage to do this! However, why not go back to when you were a baby? With a very high percentage of the population suffering from sleep deprivation, make sure that getting a good night’s sleep is a priority and at the top of your self-love list.

Happy woman sleeping, cuddling pillow and smiling

Adopt a ‘baby’ routine. Turn off all electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime; blue light disrupts sleep and brain chemistry. Eat your last meal around 7 pm at night so you’re not bloated when you go to bed. Have a small tryptophan-rich snack half hour before bedtime to promote the body’s natural release of the sleep hormone, melatonin: try oat cakes, a banana, some nuts or yoghurt.

Have a warm bath, grab a good book and spray some lavender on your pillow. If sleep is a real problem, then try taking some herbal relief such as valerian which will help. You and your body will love the benefits you gain from sleeping soundly.

Eat dark chocolate

Valentine’s Day would not be complete without chocolate and what better news that it can actually be healthy! Cocoa is super-healthy; it’s packed with antioxidant-rich polyphenols that help reduce blood pressure, prevent serious degenerative diseases and keep the brain sharp.

Pieces of dark chocolate

It is the other ingredients that manufacturers use in chocolate products that make them unhealthy, packed with sugar and fat-laden. So look to buy chocolate made from at least 80/85% cocoa solids. Chocolate is the food of love, so make sure you give your body what it deserves!

Eat mindfully

This may be a well-quoted phrase but it’s a really important part of your self-love programme. Most importantly, eating food on the run and in a rushed state means the body can’t digest it properly, leading to bloating. When the body is in the fight or flight mode (during the stress response), blood flow is moved away from the digestive organs and sent to muscles which also doesn’t help digestion.

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

One of the most important things about eating mindfully is to eat lunch away from your desk and really appreciate every mouthful. Many afternoon digestive issues have been solved by taking a complete break from emails (and social media) and really enjoying a meal.

Have lots of vitamin C

If you’re not feeling great about yourself and want some self-love, then freshening up your complexion can really help. Vitamin C is key in keeping skin looking young, fresh and wrinkle-free. This is partly due to its key role in the production of collagen, the body’s main structural protein.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

As vitamin C is easily lost during storage, preparation and cooking of food, then you should be aiming to eat around seven portions of fruit and veg daily (aim for 80%/20% Vegetables to fruit to avoid too much sugar). However, it’s certainly worth also including a vitamin C supplement every day in order to maximise its activity and get working on your skin from the inside out.

Get your B’s

That’s B vitamins! There are eight of them and they all work together. Most importantly, they’re essential for keeping your nervous system running smoothly, balancing your mood and increasing energy levels – all key ingredients for making sure you ‘feel the love’.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Foods such as eggs, salmon, nuts, oats, bananas, spinach and broccoli (plus many more) are all rich sources of B Vitamins. B-vitamins are water-soluble so easily excreted from the body. If you’re feeling low and lacking in motivation, then it is really worth looking at your diet to see what’s lacking. Low vitamin B12 is often implicated in cases of depression and is only found in animal produce, so supplements may well be needed.

So enjoy the month of (self) love and don’t forget about YOU in the process.

 

 

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Seasonal eating: top nutrition for February

Many people will be very glad to see the back of January, for lots of different reasons! And now February, the month of love, is here!

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It is a great time to welcome some seasonal food that can help to lift your mood and hopefully put a smile on your face.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five seasonal foods for February and explains why they’ll help boost your feelings of happiness.

Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes help to feed the good gut bacteria. This in turn helps produce more serotonin, our happy hormone, primarily made in the gut. Interestingly, Jerusalem artichokes have no link to the city or other artichokes: it is likely that the name ‘Jerusalem’ is derived from the word girasole which is Italian for sunflower.

Jerusalem artichokes

As a vegetable they are quite delicious and whilst they may be slightly awkward to prepare, because of their knobbly shape, it’s well worth the effort. They can be cooked as you would potatoes, either roasted, sautéed or boiled. Jerusalem artichokes can also be eaten raw in salads and they’re great lightly stir-fried with the skin left on.

Scallops

Scallops are high in brain-boosting zinc, vitamin B12 and niacin (vitamin B3). All these nutrients are needed to help produce our brain neurotransmitters, including serotonin.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

We can be very proud of the quality of our scallops from the English waters as they generally have a really fine soft texture and a slightly sweet taste. Scallops balance really well with strong flavours such as bacon but also Oriental spices including lemongrass, chilli and ginger. Indeed, ginger also helps feed the good gut bacteria so eating them lightly fried in a little olive oil with ginger is going to support your immunity.

Passion Fruits

Passion fruits descend from the Passiflora plant and can naturally help anxiety, plus induce feelings of calm. Whilst passion fruits are clearly not grown in the UK, imports are readily available at this time of year.

Passion fruits

Passion fruits are rich sources of vitamin A and vitamin C which help to keep the immune system in good shape. They also contain some energy-boosting iron. The seeds are also packed with fibre and both the pulp and seeds can be eaten. The sieved juice is great slightly heated,with a little coconut sugar added, which makes a wonderful coulis to pour over fruit salad or your favourite chocolate fudge cake. Now that will certainly put a smile on your face!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Its rich dark colour means it’s high in anti-aging antioxidants to help support anti-ageing – and that’s really something to smile about! The darker the colour of any fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients they tend to contain and purple sprouting broccoli is no exception.

Purple sprouting broccoli

It’s also packed with immune boosting vitamin C, beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as needed in the body, and heart-loving potassium (even better for the month of love!)

Purple sprouting broccoli works well alone as a delicious vegetable side, but is also great stir-fried with garlic and sesame seeds, in a pasta dish or steamed and then lightly tossed with almonds and spring onions.

Swede

Swede is totally delicious and really doesn’t get enough airtime! From the family of cruciferous vegetables, which contain active compounds that may help prevent serious degenerative diseases, swede also provides good amounts of vitamin C. It’s great for anyone still trying to lose those additional Christmas kilos, as a typical portion size contains only around 11 calories.

Haggis, neeps and tatties

Swede works really well on its own simply mashed with a little butter and black pepper or alongside other mashed root veggies such as carrots and turnips. It can also be added to stews or to change things up mashed or roasted with potatoes.

And for those who’ve recently celebrated Burn’s Night, you’ll be familiar with the expression ‘neeps’ which is Scottish for swede! They’re traditionally eaten alongside the haggis.

So enjoy the month of love by including some delicious seasonal produce to make February a happy and healthy month!

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Eat to beat anxiety: top nutrition for lifting your mood

Dark days, post-Christmas blues, money worries, body issues and more all affect our mood and can cause anxiety. The early part of the year often brings distress for many people.

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The good news is that there are lots of foods and herbs that can help lift our mood and ease anxiety. Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite mood-boosters.

 

Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing all the essential amino acids that make up proteins. Most importantly, they’re rich in vitamin B12 which is needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Indeed, deficiency of B12 can affect the brain and nervous system first which in turn can affect your mood.

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

Eggs in all their forms, make a great start to the day and because of their high protein content, you will also stay fuller for longer.

Portobello mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are high in vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin. In years past, severe deficiency of vitamin B3 lead to something called pellagra characterised by dermatitis, diarrhoea and dementia. Symptoms also include depression and anxiety. Thankfully, this has mostly been eradicated, though it is still a problem in developing countries, but it proves the importance of this nutrient in brain health and for helping banish anxiety.

Portobello mushrooms in a basket

The great news is that Portobello mushrooms also contain some vitamin D (widely deficient at this time of year), and a lack of which causes low mood.

So, get chopping and add them to stir fries, pasta dishes, on toast with beans for breakfast or simply roasted as a vegetable side.

Lavender

Top of the list as being one of nature’s most calming herbs is lavender. Many people report improved sleep after spraying their pillow with lavender. It appears to work in a number of ways on the nervous system, but it certainly seems to activate GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters[1].

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Lavender also makes a really delicious tea infusion. All you need to do is pour boiling water over one teaspoon of the dried herb, cover and leave to infuse for about five minutes. You can sweeten with a little honey if desired and you’ll soon be feeling more relaxed.

Green Tea

All teas have some health benefits, particularly for their immune-boosting antioxidants. However, green tea contains the amino acid, L-theanine, which, just like lavender, helps promote GABA. Green tea is especially high in something called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. This is a particularly powerful antioxidant that works on brain function, also helping to promote GABA.

A cup of green tea

If you’re feeling anxious, then it’s good to get into the habit of drinking three cups of green tea daily. It can also help reduce the anxiety-promoting effects of caffeine if you’ve succumbed to that early morning double espresso!

Oats

Oats are high in the amino acid tryptophan which is converted into serotonin in the body, our happy hormone. Serotonin is then converted into the sleep hormone melatonin; a lack of sleep can also contribute to higher levels of anxiety.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

Oats will also provide you with sustained energy throughout the day, plus your mood will be lifted from having a boost of serotonin. Alternate an egg-based breakfast with porridge through the week and you should start to notice a difference.

So if you are struggling with anxiety or low mood this winter, then don’t despair; nature has provided a wealth of remedies for you to try.

[1] Peir Hossein Koulivand et al. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;61304

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Five nutritious breakfasts to start the day right!

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

Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day. Clearly, all three main meals are important as they provide fuel and essential nutrients for the body. However, after a period of fasting during the night, blood sugar levels are low so it is essential to refuel.

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If you’re only drinking a double espresso for breakfast, with no food, your blood sugar levels will be imbalanced and so will your energy for the rest of the day.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite breakfasts, whether you’re on the run or having a lazy weekend.

Fast and effective: Overnight oats

Soaking oats overnight in milk or apple juice is really easy to do. It provides you with one of the best ‘on-the-run’ breakfasts you can have, as you’re prepping it the night before, and your energy levels will be sustained throughout the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Oats are packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates, plus they’re a great source of fibre and energising B-vitamins. They also help keep cholesterol levels in check. If you choose to soak them overnight in almond milk, you’ll also be getting the benefit of some omega-3 essential fats, and a banana will give it some added flavour and heart-loving potassium. Just smash the banana into the milk, mix with the oats and leave overnight in the fridge. If you want to add some extra fruit or natural yoghurt in the morning, then fill your boots!

The green one: Smashed avocado on toast with sprinkled seeds

Instead of putting a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and spreading them with the first thing that comes to hand, take an extra minute to smash an avocado on toast.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Use wholemeal, rye or other non-white bread to provide you with lots of energy-giving B-vitamins. Avocados themselves are high in vitamin B5 which is needed to produce our stress hormones, helping to manage your anxiety levels. Sprinkle it with some mixed seeds (flavoured with soya sauce if you like) and if you’ve got some cherry tomatoes and rocket in the fridge, add those to your plate as well!

The lazy weekender: Poached eggs with sourdough

Eggs are one of the best ways to start any day. They’re one of the most complete foods: packed full of protein they are also a good source of the trace mineral iron, needed for good brain function through the day. And whilst you might not want to be using your brain too much on a lazy weekend, iron is stored in the body so you’ll be sharp for the week ahead.

Poached egg on brown toast

Poached eggs on sourdough toast work really well with spinach. The tastiest way is to quickly ‘wilt’ the leaves in a little butter and add some chilli powder for extra taste.

The zingy one: Summer Berry fruit bowl

Even though we are in the midst of winter, the availability of frozen summer berries means this breakfast can be enjoyed all year round. The nutrient content of frozen fruits and vegetable stacks up really well against fresh produce because they tend to be frozen quickly after harvesting, therefore retaining most of their nutrients. And summer berries are packed full of vitamins.

A bowl of summer berries with yoghurt for breakfast

All you need for this is some frozen berries, plus half an avocado, a banana and natural yoghurt blended together. You can whizz this up the night before and take it on the run – why not add some oats and seeds before eating to give your breakfast an extra energy boost.

This is also a great way of helping you to eat a colourful rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day. This bowl is packed with antioxidants to help support your immune system through the winter months, plus the dark fruits are full of super-healthy flavonoids (powerful antioxidants responsible for the vivid colours in fruits and vegetables).

The indulgent start: Wholemeal bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

This delicious breakfast is packed with protein and energising B-vitamins, plus essential omega-3 fats, needed for great brain function through the day.

Bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

All you need to do is to toast a delicious wholemeal bagel and spread with low-fat cream cheese and add some smoked salmon. Choose low-fat cream cheese if you can as it’s obviously much lower in calories, but actually contains higher amounts of calcium (needed for strong bones, teeth and muscles). I promise you won’t notice the difference from the full-fat variety.

So, there you have it. Five great ideas to start your day the right way!

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Five food swaps to boost your energy this January

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

The month of January can often make us feel low in energy, especially after all the Christmas festivities. What you eat right now can really make the difference between flagging during the day and feeling full of life.

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Just like a car needs fuel, the body can’t run on empty, but the food we choose needs to be the right kind of fuel. So how can you get the most energy out of your food choices?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five energising food swaps so you jump through January!

Swap sunflower oil for coconut oil

Sunflower oil is one of the most popular cooking oils, partly because it’s quite cheap but it’s also promoted as being healthy. However, the reality is that sunflower oil contains a high percentage of polyunsaturated fats which are damaged when heated and therefore turn into unhealthy trans fats.

Coconut oil and coconut flesh

Conversely, coconut oil is stable once heated but, most importantly, contains high levels of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which the body uses as an energy source. They also speed up metabolism and are not stored as fat. You can even use pure coconut butter as a wonderful body moisturiser. Coconut oil can always be used as a replacement for sunflower oil (or other cooking oils), plus it delivers a very subtle coconut taste which is particularly delicious in stir fry dishes.

Swap rice cakes for oat cakes

Rice cakes are frequently suggested as a great low calorie snack but they do very little in terms of providing sustained energy. Moreover, rice cakes are heated to high temperatures during their preparation and this can produce very unhealthy acrylamides which have been linked to a number of degenerative diseases.

Home made oat cakes

Whilst oat cakes contain a few more calories, you’ll eat less overall because you won’t feel hungry as quickly. Oats are slow releasing carbohydrates which means they keep delivering energy for much longer. Oat cakes make great snacks when paired with hummus, nut butters (see below), prawns or bananas. They’re truly versatile!

Swap peanut butter for walnut butter

It’s a common misconception that peanut butter is really healthy. True, it contains a good amount of protein but that’s as far as it goes! Peanuts are not tree nuts; they’re grown in the ground and are very susceptible to picking up unhealthy aflatoxins. However, proper tree nuts, and in particular, walnuts contain the healthy and energising omega-3 fats.

Walnut nut butter in a jar surrounded by walnuts

Walnuts have the highest omega-3 content of any nuts. These essential fats are needed to help boost metabolism and will therefore give your energy levels a boost. They’re also delicious when made into a nut butter, which is available in most supermarkets. Add walnut butter to smoothies for a protein punch, on oatcakes as a snack, on wholemeal toast as a great on-the-run breakfast, or in decadent chocolate brownie recipes.

Swap white bread for brown

Many of us love white bread, especially toasted. However, once you’ve made the swap to brown, you’ll never look back! Your energy levels will be much improved and you’ll also be eating a much greater range of nutrients.

A selection of brown bread loaves

The problem with white bread (and other white products such as pasta) is that the refining process strips them of the all-important B vitamins which the body needs to produce energy. White bread also contains much less fibre. This means that its carbohydrate content is quickly released into the bloodstream and won’t provide sustainable energy.

If you‘re finding the swap tough, then why not buy some half and half bread to ease you into it gently!

Swap veggie crisps for kale chips

Vegetable chips are readily available in supermarkets and many people believe they’re much healthier than potato crisps because they contain colourful vegetables. This is partly true. However crisps are crisps regardless of which vegetable they are made from; they are still deep-fried, deliver very few nutrients and do very little to improve energy levels.

Home made kale chips in a dish

As a quick, healthy and energising swap try kale chips instead. You can even make your own: add a bag of kale to a roasting pan, sprinkle with coconut oil and a little salt and grill until they have turned crisp. Kale is high in iron and folate, both essential for energy production. As an added benefit, kale also contains good levels of vitamin K which is needed for a healthy heart and bones.

So a few simple swaps will get your energy levels soaring this January and hopefully throughout the coming year!

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The top 3 nutrition tips for a healthier 2019

It’s great to kick start your New Year health with a few easy wins! The trick with New Years’ resolutions is to make them achievable and sustainable. There is little point in going ‘all-out’ in January, only to lose motivation totally, as February starts.

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To help you on your journey, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares three top changes you can make TODAY for long term health results!

 

 

Start the day right

This one is so simple but oh so effective! Start every day by drinking 500ml of warm water (it should be body temperature) with some sliced fresh lemon and crushed ginger. This should be done when you first get up, for the greatest benefit.

Whilst the liver has carried out its normal detoxification processes during the night, some additional gentle cleansing first thing will certainly add a spring to your step. Lemon water will help flush out the digestive tract and also encourage liver enzyme production. Plus it also helps to alkalise the system encouraging energy levels to soar and skin to glow.

Fresh lemons and lemon tea with root ginger on a wooden background

Ginger is a great winter spice that helps rev up the immune system. It also feeds the good gut bacteria aiding digestion, and warms up the body ready to start the day. At this time of year when bugs are rife, both lemon and ginger will help fight any nasty invaders that may cross your path.

Include protein at every meal

Protein is needed to maintain well-balanced blood sugar levels which, in turn, keeps energy levels sustained throughout the day.

Protein is also essential for tissue repair, hormone production, beautiful hair, skin and nails and enzyme function; it’s absolutely key for life. Many people believe they need to eat lots of carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and bread to feel full. However, it’s actually protein that fills you up and stops those cravings for unhealthy sweet treats. So increasing your protein is also going to benefit any weight loss plan (and who wouldn’t want help with that at this time of year!)

A range of foods containing protein

Eggs, fish, chicken, dairy, turkey and meat are all great sources of animal protein. Great vegetarian sources are soya, tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, grains, peas, nuts and seeds. Clearly, there’s a great choice of high protein foods; you just need to include some at every meal time. You’ll feel more energised, fitter, stronger and happier really quickly just by sticking to this simple rule.

Have a daily juice

This is not intended to replace a meal, but having a juice mid-morning provides a great nutritional ‘top-up’ for the day.

Whilst the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables is a minimum of five daily, from a nutritional perspective we ideally need around ten or more, which of course is not easy to achieve within our busy lives. Currently, only around 25% of the population are achieving this recommend minimum level of 5 a day. Therefore, juicing is a really easy way of increasing fruit and veg intake.

A range of fresh vegetable juices

Ideally a juice should contain mainly vegetables with some additional low glycaemic (not too sugar-laden) fruits. A great recipe example would be carrot, apple, celery, parsley and red pepper. Carrots are loaded with immune-boosting beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A. Apples and peppers contain lots of vitamin C. Celery is great for keeping blood pressure in check and alkalising the body, and any green food such as parsley is packed with chlorophyll, also known as the ‘food of life’.

It’s easy to see how many more nutrients you can obtain from having just one juice a day. And by including whole fruits and vegetables at meal times and as snacks, then you’ll still be getting the essential fibre and enzymes that are naturally found in these whole foods.

So put these three easy wins into practise this year to supercharge your health in 2019!

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