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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Eat seasonally: top fruits and vegetables for June

A woman holding a heartshaped bowl full of strawberries

As always time flies by and we’re already at the halfway point of the year. However, a big consolation is that June offers a wonderful array of colourful and nutritious fruits and vegetables. 

The more we can eat with the seasons, generally the better the nutrient content of the food.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top fruits and vegetables for June.

Courgettes

A range of courgettes

Courgettes are a type of marrow that are also known as zucchini to the Italians and Americans.  As with many fruits and vegetables most of their nutrients are found just under the skin, hence the skin is soft and perfectly edible.  However, because their flavour is very ‘light’, courgettes are often cooked in recipes with some stronger flavours.  A great option is baking them with garlic, sundried tomatoes, pinenuts and topping with breadcrumbs. Or why not try roasting with other vegetables with rosemary, or in a delicious ratatouille with tomatoes, thyme, garlic and aubergines.

Courgettes,Stuffed,With,Breadcrumbs,,Pine,Nuts,,Sun,Dried,Tomatoes,And

Courgettes are a great source of the antioxidant vitamin C, which helps protect the skin from sun damage and the ageing process.  Additionally, they are high in energising folate and beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as the body needs, and which protects the immune system.

Strawberries

a punnet of strawberries

Strawberries are synonymous with the British summer and locally grown summer strawberries have a much fuller flavour than those imported during the winter months.  Whilst strawberries are called ‘fruits’ they are actually from the rose family.  However, we would certainly not hold this against them because they’re nutritional jewels when it comes to delivering plenty of vitamin C (one of the highest amounts within the berry family of fruits).

Strawberries are also rich in powerful antioxidants, helping protect us from disease including heart disease and other degenerative conditions.

Two bowls of strawberries and cream

Strawberries can stand proudly on their own. However, their delicious flavour is enhanced by eating them with a little balsamic vinegar, in a pie, with cream or with other colourful summer berries.

Asparagus

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of fresh asparagus

This is another example of how eating British and in season is an entirely different experience to eating imported versions that can be tough and tasteless throughout the year.  English asparagus needs to be grabbed quickly because the season is very short.  Plus, it quickly deteriorates after picking so it needs to be eaten as freshly as possible.

Grilled asparagus wrapped in parma ham

Asparagus contains more energising folate than any other vegetable and which is a nutrient that’s frequently deficient in the UK population. Additionally, the fibre in asparagus works as a prebiotic, helping feed the beneficial bacteria that naturally resides in the digestive tract and which plays such an important role in our health.  It needs no more than lightly steaming and serving with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Or perhaps try them wrapped in parma ham.

Aubergine

Fresh,Healthy,Raw,Purple,Eggplant,On,A,Kitchen,Wooden,Table.

Whilst we tend to associate aubergine with Mediterranean countries, it is widely grown in the UK.  And whilst it used to be advised to salt them before cooking to draw out some of their bitterness, their flavour has changed over the years, so this is no longer necessary.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

Whilst aubergines are naturally low in fat, they are often griddled or grilled using oil and they do tend to soak it up like a sponge so use it sparingly!  They are delicious cooked in this way, but many may prefer to use them in stews, curries, or ratatouille dishes.  Their beautiful purple skin means aubergines are rich in anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants – hence it’s always better to cook them retaining the skin for most nutritional benefits.

Watercress

A bunch of watercress on a wooden board

With its very distinctive peppery flavour, watercress is one of the healthiest salad vegetables. Indeed, it’s a member of the highly nutritious cruciferous vegetable family, just like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.  Watercress will therefore also have many of their unique health benefits: it is high in vitamin C, beta-carotene and iron, plus it’s a great liver and kidney cleanser.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress is traditionally used in soups and works really well used in this way with Jersey Royal potatoes (also now in season).  However, it’s great to fully enjoy its delicious flavour in salads with bacon, spinach and Parmesan or in carrot-based juices.

So, embrace seasonal eating and enhance your health too this June – 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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Celebrating tomatoes

shutterstock_454912315 tomatoes Mar17

It’s British Tomato fortnight, acknowledging everything that is great and healthy about tomatoes.

Known as the ‘Apple of Love’, tomatoes are technically a fruit rather than a vegetable, with the affectionate name originating from the Italians.  However, it was actually the Mexicans that first made the discovery of this wonderful fruit.

So, what is so fabulous about tomatoes?  Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells all.

Nutritional low-down

Whilst tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, they are a great source of many of our essential nutrients.  Tomatoes provide a very good source of immune-boosting vitamin C, one of our busiest vitamins. They also contain he B-vitamin biotin, often called the beauty vitamin because of its beneficial effects on hair and skin, plus heart loving vitamin E and potassium. Indeed, they have a wide and varied nutritional profile.

shutterstock_203320249 tomato salad June15

You can find red, orange or yellow tomatoes and whilst all colours have nutritional merits, it’s red tomatoes that deliver on all fronts.

Antioxidant power

Tomatoes are rich in conventional antioxidants vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E (in the form of carotenoids) and zinc and manganese. But it is carotenoids that really deliver antioxidant power.

shutterstock_186831911 tomatoes in heart shape Feb20

There has been much research carried out on the carotenoids that are abundant in tomatoes, namely lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein. And it’s specifically lycopene that has been found to have wonderful benefits for heart health. It appears that lycopene can help reduce levels of harmful fats in the blood, a major cause of cardiovascular issues.  Tomatoes can help reduce levels of cholesterol, an accumulation of which is a major cause of atherosclerosis, as well as managing platelet activity in the bloodstream, helping fend off blood clots.

Lycopene has also been much studied in relation to male prostate health, again with very positive outcomes, and huge quantities of tomatoes don’t need to be consumed to gain some real benefits. Plus, the antioxidant power provided by beta-carotene is great at protecting the skin from sun damage.

How to eat them

The carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients which means they are best absorbed with other fats.  The Italians certainly understood how to get the best out of tomatoes by eating them with olive oil.  Interestingly, lycopene is very well absorbed when tomatoes are made into a sauce or paste that contains some olive oil.

shutterstock_175597250 soup June15

One of the healthiest recipes is to make soup from ripe tomatoes. The soup can be made with carrot, celery, and onions (fried in some olive oil), vegetable stock and tomato puree.  It has all the right ingredients for producing one of the best ways of gaining all that’s great about tomatoes nutritionally.

shutterstock_663551029 spaghetti and tomato sauce Sept17

If you want the real taste of Italy, then spaghetti with tomato sauce including some chillies, shallots and basil, with some torn mozzarella to serve, is really going to make the mouth water.

So, celebrate this wonderfully nutritious jewel in the fruit basket and get creative with tomato recipes!

Stay well.

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Probiotics and prebiotics: how to support your gut bacteria the natural way

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

A nutritionist will always say that if your digestive system is not working correctly, then nothing else will.  In essence, what goes on within the gut affects all other body systems. 

The good news, however, is that if you look after what’s inside, you’ll glow on the outside. Much of this is down to probiotics, otherwise known as friendly gut bacteria, and the prebiotics that fuel them.

This World Digestive Health Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares the ins and outs of probiotics and prebiotics.

What are they?

A word cloud around Probiotics

The word probiotic literally means ‘for life’ such is their importance to our overall health.  The exact number of probiotic strains is thought to be around 400 but more research is being carried out all the time.  Most current research tends to be around some of most important and prevalent strains being Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

Variety,Of,Prebiotic,Foods,For,Gut,Health,,Low,Carb,Diet,

Prebiotics on the other hand are a type of non-digestible fibre that help feed these friendly guys. They are found in many different types of foods, especially certain fruits and vegetables. Prebiotics are sometimes referred to as the ‘fertiliser’ of the digestive tract because they stimulate growth and wellbeing of probiotics.

Why do I need them?

Probiotics are essential for human health and the more we know, the more we realise just how critical they are to our wellness.  They fulfil many different functions throughout the body, including encouraging healthy digestion and helping to normalise issues such as constipation and diarrhoea. They also help to control and limit the production of parasites and pathogenic intestinal yeasts.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

Probiotics synthesise vitamins including vitamin K, vitamin B12, folic acid and biotin, hence they have a big role to play in skin, bone, brain and hair health.  Importantly they are essential for keeping the immune system in good shape (even more important right now).

shutterstock_271645694 jogger with bones higlighted in leg Aug15

Clearly, if probiotics aren’t correctly nourished then they aren’t going to flourish, which is why prebiotics are essential too.  They help to feed the good guys and research has found they aid calcium absorption, hence are important for bone density. They also play a key role in brain health and help the body to process carbohydrates and balance blood sugar levels. Prebiotics are often used on their own or alongside probiotics in supplement form to great effect in cases of IBS and inflammatory bowel disease.

Where do I find them?

A,Set,Of,Fermented,Food,Great,For,Gut,Health,-

In short, probiotics are primarily found in fermented foods, which are widely eaten in traditional Asian diets. They are naturally found in kefir made from goat, cow or sheep milk with kefir grains and kimchi made from fermented cabbage, cucumber and radish. Sauerkraut, produced from fermented cabbage, miso from fermented soya beans and natural live yoghurt are also great sources.  Whilst they are not always the first-choice foods in traditional western diets, more and more people are realising their health benefits so are including them in their diets.

Prebiotic,Products,,Sources,Of,These,Bacteria,,Nutrient,Rich,Food.,Flat

Prebiotics can be found in bananas, oats, Jerusalem artichokes, green vegetables, onions, garlic, soybeans, chicory and asparagus.  And if you’ve ever wondered why you may have more flatulence after eating these foods, it’s because they start a feeding frenzy in the gut.  This is a good thing but maybe not so pleasant for you (or those you live with!). However, once the gut is in better shape, the effects of eating these foods will be much less noticeable.

How can I use them in daily recipes?

The short answer is ‘very easily’. You don’t necessarily need to have probiotics and prebiotics in the same meal and the good news is that many of these prebiotic foods are frequently included in the diet already.

Pot of natural yoghurt

Natural yoghurt is often part of the daily diet and kefir is readily available in drink form or in yoghurts, in supermarkets. And if you’ve not tried other fermented foods, why not start with this simple miso and prawn recipe from BBC Food. It’s got a great balance of probiotics and prebiotics and is super tasty too!

So, with a little careful planning, you can increase your intake of probiotics and prebiotics naturally, providing wonderful health benefits.

Stay well.

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How to eat mindfully

A balanced meal of chicken, rice and vegetables

Meditation and mindfulness are both about bringing awareness to yourself in the present and can help ease feelings of anxiety and stress. Eating mindfully is also talked about frequently but what does it actually mean in reality? 

It can actually mean different things to different people but overall it’s about getting the most out of your mealtime experience and, in turn, harnessing the wonderful powers of nature for maximum health benefits.

This World Meditation Day Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top tips on how to eat mindfully.

Plan your meals with passion

Mealtimes are not just a time for re-fuelling the body with essential nutrients. They are an opportunity to show your body some love and also enjoy what you’re eating.  Think about living to eat rather than eating to live, because food is one of life’s pleasures.

Person's,Hand,Filling,Meal,Plan,Form,On,Clipboard

Unfortunately, life is busy and meal planning often goes down the list of priorities. However, rather than over-complicating things, try to plan at the beginning of the week and just think about the amount of colour each meal is going to provide.  The more colour, the more nutrients you will consume and the more appealing the food on the plate becomes.

Vegan,Chili,With,Beans,,Mushrooms,,And,Vegetables

Two great examples of colourful meals would be mixed bean chilli, including tomatoes and chopped carrots, with basmati rice and some steamed broccoli. Or how about poached salmon, mashed sweet potato, with steamed cauliflower and mange tout.  Both of these will provide wonderful health benefits with a great combination of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.Boost your Breakfast

Chew thoughtfully

This advice is actually embedded in science.  When we chew slowly, putting our knife and fork down between mouthfuls, the sophisticated and complex signalling mechanism that engages from mouth to gut works much more efficiently.  In turn, digestive enzymes and bile production are increased (both essential for successful overall digestion) and this also helps nutrient absorption.

A balanced meal of chicken, rice and vegetables

Additionally, the satiety hormones that signal feelings of fullness are also triggered with slow, mindful eating rather than ‘scoffing’.  In short, it will stop you overeating and taking in additional and maybe unwanted calories.

The,Smiling,Woman,Enjoys,Eating,A,Salmon,Salad.,To,Lose

In terms of mindset, taking time to savour each mouthful also enhances enjoyment of the meal generally.  Furthermore, it’s no secret that wolfing down food causes all kinds of digestive issues.  Be kind to mind and body and your relationship with food will improve significantly.

Meal timing creates greater harmony

With so much information available and so many different dietary plans being followed, it’s no wonder that confusion reigns when it comes to when to eat.  The most important thing to remember is that the body likes routine and, importantly, likes to know when it’s going to be fed. So, chopping and changing and eating at erratic times is not being kind to our body and it may start to store fat to protect itself from potential starvation.

Alarm,Clock,,Plate,And,Cutlery,On,Red,Background,,Flat,Lay.

In order to be mindful about your own personal decision around following a specific diet, the most important point is not to chop and change.  For instance, there is good research to support the effectiveness of intermittent fasting for weight loss, either 16:8 or 5:2.  However, both need careful planning, mainly to ensure as many nutrients are included but also to ensure meal timing is consistent.

Breakfast,,Lunch,And,Dinner.,Healthy,Eating,For,Day

Generally, most people tend to follow the traditional three meals per day plan, which the body likes.  Even if you can’t quite face breakfast first thing, do make sure you’ve eaten it by around 10 am in order for the subsequent meals to be spaced out evenly.  The body also likes to have plenty of time to enter the post-absorptive phase of digestion, which helps balance blood sugar levels and, in turn, aid weight management. Many of us constantly graze, even without thinking.  And this certainly doesn’t constitute mindful eating.

So, by planning your meals and relishing every mouthful of food, this mindful eating will improve your approach to food and increase your enjoyment too.

Stay well.

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The importance of fruits and vegetables: how to eat more every day

A range of fruits and vegetables

We all know that fruits and vegetables are vitally important to include in the daily diet.  There are many great reasons for this but primarily they are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, so it makes sense to eat them as often as possible. 

Unfortunately, we know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that only around 27% of the UK population are managing even the basic minimum of five portions per day.  However, there are some easy ways of getting more into your diet.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for including fruits and vegetables at every mealtime.

Boost your Breakfast

We all want to feel energised at the beginning of the day and having the right fuel can really help set you on a good path.  It’s important to include protein at breakfast time to get blood sugar and energy levels in good balance throughout the day.  However, a jump start of more energy is always welcomed!

Spinach and mushroom om

How about cooking up a delicious spinach omelette with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes?  This meal is super-charged because spinach is rich in both energising B vitamins and iron.  Plus, mushrooms contain some immune-boosting vitamin D (although supplementation is still needed) and tomatoes are rich in antioxidants so help shield the body from damaging free radicals.

A green smoothie

However, if you prefer a fruitier start to the day, you can still enjoy the health benefits from spinach but in a delicious green banana smoothie.  Bananas are loaded with energising vitamin B6 and why not add some ginger and mango which are both great for the immune system. Coconut water is high in potassium which is great for the heart and you can even throw in a few kale leaves for an additional nutrient burst.

Load up at lunch time

When we’re busy, on the run or in and out of zoom or team meetings, lunch can sometimes get forgotten.  We should always remember that each meal is a time for re-fuelling and getting valuable nutrients into the body.  If we miss a meal, we miss out big time!

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Lunch does not need to be complicated and time-consuming to prepare it just needs to be colourful.  How about poaching a piece of salmon the night before and putting it into a colourful salad?  Whilst salad vegetables are high in water, so not always the highest in nutrients, if you include an avocado, you’ll not only feel fuller for longer, you’ll be getting the benefits of Vitamin E for your skin and immune system.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Alternatively, you can cook up some quinoa the day before and again add loads of salad vegetables or pre-roasted veggies of your choice to the mix.  The more colour you include, the greater the amount of plant antioxidants which help support immunity, protect the body against disease and keep us looking young and fresh.

Dive in at Dinner

There’s been an enormous upsurge in people ordering in meals from fast food apps during lockdown.  Unfortunately, we know from statistical data that this has also led to a prevalence of nutrient deficiencies, which can make us more prone to illness.

Salmon stir fry

A take-away or delivery meal is no bad thing occasionally, but nothing beats home-cooked food for the wealth of nutrients it provides.  And it doesn’t need to be complicated either! Plan a stir fry which includes chopped peppers, onion, carrots, baby sweetcorn, chopped broccoli and mange tout. Add flavourings such as soy sauce, coriander, and sweet chilli sauce and a protein source of choice for a quick, colourful and super nutritious dinner.

shutterstock_245873155-cruciferous-vegetables-jan17

Each fruit or vegetable brings a wealth of nutrients to the table: variety is key, and the body gets a balanced spread.  In terms of vegetables, the cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and pak choi) are extremely nutrient dense, and especially rich in magnesium which we know to be deficient in the average diet.  Magnesium is essential for so many bodily processes including for hormone balancing, and good nerve and brain function. Cruciferous vegetables are also rich in fibre which helps to keep the bowels working smoothly.

And if vegetables really aren’t your bag, then they can always be ‘disguised’ in dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise, pasta sauces, curries and other spicy dishes.

So, try to include as many fruits and vegetables in your daily diet as possible – your body will definitely thank you for it.

Stay well.

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Top nutrition tips to support your smile

Cloe up of woman smiling brightly with a becah background

A great smile can light up your face (and a room). But what if you’re worried about your teeth or just don’t feel confident enough to really pile on the smile? 

Whatever the reasons, it’s time to change your thought processes and embrace your smile.

This National Smile Month, clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips to show you how.

Get the basics right

When we give a big smile, obviously our teeth are one of the first things that get noticed.  This is great if your pearly whites really are white, but not so good if you don’t think yours look great or they are giving you trouble.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

As with everything in the body, good nutrition underpins health and teeth need ‘feeding’ with the right nutrients. Top of the list are vitamin D and calcium; both used to build and protect healthy teeth.  Whilst most of this is done during childhood development years, just like bones, the teeth need feeding from within throughout life.

A range of foods containing calcium

Vitamin D deficiency is still widespread as it’s not easy to obtain from food. Supplementation with a minimum of 10 micrograms daily is needed throughout the year.  However, some foods that are rich in calcium. like oily fish with bones  such as sardines, also contain some vitamin D.  Other great sources of calcium are dairy, calcium-enriched plant milks, green leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds.

Love your gums

Just as your teeth need looking after from within, so too do your gums.  And as one gets older, it’s often gums that fail rather than teeth so it’s vitally important to serve them well!

shutterstock_362885486 vitamin C Jan17

Top of the list of nutrients is vitamin C; it helps build strong blood capillaries, supports the immune system and generally protects gum health.  It’s time to load up your plates with colourful fruits and vegetables, all of which are rich in vitamin C.

A range of foods high in iron

Additionally, vitamin D and calcium are needed for healthy gums, along with iron.  If eating a juicy red steak is not for you, then leafy greens are a great source of iron, as are dried fruits such as prunes, raisins and apricots.

Glow from within

If you feel good inside, you’re much more likely to give a wide smile!  Again, good nutrition underpins how we look – you can literally glow from the inside out when your diet is right.

A range of foods containing protein

Make sure the basics are solid; enjoy a variety of colourful vegetables, as well as good quality protein from poultry, meat, eggs, legumes, dairy and go for whole foods. Also drink plenty of water (1.5 – 2 litres daily), plus fruit or herbal teas.  Skin will look lacklustre without sufficient hydration.

Importantly, keep refined sugars and stimulants to a minimum as these rob the body of key nutrients.

Body and mind combined

Food not only nourishes the body it also nourishes the mind.  And when the head is in a happy place, then we feel much more like smiling.  Having a varied and balanced diet is obviously essential.  However, many people don’t realise that most of our neurotransmitter production, some of which controls mood and motivation, is made within the gut and only happens with the right nutrients in place.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Having plenty of fibre from whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds is key to maintaining a healthy gut and, in turn, a healthy mind.  The omega-3 essential fats figure highly in the brain so make sure you’re eating plenty of oily fish (also rich in calcium), nuts, seeds and omega-3-rich oils and butters.

Practice makes perfect

For an extra confidence boost, why not stand in front of mirror and see what others see when you smile.  Clearly, it’s best to have a natural rather than forced smile but sometimes practising in front of the mirror can help build extra confidence.  How much should you open your mouth? Should you have a wide smile?  Does your face crinkle (which is very warming for those on the receiving end)?

Smiling,Beautiful,Young,Woman,Looking,At,Herself,In,The,Bathroom

If you can get your basic health into good order, then this will only but improve the health of teeth and gums, and in turn, your smile.

Stay well.

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Five health-giving herbs for home-growing

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

As part of nature’s offerings, there are many amazing herbs that can not only support our health, but also add some great tastes to a wide range of dishes.  Even better, you can grow them at home whether you have some pots in the garden or a sunny windowsill.

It’s also great to blend the herbs into homemade teas in order to get a more concentrated effect, as relatively small amounts are used in cooking.

This National Gardening Week Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five herbs you can grow at home.

Bay

Fresh,Bay,Leaves,In,A,Wooden,Bowl,On,A,Rustic

Bay leaves are probably one of the most common herbs grown at home in pots as they are also very decorative.  And you only need a couple of bay leaves in a stew for example, so the bay tree will still retain its beauty!

Fresh,Bouquet,Garni,With,Different,Herbs,On,An,Old,Wooden

Bay is an essential ingredient in the seasoning bouquet garni which is frequently used in soups, stews and casseroles. It is particularly delicious when used in slow-cooked dishes, so the flavours truly permeate though the ingredients. Bay is used to stimulate and aid digestion so can help reduce any potential digestive upsets from a dish that maybe slightly fatty, such as a meat stew.

Chives

Bunch,Of,Fresh,Chives,On,A,Wooden,Cutting,Board,,Selective

Chives are primarily cultivated for culinary uses and are easy to grow in small spaces as long as it’s nice and sunny and you provide them with plenty of water to keep the soil moist.  Chives also appreciate regular trimming, and they certainly provide something pretty to look at on the windowsill.

Potato,Salad,With,Eggs,And,Green,Onion,On,White,Plate

Part of the onion family, chives are great for adding to potato dishes (especially potato salad), egg dishes, salads and soups. Medicinally, chives have been found to help stimulate appetite after illness and but also aid digestion.  They can add some great flavour without causing some of the digestive upsets that onions trigger in some people.

Mint

Fresh,Mint,Leafs,In,Mortar,On,Grey,Wooden,Table

Mint is probably one of the easiest herbs to grow at home as it’s very resilient and is actually better grown in a pot on its own because it really likes to take over other plants. Additionally, it does come back year after year with some light trimming and also provides some pretty flowers.  Mint likes plenty of sunlight but also needs moisture.

Grilled,Lamb,Chops,Marinated,With,Mint,.style,Rustic.,Selective,Focus

Mint is extremely versatile in many dishes but is also really coming into its own with Pimm’s season on the horizon!  However, it’s great added to both sweet dishes (ice creams) or savoury (lamb).  Mint helps with digestion and is great for calming the stomach after food if made into an infusion (just pour boiling water over the leaves).  Mint also stimulates the immune system so may help to ward off a cold.

Rosemary

Rosemary,Bound,On,A,Wooden,Board

With its amazing aroma, you’ll always be reminded of the Mediterranean if you grow rosemary at home.  It’s great added to lamb or chicken dishes but also works well as a flavouring in roasted vegetables, especially potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Selective,Focus.,Rustic,Golden,Baked,Potato.,Sliced,Baked,Potato,With

Rosemary is an amazing antioxidant so helps protect the body from aging and degenerative diseases.  Additionally, it helps to balance and stimulate the nervous and circulatory systems.

Basil

Basil.

Another herb with a wonderful aroma, basil will also remind you of Spanish and Italian cooking, particularly in tomato dishes. It is great grown on windowsills as it doesn’t like frost but can be grown outside during the summer months.

Delicious,Caprese,Salad,With,Ripe,Tomatoes,And,Mozzarella,Cheese,With

Basil is known to be a natural tranquiliser, a tonic that can help calm the nervous system, as well as aiding digestion.  Interestingly, whilst basil really adds flavour to many Italian styled dishes, if used with raw tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (a traditional caprese salad), with a little olive oil drizzled, all the fat-soluble nutrients in tomatoes become much more absorbable for the body.  Therefore, it’s a win-win situation when adding basil.

So, why not start your own herb garden and you’ll have delicious flavours and ready-made health benefits on tap too!

Stay well.

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How to destress naturally: top lifestyle and nutrition tips for reducing stress

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Stress is a much talked about subject.  In small doses it can be motivational but frequently it is detrimental to our health and needs to be managed. 

It can be difficult to eradicate stress completely but there are some nutritional and lifestyle changes that you can make which can help.

This Stress Awareness Month Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us how.

Feel alive with Vitamin B5

The family of B-vitamins complement each other really well.  However, vitamin B5 stands out from the crowd when it comes to managing stress.

Vitamin B5, also called pantothenic acid, is needed to effectively produce our stress hormones (namely cortisol and DHEA) from the adrenal glands.  Our natural ‘fight or flight’ response is an essential bodily function, providing us with the motivation and energy to deal with difficult situations. However, the body doesn’t like to be in this state too much.  Too much stress depletes production of these hormones over time, which can make us feel more agitated and stressed.

Foods,Highest,In,Vitamin,B5,(pantothenic,Acid).,Healthy,Food,Concept.

Foods such as mushrooms, meat, dairy produce, beans, lentils and nuts and seeds are great sources of vitamin B5 and can better help the body deal with stressful events.

Cut down on the agitators

We often reach for alcohol or sugary treats when the going gets tough.  However, these are stimulants, which release adrenaline, kicking off the stress response.  This then produces the opposite effect of what we actually need which is to feel calmer.

If life is stressful, then the body needs to be treated calmly. Green tea does contain a little caffeine but also has some theanine, a calming amino acid, so try to make some swaps from fully loaded caffeinated drinks.

shutterstock_391949488 green tea Nov16

Additionally, there are many very acceptable non-alcoholic beverages around now, so you don’t have to feel you’re missing out. And why not save the sugary snacks for one treat day per week?  Your body will thank you for it.

Make an achievable plan

Many of us write a daily job list and this can feel overwhelming because there is often far too much on the list to be achieved sensibly in one day.  However, why not break each challenge down into much smaller tasks, so that one big task looks much more achievable?

shutterstock_243120193 woman writing in note pad diary Feb17

It’s always a good idea to write things down that either need to be done or that are causing stress.  And then sit quietly with the list and see what is realistic without being over ambitious in what can actually be completed.  Just by listing things rather than it all spinning around in your head, can make everything seem rather more doable and less stressful.  Plus, it’s a great feeling when you can cross things off the list.

Get some help from nature

Nature has provided us with a wealth of health, from nutrient-packed foods to herbal helpers. Top of the herbs list are ashwagandha, ginseng and rhodiola, which are all adaptogenic herbs.  This means they support the body to better cope with stress, helping you feel calmer and more in control.

shutterstock_390988804 green leafy vegetables Dec16

Additionally, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Pak Choi are great sources of the mineral magnesium, which helps muscle relaxation.  If you find switching off in the evening difficult, then make sure you include some of these veggies in your evening meal to help calm the mind and body.

Exercise your stresses away

Exercise can be a great way of alleviating stress for many people.  And whilst some of us might find doing a big workout in the gym most effective, others may opt for a gentle stroll in the fresh air to blow away stress.  Do whatever works for you: if adrenaline is powering through your veins, it needs an outlet and taking some form of exercise can really do the trick.

shutterstock_218997220 woman walking trainers Mar18

Another effective way to reduce stress is to do some exercise where you have to concentrate on the game (such as tennis or even table tennis). This keeps your mind distracted from any mental issues, helping the brain unwind and re-set.

So, whilst we can’t completely avoid stress in our lives, we can hopefully minimise its impact with a few lifestyle changes.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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