Nutritional resolutions for 2019: live your best life

 

Woman making soup

The start of a new year is always a brilliant time to make changes and improvements to life generally. However, it’s also the best time to re-think your diet and overall nutrition to see what could work better for YOU!

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It’s not always about re-inventing the wheel; where nutrition is concerned, sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some of her favourite foods to fuel you up and keep you warm!

Drink more water

This one sounds so simple. However, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel from just keeping the body properly hydrated. The body carries around 70-80% water. Of course, this is not ‘pure’ water because body fluids are made up of many different solutes; this is one of the reasons why athletes and recreational exercisers often use isotonic drinks to maintain good hydration levels. These drinks contain many of the electrolytes that are found in body fluids.

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

The good news, therefore, is that you don’t need to only drink plain water. Think herbal and fruit non-caffeinated teas. Try water with slices of lemon, cucumber or apple. Give lemon and crushed ginger a go – there’s plenty to choose from. It’s also a great way to help alkalise the body. You can also try blending: add a few green leaves such as spinach, chard and parsley and drink this throughout the day to provide the body with chlorophyll, otherwise known as the ‘food of life’. Aim for around 1 ½ litres of water-based drinks daily. Your brain, skin, digestion, joints and mood will all massively benefit!

Eat more omega-3s

We need to eat omega-3s very regularly in the diet as the body cannot produce them. However, for those of you that don’t eat fish or nuts and seeds, you may be missing out on these essential healthy fats. Early tell-tale signs that you might be lacking are dry skin, constipation, low mood and joint aches and pains – evidence as to why they’re known as the essential fats.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the best sources.   Good vegetarian sources are flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and hazelnuts. However, if you’re not including any of these foods in your diet at least every other day, then you certainly need to take either a fish oil supplement or a vegetarian flax oil or similar.

Make soup

Soups are a really easy and delicious way of bumping up your daily nutrient intake. Various forms of cooking can rob vegetables of their nutrients but soup has the added advantage of retaining most of its nutrients in the ingredients.

Watercress soup

Some popular soup suggestions:

  • Chicken: great for treating colds and blocked noses and packed with protein
  • Lentil: perfect for vegetarians, filling, warming and a great source of fibre and energising B vitamins
  • Minestrone: classic Italian soup made with lots of fresh vegetables containing immune-boosting vitamin C
  • Bouillabaisse: a thick French fish soup containing omega-3s, vitamin C from the tomatoes, together with plenty of iron and protein

You can make up a big pot of soup and it’ll last for a few days when refrigerated or you can freeze it in batches and it can last you even longer! So why not make 2019 the year of the soup – your body will just love being loaded with more nutrients throughout the year.

Take a Vitamin D supplement!

Public Health England recommends that everyone should take a supplement of vitamin D during the winter months and more frequently for some ‘at risk’ groups. However, even though we generally get some exposure to sun (the best source of vitamin D) during the summer, the body may still need a supplement. Think of it as a cheap health insurance policy to make sure you are getting enough.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Vitamin D is essential for the immune system as well as healthy bones and teeth and is especially important for growing bones. Additionally, people suffering from SAD and general low mood, are often low in vitamin D. Taking a daily supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of vitamin D is easy, cheap and very important.

Eat more fibre

Our typical highly refined western diet is normally always low in fibre. We should aim to eat around 30 grams of fibre a day from fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and whole foods such as beans and lentils.

Fibre is absolutely key for maintaining good digestion and to keep the bowels running smoothly. The body retains damaging toxins if it’s constipated. Additionally fibre is needed for heart health (the body eliminates bad cholesterol via the stools), effective weight management and for keeping our skin looking healthy and fresh.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

 

Many of us, over the Festive period, will have dined out on sugary, low fibre foods. But with a fresh start to 2019, resolve to include much more fibre in your diet. Enjoy some wholegrain oats for breakfast, some wholemeal rolls or jacket sweet potatoes for lunch and some chicken with quinoa and vegetables for dinner, as a quick example of a healthier, more nutritious day!

So making some healthy nutritional resolutions in 2019 doesn’t need to be complicated but simple changes can be very effective. Happy New Year!

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Fuel your festive walks with these top nutrition tips

MOther and child on her back dressed up in hats and scarves on a winter walk in the snow

Winter walks can take on a magic of their own, whether it’s snowy outside or crisp and dry. Winter weather may make us feel like snuggling up in the warm. But getting outside and taking some brisk walks can have so many health benefits, particularly for the heart and circulation. Plus it gets those feel-good endorphins ramped up!

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So what should you eat to keep you going before, during and after a wintery walk?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some of her favourite foods to fuel you up and keep you warm!

START THE DAY RIGHT

There’s no better way than to start the day in preparation for your walk than to eat a bowl of porridge. It will keep your energy levels sustained for long periods because it’s packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates.

However, for those who can’t tolerate gluten or find traditional porridge oats too fibrous, then why not change it up with a bowl of amaranth porridge? It can be used in flake-form and is readily available in the supermarket. Most importantly, it’s higher in protein than traditional oats and contains a wealth of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals.

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

Amaranth flakes can be simmered with some coconut or almond milk with cinnamon and nutmeg (also very warming spices), and then cooked through with some chopped pears or banana. It will give your body a warm, healthy glow to set you on your way.

WARMING SNACKS

Whilst the body will be burning calories during a walk, unless you’re going for a long walk you don’t need to eat vast amounts of additional food; the body has plenty of storage. However, if you’re going to be out for two or three hours, you’ll certainly need to pack a snack to keep you going.

Nut butter on rye bread

The best advice is to take something containing fat which will help keep the body warm. Therefore, choose the healthy omega-3 fats that your body can’t make but need very regularly and you’ll be getting plenty of additional health benefits. You can easily pack some almond, pumpkin seed or other nut butter spread on wholemeal or rye bread which will fill you up, warm you up and fuel you up for your bracing winter walk.

WARMING DRINKS

Warming drinks and food are needed during the winter because they help to energise the body and bring blood flow to the skin surface, which improves circulation. If we eat cooling foods such as salads during the winter months the body has to work a lot harder to digest food, which can cause digestive upsets.

A warming drink of honey, lemon and ginger

Some foods, and especially spices, are naturally warming. The most warming of all is ginger. Plus, it contains wonderful immune-stimulating properties, so is great to drink at the first sign of a cold. Why not fill a flask with some freshly grated ginger, lemon juice and a little immune-boosting Manuka honey with boiling water which is sure to keep you warm through the entire walk?

WARM YOURSELF BACK HOME

When you’ve had an amazing walk in the great outdoors, you’ll feel really invigorated! However, you’re probably also hungry and the body will need to be re-fuelled with a warming meal.

One of the best meal suggestions is to cook up a delicious curry. You can add a wealth of warming spices such as turmeric, paprika, chilli, and coriander. As we know, all herbs and spices contain a range of health benefits, but coriander is also good for the digestive tract, which may be really helpful over the Festive period!

A curry surrounded by herbs and spices

There’s no end of choice when it comes to making a curry; try a vegetable curry using sweet potato, chickpeas and other vegetables as a base. Or why not a fish curry with white fish of your choice, onions and broccoli. Another firm winter favourite is a lamb curry with raisins and cashew nuts. If you invest in a slow-cooker, then it can all be thrown into the pot before you leave for your walk and will be ready and waiting on your return.

Leek and potato soup in a bowl

Soups are another great winter warmer that work really following a brisk walk and need very little preparation. Leek and potato, spicy bean or winter minestrone are all excellent choices, particularly for lunch if you’ve been out for a morning stroll, and are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals.

So whatever the weather, get outdoors and with these top food tips you’ll be warm on the inside so you won’t feel too much of the cold on the outside!

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

 

Talking rhubarb: everything you need to know

Whilst there may be some confusion around whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable, there’s certainly no doubt about its nutritional benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes a closer look at rhubarb and why it’s worth including in your diet.

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RHUBARB IN THE RAW

Rhubarb is very widely grown around the world and has quite a long season but right now it’s at its best.  To set the record straight, rhubarb is actually a vegetable!  It has been widely grown in the UK for around 400 years and tends to be sweeter if grown in greenhouses.  The redder the stalks the sweeter the taste! Rhubarb can be a little ‘tart’ hence the reason it’s often cooked with other sweeter fruits.

Its ‘real’ name is Rheum which is the ancient name for the River Volga in Russia. The Chinese first discovered rhubarb thousands of years ago but it wasn’t until the 17th century that it was used in the UK as a food.

Whilst there are many benefits to including rhubarb in your diet, it is important to note that only the stalks and flowers can be eaten; the leaves are actually poisonous.  Another hot tip is that rhubarb is best not cooked in an aluminium saucepan as the metal can be absorbed into the food.  Other than that, it has many merits!

NUTRITIONAL PROFILE

One of rhubarb’s nutritional highlights is that it’s very high in vitamin K which is one of our key bone-building vitamins.  Vitamin K is important in the normal bone re-modelling process that is constantly happening within the body. As part of their normal functioning, bone cells are constantly destroyed and re-built and vitamin K is key in this process.

As with most fruits and vegetables, rhubarb contains good levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C is great for boosting the immune system and is one of our hardest working vitamins, helping to keep the body fit and well.

Rhubarb is also a high antioxidant food, right up there with some of the berry fruits.  Foods high in antioxidants help stave off free radicals which are responsible for the ageing process and some of our more common degenerative diseases.  Therefore, including more antioxidant foods in the diet is always going to be beneficial. Research has also been carried out using extracts of rhubarb to see how it can potentially help protect against Alzheimer’s[1].  Studies of this nature are limited but it just shows the potential power of food!

When the wonders of rhubarb were first discovered a few thousand years ago, medical herbalists used it in tincture form to help ease digestive upsets.  Rhubarb is naturally high in fibre so will certainly keep the bowels in smooth working order if nothing else!

In Chinese medicine, rhubarb is believed to help inflammation and reduce infection.  Its anti-inflammatory effects seem to help the mucous membranes.  Therefore, if you’re suffering from the dreaded hay fever right now, then eating some stewed rhubarb regularly might just help.

RHUBARB RECIPES

The most important point to remember when using rhubarb in recipes is that the redder the edible stalks, the more likely they’ll be sweeter in taste.

Rhubarb is naturally quite sour so, but for obvious reasons, adding too much sugar is best avoided. However, rhubarb works really well with strawberries, which of course are readily available right now.  Try stewing some rhubarb with a little maple syrup and then cool. Add some walnuts and mixed seeds and you’ve got yourself a wonderful breakfast topping for your porridge or cereal.

One of the most traditional ways to use rhubarb is in a crumble – a lovely indulgent pudding for special occasions.  Rhubarb works really well on its own or with oranges or apples.

You could even try rhubarb in a smoothie. Why not simmer some rhubarb with a little honey the night before.  Then whisk up the next morning with some other berries of your choice, together with some granola for a really filling and tasty start to your day!

So whilst rhubarb might not always have been the first choice in your shopping trolley, it certainly offers some wonderful nutritional benefits and tasty treats. Enjoy!

[1] Misiti F et al, Protective effect of rhubarb derivatives on amyloid beta (1-42) peptide-induced apoptosis in IMR-32 cells: a case of nutrigenomic.  Brain Res Bull 2006 Dec 11; 71(1-3): 29-36. Epub 2006 Aug 7

 

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How to fight hay fever the natural way

If the onset of summer means itchy eyes, tickly throat and lots of sneezing, then there’s plenty of natural help at hand for hay fever.  Unfortunately, summer can be a miserable time for millions of hay fever sufferers but there are lots of ways that nature can actually help.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at some natural remedies to help combat hay fever so you can better enjoy the lovely summer days.

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IMMUNE DEFENCE

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which, in, turn causes the tell-tale itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and wheezing.

Supporting the immune system needs to be the first line of defence.  Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and cause these symptoms.  Plus it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.

The body also converts something called beta carotene into vitamin A as it needs it; colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly carrots, peppers, mangoes and sweet potatoes all contain beta carotene and should certainly feature high on the menu to really help boost the immune system.

With the summer months now in full swing, we tend to naturally eat more fruits, vegetables and salads in any case so you’ll generally be eating more vitamin C, another key immune-booster. Berry fruits, in particular, are all high in vitamin C.

If you’re time-poor having a selection of fruits and vegetables in the freeze is a great way to make sure you have access to those immune-boosting nutrients at any time.

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

The spice, turmeric, is currently hot, in more ways than one!  There’s been extensive research published on the many health benefits of turmeric (also known as curcumin), and one of its key uses is reducing any inflammation in the body.

Turmeric appears to dampen down a specific enzyme in the body which is triggered by pollen, therefore, it can certainly help manage hay fever symptoms.  It’s easy to include turmeric in lots of dishes, not just spicy curries.  As an idea, spicy scrambled egg with spinach makes a wonderful breakfast.

Additionally, turmeric is widely available in supplement form if it’s just a little bit too hot for your palate.

INCLUDE QUERCETIN

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can help prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of allergies.

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

MAKE A CUPPA

There are two herbs of particular note which can help alleviate symptoms of hay fever. Camomile makes a wonderfully calming tea and is a natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine; Elderflower tea can help chesty conditions and so may also help to ease hay fever.

EAT MORE FISH

Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna are all good sources of the omega-3 fats which help to manage any inflammation in the body.  It, therefore, naturally follows that these healthy omega-3 fats can help to dampen down some of the unpleasant hay fever symptoms.

With the barbecue season now in full flow, all these fish are great cooked in this way; try to eat oily fish three times a week if possible.

So, if you’re a hay fever sufferer, hopefully some of these natural remedies can help stop you sneezing your way through the summer!

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The power of peas: tiny but nutritious!

With their beautiful dense green colour, fresh peas are at their absolute best right now. There are many varieties of peas to choose from plus there’s always the ‘fresh or frozen’ question to debate!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us everything we need to know about peas (with ease!)

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PEA VARIETIES

Peas are a really popular vegetable in the UK with some sources estimating a whopping 9,000 being eaten by the average person a year!  Unlike many of our fruits and vegetables, peas are actually grown in the UK with around 35,000 hectares given over to their farming.

The most common types of peas, other than those taken out of the pod, are mange tout (also called snow peas) and sugar snap peas.  They are members of the legume family.

Garden peas have firm, rounded pods that need to be removed and discarded before eating the peas inside. Garden peas are naturally quite sweet and get sweeter and starchier the larger they get. Conversely, snow peas are eaten ‘whole’; also known as Chinese pea pods, they are often used in stir fries.

Sugar snap peas are actually a cross between snow peas and garden peas.  The whole pod is eaten either raw or cooked and they have a crunchy texture with quite a sweet flavour.

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS

Since all these peas are from the same legume family, their nutritional highlights are also fairly similar.  They provide a rich source of thiamin or vitamin B1 which is great for energy production and the heart, and are also high in vitamin C.  Plus, peas provide a good source of protein, hence they are used to produce protein powders which are particularly popular with vegetarian athletes.

Peas are high in folate which is key in brain development and energy production; pregnant women certainly need higher levels of folate in their diet. They are also high in fibre so they are great to include in the diet if you want to keep your bowels in smooth working order.

FRESH VERSUS FROZEN

The first peas were frozen by Clarence Birdseye in the 1920’s and Birds Eye Foods still have the most market share of frozen pea sales today!

Many people prefer to eat frozen peas rather than fresh because once peas have been harvested they undergo chemical changes quite rapidly.  The natural sugar in peas is quickly converted into starch which can make their texture tough to eat and less digestible.  However, the freezing process is normally done very quickly after harvesting which both locks the nutrients in plus makes them more tender to eat.

The other great benefit is that frozen peas require absolute no preparation!  They’re readily available for curries, soups, casseroles, risottos or just as a delicious vegetable side with some melted butter and chopped chives.

Another question that’s often posed is regarding the nutritional content of tinned peas. Unfortunately, they do lose more of their nutritional value in the canning process and they can often be high in sugar and salt. So they are not the ideal pea choice!

TIPS FOR COOKING

As with any fruit or vegetable, cooking with as little heat as possible is always better.  This is mainly because vitamin C is so easily lost in the cooking process.  Therefore, steaming is always recommended or cooking in a just a small amount of water.

PEAS VERSUS PULSES

People can often get confused, quite understandably, around the differences between peas and pulses.  This is mainly because of pulses called chick peas or black-eyed peas!

Peas are actually legumes and whilst pulses are part of the legume family, they actually refer to the dried seed.  Various beans, such as soya, lentils and chickpeas, are probably the most common types of pulses.  All pulses have good amounts of protein but don’t contain all the essential amino acids, hence they need to be combined with grains to get everything the body needs.

So there we have peas in a nutshell (or more correctly a pod!) They are a great go-to vegetable and if you’ve got some in your freezer all year round, you’ll never go without your daily greens!

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Celebrate the summer berry season

The Great British institution of Wimbledon kicks off this week, and whilst in celebratory mood our thoughts tend to turn to strawberries.  Home-grown British strawberries are at their absolute best right now in terms of flavour and the great news is that they also deliver some amazing health benefits. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the health benefits of these heart-shaped fruit.  And if strawberries don’t ‘float your boat’ there are plenty of other berries to choose from!

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STRAWBERRY NUTRITION

It may surprise you to know that strawberries are not actually a fruit at all!  This is because their seeds are on the outside, not the inside. They are actually part of the rose or rosaceae family!

Strawberries are a very rich source of vitamin C.  In fact, they feature at about number five in the list of foods highest in vitamin C.  They also contain folate, one of the family of B vitamins that delivers great energy.

Strawberries contain manganese, which is great for the joints.  This benefit is further enhanced by the presence of compounds called ellagitannins which help manage inflammation in the body (which ultimately can cause pain). So if you’ve been hard at work in the garden and your back is complaining, you know what to reach for!

Anthocyanins provide the amazing red colour of strawberries, and these plant compounds also deliver some powerful immune-boosting antioxidants.  Strawberries are also high in fibre to help keep the bowels running smoothly and support a healthy heart.

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF STRAWBERRIES

As well as their enviable nutritional profile, strawberries are beneficial in a number of health conditions.

With Type 2 diabetes becoming ever more prevalent, one of the best ways to try to avoid its onset, is by eating foods that are known to be low glycaemic (or low GI).  This means that whilst they contain sugar, mainly in the form of fructose, this type of sugar is released more slowly into the body. Therefore, this helps to balance blood sugar levels, an imbalance of which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Strawberries actually have a much lower glycaemic index than other fruits such as bananas, pineapples, apricots and cantaloupe melon.

As previously highlighted, strawberries are rich in antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation in the body, and this too can have positive benefits on brain health.  Even though very limited research has been carried out, it seems that eating strawberries can help re-generate the nerves involved in the area of the brain that processes new information. So summertime, when strawberries are at their best, might be a great time to learn something new; maybe a foreign language so you’ll be well prepared when next year’s holiday comes around!

So, what if strawberries aren’t top of your berry list? No problem – there are plenty of other berries to choose from!

BLUEBERRIES

Ranked second only to strawberries in terms of their popularity, blueberries are often referred to as a superfood.  As with strawberries (and other berry fruits), it’s all about the colour. The deep pigment colour is attributed to anthocyanins, which are very powerful compounds that provide antioxidants.

Part of the reason that blueberries are often termed superfoods, is because they have a wider array of other health-boosting plant compounds than almost any other fruit. They have been found to be great for maintaining sharp brain function, keeping blood sugar levels in balance and supporting the eyes.

CHERRIES

Whilst cherries may be seen as more difficult to eat because of the stone, they more than make up for this inconvenience with their nutritional benefits.

Cherries come in the form of sweet or tart and they actually provide different health benefits.

Whilst they’re a rich source of vitamin C just like the other berry fruits, all cherries have been found to help combat the painful condition, gout, which causes very painful and inflamed joints.  Gout is caused by too much uric acid in the blood and cherries actually help to reduce this, thereby aiding symptoms.

On the other hand, tart cherries are one of the only natural sources of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone.  They are fairly sharp to eat whole, therefore are best consumed in tart cherry juice which can be sipped morning and evening for best effect.

BLACKBERRIES

If strawberries are closely associated with Wimbledon, then blackberry-picking just shouts ‘summer’! Wild blackberries are abundant on the hedgerows and are an amazing accompaniment to many a dessert, particularly a fresh, fruit salad.

Whilst they contain an amazing array of powerful plant compounds, blackberries also provide an impressive amount of vitamins including vitamins A, E, K and the B vitamins. Blackberries are also high in two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been found to be highly beneficial to eye sight.

So summer berry season is here!  Enjoy them all for extra health and nutrition benefits and feel energised all summer long!

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Boost your creativity in the kitchen with these seven unusual ingredients!

It’s the weekly dilemma… what to eat!  Time pressures, lack of enthusiasm or the fact that we like routine, often means we rotate the same dishes week in and week out.  However, with a little more planning and an injection of new ideas, you can rev up your weekly menus and grab some serious health benefits in the bargain.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares seven unusual ingredients that will tempt your taste buds and give your health a boost!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

NIGELLA SEEDS

Rumour has it that nigella seeds were once found in Tutankhamun’s tomb in ancient Egypt.  Obviously this is difficult to prove but we do understand they are one of the oldest spices known to man!

Nigella seeds are black and their taste is like a combination of onions, black pepper and oregano.  They are perfect added to curries and stews and are a great alternative to pepper with vegetables and salads. Additionally, they make a great flavouring to home-made breads.

Whilst nothing has officially been proven in terms of their health benefits, nigella seeds appear to help reduce blood pressure and blood fat levels, including cholesterol.

When you’re walking for long stretches at a time, energy levels can become depleted quite quickly, particularly if you’re tackling some challenging inclines. Therefore, what’s needed is quick energy-boosting or high glycaemic foods; these are foods that help the body to break down our preferred fuel, glucose, for readily available energy.

SEA VEGETABLES

Whilst many people have heard of sea vegetables, there is confusion around what to do with them and where to find them. They are becoming increasingly popular, not least because their many health benefits are finally being acknowledged.

There are literally hundreds of varieties of sea vegetables but the most common ones are kombu, nori, kelp and dulse. They are all packed with iodine which is essential for thyroid function and is often depleted in the Western diet. They also contain a wealth of other minerals and some vitamins, plus they contain antioxidants which boost the immune system as well as protecting the body from free radicals.

The easiest and tastiest way to eat sea vegetables is added to soups and stews.  They are fairly salty so you won’t need any additional salt and they can be found in most supermarkets.

STAR ANISE

As the name suggests, star anise looks just like an eight pointed star (almost too pretty to eat!)  It is widely used in Chinese cooking and is, in fact, one of the spices in five-spice blends.  As with all spices, star anise contains numerous potential health benefits: it has been used to treat everything from bacterial infections to back pain to stomach upsets.  Without doubt, it will promote better health.

It is used in many Chinese dishes but also packs a real punch when added whole to slow-cook casseroles.

CARAWAY SEEDS

Caraway seeds are actually from the same family as star anise and provide the same strongly aromatic flavours.  They have been used traditionally to relieve flatulence, colic and bronchitis but generally they are used for digestive upsets.

Caraway seeds are very versatile in many recipes but work particularly well in soups such as spicy roasted parsnip or butternut squash.  They also work well in combination with other spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.

As with all spices, you’ll be grabbing some health benefits as well as some taste benefits!

SOBA NOODLES

Soba noodles are the Japanese equivalent of buckwheat noodles which means they are gluten-free and make a great alternative to pasta or other types of noodles. They contain almost zero fat but provide some additional calories when you need to bulk up a soup or casserole.  They are fabulous just added to a stir-fry dish alongside chicken, mangetout, soy and red chilli, or as equally fabulous served chilled with a dipping sauce.

As soba noodles are relatively low in protein and very low in fat this means that they are fairly high on the glycaemic index which means they can provide an unwanted insulin spike. Because of this, they are much better eaten with some good quality protein such as beef, chicken, fish or eggs.

REISHI MUSHROOMS

There are so many varieties of mushrooms but some provide better health benefits than others.  Enter reishi mushrooms also known as red reishi or lingzhi mushrooms.  They have been eaten for thousands of years in Asian countries but are now widely eaten around the world; interestingly, reishi mushrooms are eaten more for their health benefits than their taste as they tend to be slightly bitter.

They are particularly prized for their apparent anti-aging properties and for their benefits to the immune system.  They also help to detoxify the liver, protect the body against cognitive decline, reduce blood pressure and boost energy – quite a list! Reishi mushrooms are best added to dishes with strong flavours such as stir fries – you’ll benefit from their wonderful health benefits, whilst masking their slightly bitter taste.

HEMP PROTEIN

Just to put to rest any confusion around hemp, hemp is not cannabis – they just come from the same plant species – and that’s where the similarities end!  Hemp is a great source of vegetarian and vegan protein and it actually contains all the essential amino acids, which is very unusual for a plant-based protein.  It’s got a slightly nutty tasting and can be used in many dishes such as breads, cookies, cakes, smoothies and even pasta!

Hemp pasta is readily available in dried form and can be used in exactly the same way as ‘normal’ pasta.  Hemp is generally mixed with durum wheat flour to produce the pasta which provides a high protein, high fibre dish that’s packed with healthy omega-6 fatty acids together with some omega-3s.

So, with a few unusual ingredients, you can add some wonderful new flavours, textures and nutrients to your daily diet!  Enjoy!

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

Boost your hikes with these top energising trail snacks

What can be better than getting out into the great outdoors!  There are so many activities to be enjoyed outside and walking and hiking are becoming increasingly popular.  But what food should you take on your hike to keep your energy up and those legs moving?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top energising and portable snacks to keep you going on the trails all day.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

When you’re walking for long stretches at a time, energy levels can become depleted quite quickly, particularly if you’re tackling some challenging inclines. Therefore, what’s needed is quick energy-boosting or high glycaemic foods; these are foods that help the body to break down our preferred fuel, glucose, for readily available energy.

Here are 5 of my top go-to snacks for walking, hiking and trail-blazing!

BAGEL AND JAM

A white bagel provides a dense source of energy which can be quickly accessed by the body without delivering a high fat content. Whilst the body can use fat as a fuel source, it takes much longer to be converted and delivered to the muscles where it’s mostly needed.

Jam of course has a high sugar content, which makes it a very usable short-term energy fix.  Even better, bagels and jam require no refrigeration and are light and easy to carry in a back-pack.

DRIED FRUIT

If you’re out trekking all day and maybe walking at altitude for some of the time, the body actually burns up carbohydrates a lot more quickly than in normal circumstances – so you’ll find yourself feeling super-hungry. Whilst eating lots of dried fruit is not to be recommended too often, it’s actually a great snack when you’re in need of some quick fuel.

You can choose whichever fruit you most enjoy.  Raisins, for example, are also a great source of iron which many people, especially women, are lacking, and iron is good at boosting energy levels. Dried apples, as an alternative, will provide a small amount of vitamin C and dried apricots are high in heart-friendly potassium.  The choice is yours – why not mix with a handful of your favourite nuts and create your own trail mix?

BANANA

Keeping the body fuelled whilst walking or hiking for long periods is essential for maximum enjoyment of the day. However, large quantities of food are not needed and in fact can cause digestive upsets (not great if you’re on a long walk!)

Bananas fit the bill perfectly; they’re very portable, they relieve hunger pangs quickly and they provide an energy boost plus additional vitamins and minerals to top up the body’s normal daily requirements.

However, it’s probably best not to consume more than one during the day as they’re high in fibre and may cause bloating.

MUESLI BARS

For many people, muesli is their favourite cereal.  Therefore, being able to take a muesli snack bar out for the day represents a real treat!  Whilst these bars contain quite high amounts of sugar, and are not recommended on a daily basis, they are perfect for this type of exercise.

Even better, why not make up your own bars using honey, caster sugar, butter, some rolled oats, sultanas, dried apricots and some mixed seeds (such as pumpkin seeds)?  They’re totally delicious and also contain some excellent nutrients: oats are great for reducing cholesterol levels, and pumpkin seeds are a good source of healthy omega-3 fats which are great for the heart, joints and brain.

Bring a few to share and everyone will love you on the mountain!

SPORTS BARS

There are an array of sports bars in the supermarkets and specialist sports shops, but which one to choose?  They all have their own merits but one of the biggest problems with sports bars is that they often contain chemical sweeteners, such as aspartame.  These types of sweeteners are not great for us because they are chemicals, plus many people get digestive upsets and bloating when eating foods containing high levels of sweeteners.

So when choosing a sports bar look for one that’s high in carbohydrates but be sure to check what else is in it before purchasing.  There are plenty of options that use natural sweeteners, particularly if you look in health food stores, and they’ll still keep you well energised throughout the day.

DON’T FORGET TO HYDRATE

Most importantly, don’t forget to take plenty of fluid with you – at least 2 litres if you’re out all day or tackling a more strenuous hike. The body also re-hydrates more quickly if you add a little fruit juice to your water rather than just drinking it plain, so why not take one bottle with water and fruit juice, and one without?

So get out there and enjoy your summer walks to their fullest, and with the right snacks you won’t be flagging up those challenging hills!

 FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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

Five nutritious snacks to get you through the afternoon!

For many people, the 3pm hunger pangs can often mean reaching for something not-so-good for you! But if you’re flagging what’s the best way to beat the energy dip?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, recommends her five top healthy snacks to get you through the afternoon.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

There are many possibilities for healthy afternoon snacks.  As with main meals, snacks should contain some protein in order to keep blood sugar levels in good balance and energy levels sustained for the rest of the day. Here’s some great suggestions:

 

WALNUT BUTTER HUMMUS AND OATCAKES

This is a great twist on traditional hummus with even more benefits! It’s so easy to mix up some walnut hummus using walnut butter, crushed garlic, chickpeas and the zest of an orange. This combination of protein and carbohydrates plus oat cakes release energy slowly, so you won’t get any unwanted blood sugar spikes.

Walnut butter is one of the healthiest nut butters, packed full of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Garlic is great for the heart, chickpeas are an excellent source of protein and oranges of course contain Vitamin C.

CREAMY AVOCADO

Not only does avocado deliver a range of nutrients but it makes a very tasty and easily transportable snack.

Whilst they do contain around eight grams of fat, the bigger picture is that avocados provide good amounts of heart and skin-healthy monounsaturated fats, together with high levels of the mineral potassium, also great for the heart.  Potassium also helps regulate the body’s natural water balance, therefore avocados can also help manage any uncomfortable water retention.

An avocado can be mashed on many things! A slice of rye or wholemeal toast, rice cakes, or oatcakes.  Alternatively, it can be eaten with a few prawns or a little smoked salmon.

ENERGY BITES

These are fantastically easy to make and require no cooking and very little thought!  Plus they satisfy the criteria for balancing protein and carbohydrate. All you need to do is combine some peanut butter, ground flaxseeds, agave syrup, oats and some coconut flakes and make them into balls that can be left in the fridge and eaten as needed.

These balls will really rev up your afternoon energy levels; coconut is an excellent energy booster, flaxseeds are a great source of omega 3’s (also good for metabolism), whilst oats provide sustainable energy.  They’re real winners!

NATURAL SOYA YOGHURT AND FRUIT

Soya yoghurts are a great ‘go-to’ snack!  They also contain protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer, plus the combination of the carbohydrate-containing fruit, together with the protein will ensure your energy levels soar for the rest of the day!

All types of yoghurts, whether they be made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, coconut milk, goat’s milk or soya beans have become increasingly popular over the years.  However, soya yoghurts have a slight advantage as they generally have less calories and fat.

Add a handful of delicious berries of your choice, which are low glycaemic (or slow-energy releasing) and packed full of vitamins, and you’ve got the perfect afternoon snack.

OATS AND CINNAMON

Oats don’t always have to be for breakfast -they also make an excellent afternoon snack.  Oats are low on the glycaemic index, and if you add a little coconut milk to provide even more energy, together with some sliced apple, you’ve got a really balanced snack.

However, the real show-stopper is a generous sprinkling of cinnamon over the top!  Cinnamon is great for blood sugar balancing, therefore keeping energy levels sustained, and is also a powerful antioxidant, to help hold back the years.

This is a really portable snack; the oats can be soaked in apple juice and ‘potted’, making them more digestible later in the day.  Just add your milk, sliced apple and cinnamon.

So enjoy these afternoon treats and pack some energy into your afternoons!

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie