Five foods for a healthy heart

Blueberries in a heart shape

As the heart is one of our hardest working organs so it makes sense to look after it as much as possible. The risk of heart disease increases with age but, unfortunately, problems can start much earlier and may not always make themselves known.

So, this World Heart Day make now the time to be kind to your heart.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five foods to help support your heart health.

Beetroot

Whole beetroots

Beetroot is often referred to as a super food because it delivers so many amazing health benefits.  It is especially high in antioxidants which help protect the artery wall from damaging free radicals.  However, it’s also been discovered that beetroot contains specific plant compounds with anti-inflammatory effects.  Certain types of heart disease such as atherosclerosis are characterised by chronic inflammation and beetroot can help to reduce the risks associated with it.  Furthermore, beetroot juice has been found to help lower blood pressure.

Beetroot and goats cheese salad

Even better, beetroot is delicious either in sweet or savoury dishes, and makes a wonderful addition to any tray of roasted veggies.

Salmon

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Salmon and all oily fish including sardines and mackerel contain the essential omega-3 fats that are known to protect the heart and also encourage healthy blood flow through the veins.  They also have wonderful anti-inflammatory benefits which will have a positive effect on the health of the arteries.

Scrambled eggs on toast with a side of smoked salmon

Whilst smoked salmon does contain a high level of salt, it’s still rich in omega-3s so is great for a Sunday morning treat with your scrambled eggs!

Tomatoes

Tomato salad

Tomatoes are actually one of the most researched of all fruits and vegetables in relation to heart health.  Indeed, much research has looked at the ability of tomatoes to reduce overall cholesterol levels and also raise protective HDL levels.  Plus, tomatoes are high in antioxidants, specifically carotenoids, which protect the artery wall from plaques that can cause damage if left unchecked.

Smashed avocado, cherry tomatoes and feta on toast

Even better, tomatoes are very easy to include into the daily diet.  They are actually more powerful when cooked so they make a great start to the day, grilled with some avocado on toast or added to a wealth of pasta, soups, roasted veggies or one-pot dishes.

Garlic

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Often regarded by naturopaths as a miracle food because of its ability to combat so many different illnesses, it’s also great for heart health.  Garlic can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and also raise HDL levels.  In higher amounts, it can also help break down blood clots.

Curry dish and rice

So many savoury dishes benefit from some added garlic, especially stir-fries, soups, curries, veggie sides, lamb and fish dishes.

Oats

A bowl of oats

Oats are another super food when it comes to heart health.  Specifically, they contain a form of soluble fibre known as beta glucan which has been strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels.  It can reduce both cholesterol and other blood fat levels. Whilst beta glucans can also be found in other whole grains such as wheat and barley, oats are the best source.  Plus, they are naturally lower in gluten, so less likely to cause digestive issues.

To put it bluntly, cholesterol has to be removed from the body via the stool, hence having healthy bowels is essential.  Soluble fibre naturally binds to cholesterol with bile from the liver and transports it safely out of the body.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

With the winter months now approaching, it’s a great opportunity to make porridge your go-to breakfast.  Add some delicious berries (from frozen is fine), a little natural yoghurt and you’ve got the perfect start to the day.  Make sure you’re eating whole grain oats though, as the level of fibre is much reduced in the ready-made porridge sachets.

So, why not try some of these easy wins when it comes to your heart health?

Stay well.

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Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

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Going organic: what are the benefits?

A photo of fruits and vegetables above soil to represent organic growing

Sales of organic food have grown exponentially over the last 20 years in the UK and across Europe.  However, there is still widespread confusion about the differences between organic and non-organic foods, and whether they’re healthier for us or not.

And it’s not just fruit and vegetables; we often forget that grains, nuts, seeds and many other foods can also be certified as organic.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer helps to cut through some of the confusion.

What is organic farming?

A black and white stamp saying 'certified organic'

Organic farming is a way of producing food using natural resources, substances and processes and maintaining higher standards of animal welfare.  It differs from ‘normal’ farming methods because the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides are severely limited. Soil is ‘fed’ to encourage a wider range of crops can be grown from healthier soils, and genetically modified (GM) and irradiated crops are banned.  In the UK, organic standards, which are very tightly controlled, are generally certified by The Soil Association, although there are eight approved UK organic control bodies.

Why choose to eat organic?

There are many reasons to choose organic produce but primarily it’s to avoid eating foods containing pesticides and other chemicals.  Apples are especially subject to chemical additives with a non-organic apple often being sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different chemicals.  It is one of the reasons for advising people to peel apples before eating them as it’s not possible to wash off all these chemicals from the outer skin.

Do organic foods contain more nutrients?

VIsual showing all the vitamins and where you can find them naturally in food

The short answer is yes!  Organically grown crops have been found to contain more vitamin C, energising iron, calcium and magnesium (great news for the bones) and other antioxidants, especially selenium.  One of the reasons selenium is so deficient in the UK population generally is that our soils are depleted; organic farming aims to replenish our soils.  And organic milk, as another example, contains 70% more omega-3s than non-organic. Organic food, as the name suggests, is much closer to nature’s intentions than non-organic.

What about pesticides and additives?

Only 20 pesticides are permitted in organic farming and they are derived from natural ingredients. Conversely, there are over 300 used in non-organic farming which is not just potentially dangerous to human health, they are also harmful to the environment and wildlife. Whilst pesticides are not supposed to find their way into our food chain, Government testing found around 47% of foods contained some form of pesticide residue.  The effects on our health are largely unknown but exposing the body to potentially harmful chemicals is certainly not ideal for our health.

Does organic food taste better?

Close up of woman in kitchen with bwon bag of organic fruit and veg

Another big fat yes!  Anyone who has compared the taste of organic to non-organic carrots, just as one example, would certainly agree.  The problem with many of our fruits and vegetables is their growth has been chemically enhanced, which in turn damages the taste.  Organic produce is grown more slowly and has a lower water content, which in turn significantly improves the flavour.

With much higher standards for food production overall, it certainly makes sense to eat organic as much as possible.  The slightly higher price tag is well justified when it comes to taste, quality and our health.

Stay well.

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Managing Migraines: natural support and nutritional advice

Close of woman in black and white with red pain showing in forehead to represent migraine attack

Migraine Awareness Week always brings the pain of migraine into sharp focus.  Indeed, there are around six million sufferers in the UK dealing with this difficult and sometimes, debilitating, condition. 

However, we understand much more about migraine now and, importantly, how certain foods can help.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top migraine food and lifestyle tips.

Increase magnesium-rich foods

The mineral magnesium is very calming and is often found to be deficient in migraine sufferers.  When deficiency has been rectified, the condition often improves.  Top of the list of magnesium-rich foods are green, leafy vegetables especially broccoli and spinach, so try to include some in your diet every day.  Importantly, try to eat a range of colourful fruits and vegetables which help to manage inflammation generally throughout the body.

A range of foods containing magnesium

All nuts and seeds (and even peanut butter), whole grains, including oats and brown rice, soya products (not soy sauce) and bananas are magnesium-rich so there’s plenty of choice.  Why not mix up some pumpkin seeds, cashews, peanuts and almonds as a great on-the-go snack?

Keep blood sugar balanced

Fluctuations in blood sugar can often trigger migraine attacks.  Eating protein at every meal is important for keeping everything in good balance.  Great protein foods include chicken, turkey, eggs, all fish (ideally not tinned), quinoa, beans and nuts.  You will also find energy levels are sustained much better throughout the day by eating protein regularly.

A range of foods containing protein

On the flip side, certain foods, especially aged cheese, contain amines which are a known migraine trigger.  In fact, it’s best to avoid all cheese.  Other amine-containing foods to watch out for are fermented meats, mushrooms, miso, soy sauce, chocolate, wine and beer.

Steer clear of wheat

It would seem that wheat can often be a migraine trigger, even if you’re unaware of any digestive upsets it might be causing.

A blackboard with the words wheat free written on next to some wheat

Wheat-containing foods include bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and cereals.  However, the great news is that there are plenty of wheat-free alternative grains including oats, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, rye and barley.  And because so many sweet, refined foods contain wheat, by avoiding those you’ll automatically be reducing sugar-load (another trigger) and will be helping your waistline at the same time.

Get moving

Keeping good blood flow around the body is key for helping prevent migraines with lack of exercise being a known trigger for an attack.  Whilst very intensive training might not be a good idea, gently elevating the heart rate with some brisk walking, cycling, or dancing is great for the body, but also the mind.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Stress is a definite migraine trigger and many people will certainly have been dealing with some difficult situations over the last few months.  If you can find an exercise or activity that you enjoy, the benefits for your body and soul will be enormous.  Even a brisk walk around the block can clear the head and encourage good blood flow around the body.

Take the herb Feverfew

Feverfew can be incredibly effective at helping reduce both frequency and duration of migraine attacks.  It can take about two to three months to really work, but it’s well worth embracing the power of nature to find a solution.

Feverfew flowers

Extensive research around feverfew has found that it contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory compounds, plus it reduces the body’s ability to produce histamine (an amine).  Additionally, feverfew contains parthenolide compounds which may help reduce blood vessel constriction as well as encourage production of serotonin: this is in the same way traditional migraine medication works.  It’s certainly worth turning to nature for some herbal help.

So, if you’re struggling with migraine, resolve to try some new natural and nutritional approaches to help to ease the pain.

Stay well.

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Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in autumn

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutritionAs we head into September we also fall into the change of seasons into Autumn.  Whilst most of us just want the summer to continue forever, just as night follows day, the seasons must change. 

Even during ‘normal’ times it is important to start thinking about how you can best protect your immune system for the colder months ahead. And right now, it is even more essential.  Eating with the seasons also provides foods that are more nutrient-dense, just as nature intended.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top seasonal foods as we head into Autumn.

Plums

Any darkly coloured fruits or vegetables deliver a wealth of protective antioxidants, and plums are no exception.  Unusually for fruit, plums are rich in vitamin E which is a very powerful antioxidant looking after the natural fatty part of our cells. They’re also high in heart-loving potassium and energising iron.

A bowl of plums on a blue wooden table

When plums are dried, they become known as prunes, probably best acknowledged for their fibrous content when bowels are sluggish.  You can also find them pickled in brine and called umebushi. Plums are especially tasty lightly poached with a little honey and added to oats or other breakfast cereals.

Venison

Venison from deer is actually one of the healthiest red meats available.  Deer generally move freely around which means the meat is tender and flavoursome. It is also lower in fat that a skinned breast of chicken and higher in iron than any other red meat.  If you can find venison from free-range or wild deer, that’s going to be the healthiest option.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Venison is often thought of as a meat only eaten by the aristocracy because of the sport of hunting deer.  However, it’s certainly a food that could feature on the menu right now. It can be prepared and cooked in the same way as beef or steak, simply pan-fried.  Venison also makes a tasty curry or casserole.

Mackerel

Mackerel’s main claim to fame is down to the amount of healthy omega-3 fats it delivers.  These essential omegas have to be eaten in the diet, as the body can’t make them, and they are very important for heart, eye, skin, hormone and joint health. Oily fish, such as mackerel, is the best source of these fats.  There are plant sources of omega-3s, such as flaxseeds, but these are not always as well absorbed by the body.

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

Mackerel makes a great lunchtime meal with salad, especially when it’s smoked.  Although it will contain more salt when prepared in this way, it helps the fact that it doesn’t naturally have a strong flavour.  Mackerel is therefore best spiced up a little or paired with a sharp fruity sauce. Try to include it on your menu plan once a week if possible.

Apples

Apples are synonymous with Autumn as they always appear on the Harvest Festival table. However, they make a wonderful snack providing plenty of vitamin C, as well as being the star of any pie or crumble.  Apples are also low in both calories and on the glycaemic index, meaning they won’t upset blood sugar levels and are therefore great if you’re watching your weight.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Supermarkets tend to store apples for many months, therefore buying them at farmer’s market or freshly picked is certainly preferable.  However, there are plenty to choose from with over 50 different varieties grown in the UK.  They’re very protective of the heart due to their potassium content and the presence of the flavonoid quercetin, plus, apples are a great source of fibre.  So many reasons to always have one handy as a go-to snack!

Kale

A member of the cabbage family and also known as curly kale or collard, kale has often been hailed as a superfood, alongside Brussels sprouts and broccoli.  This is partly because all these vegetables contain a phytonutrient called sulforaphane which is a powerful liver detoxifier.

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Kale is a very rich source of the antioxidants, vitamin C and beta carotene.  Even better, kale is a great source of the minerals iron, manganese, calcium and potassium which are often deficient in the typical western diet.

What do I do with it, you many ask! Kale can be very lightly boiled or steamed and then stir fried with garlic. It can be grilled with a little salt to make kale chips. It is also great in stir fries or in a delicious green soup with onion, potatoes, garlic and chorizo, if desired.

So, as we head into autumn enjoy these five delicious and super-healthy foods which are in season right now.

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Top wellbeing tips for getting back into work

 

Woman working at her desk in office

Whether you’re coming off furlough or just heading back into the office a few days per week, getting back into the swing of things should be an enjoyable experience. 

Nothing feels quite normal at the moment, and it probably won’t for a long time.  Therefore, trying to keep yourself happy and healthy with a varied diet and balanced lifestyle can really get that feel-good factor going at work.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five to back to work tips.

Have a happy lunch

Whether you take your lunch to work,  eat out or take out, or there’s a staff canteen, what you eat at this time of day can have a massive impact on mood, motivation and energy.  Our happy hormone, serotonin, needs the amino acid, tryptophan, plus other nutrients for its production.  The good news is that tryptophan is found in many different protein-containing foods so there’s plenty of choice. Best lunchtime foods to consider are chicken, eggs, fish, soya produce, including tofu, cheese, turkey, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Combine with some vegetables or salad.

You can always cook some extra the night before and eat it for lunch the next day, or quickly rustle up a healthy salad using any of the above ingredients.

Exercise

For some, doing regular exercise has been an absolute saviour during lockdown, helping to keep a balanced mood and energy levels high.  However, for many it’s not been possible and home-working has made some of us more sedentary.

A woman in a business suit having a walk during her lunch break

If you can walk or cycle to work, this can really help increase activity levels without thinking about it too much.  If not, why not resolve to get into a routine by walking every lunchtime. Now gyms and sports centres have re-opened, if you feel comfortable to use them, why not consider working out or joining a class before work, during lunchtime or after work.

Try not to graze

Home working has meant the fridge and store cupboard have been much more accessible, therefore the temptation to graze and overeat is never far away.  Now that you’re physically not in front of them, it should be much easier to banish grazing.

The body needs definite breaks between meals so that it can enter the post-absorptive phase of digestion.  Constant grazing doesn’t allow this to happen and the body will start storing more fat than it would otherwise do.  Try to stick to eating three satisfying  and well-balacned meals a day and resist the urge to snack if can, especially if you’re not really hungry.

Sliced apple and cheese snack

If you do find you are hungry between meals think of protein and fruit as your go-to snack: think of cheese with apple, nuts with dried fruit or hummus with crudités.

Sleep

Many people have reported being able to get more sleep because they haven’t had the daily commute. However, some have found sleep more difficult due to heightened anxiety levels.  Whatever your situation, poor sleep is going to impact on how you feel and function at work.

Woman asleep in bed

Make sleep a priority and aim for seven to eight hours per night. Having a good bedtime routine can help massively, and most importantly, turn off electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.  Blue light is known to keep us awake.

Be kind to yourself

This is most important of all. Life has been challenging for everyone for many different reasons over the last few months and will continue to be for some time.  It’s also given us a chance to evaluate what’s working and what’s not in our lives.

A post it showing mind, body, soul and spirit being important in self care

Crucially, it’s made us appreciate the little things in life that matter and also confirmed that none of us are invincible.  Try to avoid giving yourself negative messages. For example, if you’ve put on some weight during lockdown, resolve to improve your diet and get more exercise but don’t beat yourself up.  Additionally, allow yourself some ‘down time’ to just be in your own headspace – your thought processes will become much clearer as a result.

So, with a little preparation, the next back to work phase can be enjoyable and rewarding.

Stay well.

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Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in August

People enjoying al fresco eating in the summer

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

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

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

Runner beans

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

A bunch of runner beans on a wooden background

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

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

Aubergine

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

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

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

Watercress

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

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

A bowl of watercress soup

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

Beetroot

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

Beetroot and goats cheese salad

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

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

Raspberries

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

A punnet of fresh raspberries

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

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

Stay well.

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Garlic: the health benefits

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Often referred to as a ‘wonder herb’ or ‘super food’, garlic certainly lives up to its reputation. Prized for many thousands of years by nutritionists, naturopaths, doctors and herbalists, garlic has been used to treat anything from asthma to arthritis.

Its healing properties as an antiviral and antibacterial agent have also been used widely and very effectively. And did you know that despite its pungent smell, garlic is considered to be a natural aphrodisiac!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, reveals why garlic is so acclaimed and how you can use it to boost overall health.

What is garlic and how does it work?

For those of us who have been enjoying the great outdoors, the smell of wild garlic is unmissable. Garlic is actually neither a spice nor a herb, but generally referred to as a ‘botanical’. It is from the same family as onions and leeks; hence it tends to be used in similar ways in cooking.

Garlic cloves contain a phytonutrient called alliin which breaks down into the active ingredient allicin.  These are sulphur compounds also responsible for its strong odour. It is the allicin in garlic that’s mainly responsible for its pungent odour as well as its medicinal benefits.

Garlic bulbs and cloves

Interestingly, the enzyme responsible for activating garlic, becomes less active when exposed to heat: for some, fresh raw garlic is considered to have the most health benefits. This would also explain the fact that cooked garlic doesn’t produce as strong an odour as raw.  As eating raw garlic is not particularly sociable, there are still many health benefits to be gained from including garlic into your cooking or raw dishes.

Did you know?  Garlic breath can be combatted by chewing fresh parsley.

The health benefits of garlic

Garlic is probably best known for its heart-loving properties with the potential to reduce blood pressure and also lower cholesterol production in the liver.  It helps reduce harmful cholesterol and raise levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol in the blood.  Garlic is also a natural anti-coagulant that helps prevent the blood from clotting too much.

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

When it comes to viruses, garlic can be eaten raw which helps to remove excess mucus from the lungs and reduce nasal congestion, generally caused by colds or upper respiratory tract infections. Whilst everyone needs a little watery mucous to lubricate and protect the lungs, it can become thick and excessive, otherwise known as catarrh. For this reason, people often increase their intake of garlic when they have a cold.  Try including it in a chicken broth which also has antiviral effects.  And always use fresh garlic rather than powdered.

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

Garlic can also support a healthy digestive system, protecting the beneficial gut flora from harmful invaders, especially when exposed to contaminated food and drink.  This is the reason why many people take a course of garlic pills prior to foreign travel to help protect against the dreaded traveller’s diarrhoea.  However, it can also work as a laxative and diuretic, so it maybe best taken prophylactically before the trip rather than eating it excessively during, although cooked garlic has less potent effects.

Additionally, garlic has demonstrated significant anti-fungal activity, particularly in cases of Candida albicans or yeast overgrowth, in the digestive tract.  Candida can be problematic to treat and causes unpleasant digestive upsets as well as fatigue. These infections can often be alleviated by using a garlic liver cleanse, because it contains enzymes and sulphur compounds which help flush out toxins.

How to use garlic in your daily dishes

There are very few dishes where garlic can’t make an appearance!  Anything from chicken Kiev to roasted lamb to garlic and cheese portobello mushrooms.  Additionally, vegetable side dishes such as broccoli, which can be lightly stir fried, really benefit from being cooked with garlic.  Plus, any vegetable soup, stir fry or stew should have garlic as the first ingredient in the pan.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Garlic has so many culinary uses and is also very easy to prepare; just separate and peel the cloves and use either crushed or whole. And if you’re feeling very brave, remember raw is most beneficial so why not add some into your salads, especially as the summer season is here!

Stay well.

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Summer skin health: five delicious foods to nourish yours from the inside out

Close up of a woman's head and shoulder from behind on a beach to represent summer skin

Many of us will be enjoying some summer sun right now, whether venturing abroad or making the most of pleasant temperatures here on a staycation in the UK. 

But wherever you are enjoying the sun, our skin can often become rather dry and dehydrated during the summer months which is why nourishing from within is so important.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite foods to help your skin glow all summer long!

Guava Fruit

Guavas contain some of the highest amounts of vitamin C of all fruits and vegetables.  This is key for healthy, glowing skin because vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen, our key structural protein.  Whilst most of us love the warmth and feeling of the sun on our face, the sun’s rays are extremely damaging to the skin and can accelerate the ageing process.

Close up of whole and halved guava fruit

Since collagen helps prevent wrinkles, guavas could become your go-to fruit this summer.  The tough outer skin is bitter, but the flesh inside is deliciously sweet and creamy.  They partner really well in fruit salads with berries and kiwis.  And the seeds are perfectly edible – also loaded with vitamin C.

Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein – another collagen booster. They are also high in one of our key skin-loving vitamins, biotin.  Biotin is a really busy vitamin, needed for many metabolic processes, including healthy skin.  Importantly, it helps metabolise fatty acids, enabling skin to retain structure and moisture. No wonder biotin is often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’!

A topped boiled egg in an egg cup

Eggs are extremely versatile but always make a great breakfast choice because of their high protein content, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer – yet another bonus!

Avocados

Any plans for ensuing you have beautiful glowing skin should include the acknowledgement of avocados; they are synonymous with healthy skin.  There are two key reasons for this; firstly, they contain the highest amounts of protein of any fruit or vegetable, and secondly, they are loaded with the powerful antioxidant, vitamin E.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Those watching their weight often avoid avocados. They do pack a punch calorie-wise, but as long as you limit them to no more than three a week you should be fine. Avocados also make wonderful face masks, leaving the skin soft, glowing and refreshed.  And because they make such a delicious addition to salads, eating avocados always conjures up thoughts of summer, whatever the weather.

Pomegranate seeds

Pomegranate seeds are rich in powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. These can help protect the skin against free radical damage (including that caused by the sun) and also prevent the ageing process.  Pomegranate seeds are also really high in ellagic acid (also found in some berries) and has been studied for its ability to help prevent wrinkles developing. Even better, it protects the skin’s natural collagen from being broken down by over-exposure to the sun.

Bowl of pomegranate seeds and a side salad

Pomegranate seeds work as well in sweet dishes as savoury ones.  Think chicken, couscous, salads or homemade muesli, to get your morning off to a flying start!

Carrots

Carrots provide some of the richest sources of beta-carotene, a super powerful antioxidant.  Specifically, beta-carotene has been studied in relation to its ability to prevent damage from the sun to the skin. The body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A – also known as retinol – which is a common ingredient in many skincare products.

Carrots being cooked on a griddle pan

Clearly, carrots need no introduction for their wealth of uses in dishes.  However, during the summer months there’s nothing better than chopping up a plate of crudités with carrots, peppers, cucumber, some toasted wholemeal pitta bread, with some delicious dips, for a great al fresco starter.  And your skin will love it too!

When it comes to skin, what happens within is actually more important than what happens on the outside. So, nourish yours well this summer.

Stay well.

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Enjoy a staycation: top tips for holidaying at home

A road sign saying 'staycation'

With a massive increase in staycations this year for obvious reasons, many of us are disappointed at not being able to plan our annual ‘get-away’. 

However, maybe just changing our mindset can make us realise that staying at home can be hugely fun too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyers shares some wonderfully healthy and fun staycation tips.

Healthy cocktails

Cocktails often remind us of holidays and fun times so why not get your mix on at home?  Cocktails are traditionally very sugary and calorific which can bring on feelings of guilt and dampen down the enjoyment.  But all is not lost because there are many ways you can enjoy cocktails without the guilt pangs!

Grapefruit margarita cocktail

Why not mix up a great summertime Skinny Margarita?  Simply use Tequila, Triple Sec, freshly squeezed lime juice and some freshly squeezed ruby or pink grapefruit juice.  Finish off with a wedge of lime. Grapefruit has been associated with weight loss, and whilst simply eating or drinking grapefruit juice is not going to solve all your weight issues, it’s low in calories and sugar, high in fibre, and, most importantly, a delicious addition to this margarita!

Eat Mediterranean food

You might not be in the Med but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of their delicious traditional recipes, without spending hours in the kitchen.  Think about a traditional Turkish Mezze which is both easy and can be super-healthy too. Plus, it makes a great sharing platter for entertaining friends and family.

Hummus and beetroot dips mezze platter

Dips and hummus always play a key role in any mezze plate.  Traditional hummus is made from chickpeas which are loaded with protein, energising B-vitamins and phytoestrogens for hormone balancing.  Create a beetroot dip (an amazing super food), mixed with garlic and natural yoghurt, and throw together a traditional olive salad, with fresh green leaves and feta cheese.  Roast some red peppers and include loads of crudities and toasted pittas to fully enjoy the dips. A great way of bringing the Med to you!

Spend time outdoors

Holidays are very much associated with being outdoors, so make sure your staycation doesn’t disappoint on that front.  Why not try some new activities?  Or head for the coast and do some water sports; paddle boarding is incredibly popular right now and can be mastered fairly quickly.

Family cycling in countryside

Bike rides are a great family activity and enable you to view places you might not otherwise see, and from a different scenic perspective.  Lots of landmarks and views can get missed on car journeys so get out and about on foot to explore your local area.

Relaxation

It’s not all about rushing about; having some down time is very important for overall health and wellbeing.  Life has been and continues to be stressful for many people and long-term stress can raise cortisol levels.  Symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, poor sleep and unwanted weight gain are all signs your stress hormones need support.

Woman reading in garden

To be effective and properly restful, you need to give yourself real ‘down-time’.  Whether that’s just reading a book or listening to some music in the garden find something that works for you.  You can also try taking an adaptogenic herb such as ashwagandha which helps manage stress and reduces cortisol levels.  Holidays are all about investing in some ‘you’ time, so make this happen.

Have fun!

Most important!  Staying at home doesn’t have to be dull.  Like any holiday it needs a little planning so that you really enjoy the time you have, and you can look back and feel you’ve had a proper break.

Children looking at giraffes at the zoo

Why not plan the days with a calendar in front of you? Research local attractions for day trips, catch up with friends and family if you can, and do things that you wouldn’t generally get time to do.

Whatever you decide, you deserve some time off. So, make the most of every staycation moment!

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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

All images: Shutterstock