Keep on walking during lockdown: why walking is so important for your health

Woman walking her dog

May is National Walking Month which actually falls at a really appropriate time.  Whilst many of us are on lockdown, and currently restricted on where and how far we can walk, now is the perfect opportunity to make those walks really count and enjoy their wonderful health benefits.

Whether you’re doing a circuit of your neighbourhood or have fields, trails or woods on your doorstep, getting out and about every day is an essential part of staying well.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why walking is so important for both your physical and mental health.

Heart Health

Walking is great for the heart both from a physical and emotional perspective.  Clearly time outside is limited at the moment, so make the most of every step.  Why not challenge yourself each week and try to get a little further every time?  This means you’ll be walking faster, which in turn raises the heart rate.

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked like any other.  Therefore, aim to walk at pace in order to raise your heart rate and fully benefit.  This will help circulation, improve lung capacity, tone the legs and support weight management.  You can burn up to 300 calories in half an hour if you up the pace.

Wmoan outside looking joyful

Just being outside in the fresh air is also great for the soul.  If you’re feeling cooped up indoors, just getting out for an hour can be amazingly restorative.  The adage about ‘clearing your head’ really can happen when you’re out for a walk.  Plus, it’s still possible, depending on where you live, to meet up and walk at a social distance from a friend or relative, if you’re feeling isolated.

Joint Health

Now the gyms are closed, there are many more people out jogging right now, which is a great form of exercise.  However, it can be tough on the joints, especially the knees.  One of the many wonderful things about walking is that you can get fit without joint trauma; it’s much more comfortable for the body generally, and it may even ease joint plain.  Plus, if you tackle some hills, you’ll be getting a great workout for your butt!

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Our legs need to be worked for them to retain and build muscle. Therefore, if this is the only form of exercise you’re able to do right now, try to make it count and do a meaningful march every time you head out for a walk.

Blood sugar levels

Blood sugar needs to be in balance so that you’re also balanced emotionally and physically.  When levels fall, that’s when you get the tell-tale loss of concentration and irritability.  Importantly, it’s key to weight control because excess sugar in the blood stream is stored as fat.

Walking after a meal has been shown to keep blood sugar levels in good balance (even 15 minutes around the block is effective) and any excess calories you’ve eaten will be less likely to be stored as fat.

Immunity

Exercise in general boosts immunity by uprating the production of white blood cells, which are key to immune function.  For athletes and serious exercisers, too much exercise can actually deplete immunity, so more protection of the immune system is needed through nutrition and supplementation. However, for recreational exercisers, it’s an amazing way to put yourself in the best position to fight off any colds and other viruses, so get out there!

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

If it’s a sunny day you will also be getting some of the immune-boosting vitamin D. Vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight – another great reason to spend more time outdoors.

Energy and positivity

Because walking increases blood flow and, therefore, oxygen around the body, you’ll naturally feel more energised after a walk.  And this oxygen will also reach your brain, allowing your head to feel clearer, and often more creative.

Close up of woman with arms outstretched, smiling in a forest

Walking is a great time for thinking, planning, problem-solving and being aware of the environment around you.  It’s amazing how much more positive you can feel even after just a short walk.  Use the time for just being ‘you’ if you can. Be mindful and enjoy your surroundings – if you’re lucky enough to have a lovely view or open space on your doorstep, then that’s an added bonus.

So, embrace National Walking Month and you’ll definitely be rewarded with some wonderful health benefits.

Stay well.

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

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

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

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

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

Broccoli

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

Purple sprouting broccoli

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

Carrots

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

A selection of rainbow carrots

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

Beetroot

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

Whole beetroots

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

Basil

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

A fresh bunch of basil on a wooden board

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

Chives

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

Some chopped chives on a wooden board

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

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

Stay well.

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The wonders of asparagus

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of fresh asparagus

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

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

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

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

Nutritional benefits

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

Close up of asparagus being grilled on a bbq

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

Anti-inflammatory action

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

Close up of knee representing joint pain

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

What’s cooking?

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

Grilled asparagus wrapped in parma ham

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

Asparagus with hollandaise sauce

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

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

What about the urine odour?

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

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

Stay well.

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Enjoying the great outdoors even though we might feel stuck indoors

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Our movements are obviously restricted at the moment as to how much we can enjoy being outside.  It’s therefore more important than ever to maximise outside time to give you the most benefit, both mentally and physically. 

There’s always some positivity that comes out of adversity, even if it’s only that we become more appreciative of the world around us.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the benefits of why we should all be spending some time outdoors during the lockdown.

Mental wellbeing is top priority

There’s never been a more important time to take good care of your mental health.  With these challenging times, feelings of depression and anxiety are much more common.  However, one of the best antidotes to this is getting outside and feeling the fresh air on your skin.

Woman walking over a bridge on the outskirts of the city

The sense of freedom is palpable.  Most importantly, taking a walk, the brisker the better, will help release those feel-good endorphins, and in turn elevate your mood.  It’s also a great opportunity to have some ‘me’ time; listen to a podcast, some music or reflect and take a moment to just be.

Make the time count

It’s also the perfect time to use the great outdoors for meaningful exercise.  If you’re normally a gym-goer or exercise indoors, taking it outside can add a whole new dimension to an exercise routine. The body needs to be challenged in order for strength and fitness levels to improve.  And it’s not too difficult to devise an outdoor exercise plan, improvising where necessary.

Close up of woman doing an arm stretch outdoors

There are so many exercises you do indoors that can be included outside; squats, lunges, press ups, sit ups, leg raises, tricep dips – the list is endless and there are plenty of on-line plans to help.

Jogging is also becoming increasingly popular during these times.  However, if none of these are your bag, walking briskly for at least 30 minutes is great and really helps boost circulation, which in turn helps brain function.

Get on your bike!

This is a great exercise that can be done either alone or with your household family members.  Regardless of our situation right now, the need to protect the climate means anything we can do to help lessen carbon emissions is a positive outcome, so why not use this time to make a start?

Woman mountain-biking

On average, cycling burns around 500-600 calories an hour, depending on the terrain and intensity of exercise.  However far you cycle, it will certainly aid calorie burn particularly when life means we are all being more sedentary than usual right now.

Become a stargazer

Getting outdoors doesn’t always need to be in the hours of daylight.  Studying the night sky is fascinating, plus potentially slightly easier now with less pollution around.  Clearly, there’s a lot to know but it makes for interesting learning and may turn out to be a newly acquired hobby.

Shooting star across the night sky

Depending on where you are, you’ll be seeing different vistas. But with an ever-fluctuating pattern of stars, planetary activity and the moon’s changes, you could quickly become hooked.

Become a nature-lover

It’s important to maximise and cherish your time right now.  It’s also the perfect opportunity to learn new skills and take up additional interests, and what better than one which takes you outdoors. If you’re going for a daily walk, spend time getting to know the nature around you. There are so many fascinating aspects of the natural world to enjoy, whether it be landscapes, plant-life, pond-life, birds or sea-life depending on where you live.

Woman walking through a forest glade

With natural life re-emerging after a long winter, there’s plenty to see.  If you live in a big town or city then seeing nature at its best might not be possible right now, but why not pick a topic and read up on it before seeing it for real.

There’s a whole world outside so try to get out there and enjoy it as much as possible (observing social distancing and current guidelines of course).

Stay well.

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How to continue your Lent healthy-eating habits beyond Easter

An easter basket fillwed with flowers and colourful decorated eggs

As those of us who have been giving up certain food or drink for Lent are aware, the 40 days ends this weekend with the Easter celebration.  Whilst we may not be celebrating as, perhaps, we had planned with friends and family, it is a great opportunity to think about the changes you have made over the last 40 days.  

If you’ve worked hard during this period to stay away from certain foods, why not keep up the good work and permanently swap them out of your diet?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great alternatives for you to try.

Crisps

Crisps are a guilty pleasure for many of us who often eat a bag per day with our lunch. A typical bag of crisps contains around 171 calories, a small amount of protein (around 2 grams) and over 10 grams of fat, offering very little nutrient value.

A pot of hummus with pitta bread as a healthy snack

Why not swap crisps for some healthier crackers such as pumpkin and linseed crisp breads, oat cakes or rice cakes. These all make great snacks when energy levels are flagging, and hunger pangs are kicking in, especially if you add some protein: try them with hummus, cottage cheese, avocado or your favourite nut butter.

Alcohol

Most people report how much better they feel when they have a sustained amount of time without drinking alcohol.  And these benefits increase the longer you’re tee total.  Drinking alcohol can become habitual but if you change up your routine, you can break the habit.  Alcohol consumption depletes other nutrients, especially B-vitamins needed for energy. And, of course, alcohol is high in calories: a standard glass of wine contains around 160 calories, whilst a pint of beer contains almost 200 calories – about the same as a slice of pizza.

An alcohol-free cocktail with mint leaves

There are so many alcohol-free but great tasting alternatives to wine, beer and spirits right now, so you don’t need to feel left out. Why not create some delicious alcohol-free cocktails? Serve these drinks in special glasses as if they’re the real thing. Even just trying to cut down post Lent will improve your health exponentially.

Chocolate

If you were a fan of big bars of milk chocolate, then changing to a minimum 70% dark chocolate option (preferably organic) is certainly permitted as a lovely treat.

Squares of dark chocolate

Cocoa naturally contains flavonoids – plant compounds that are high in antioxidants and have also been found to help reduce high blood pressure.  Two or three squares a day will certainly deliver some good health benefits whilst hopefully satisfying any sweet cravings.

Cheese

It’s amazing how many people are addicted to cheese!  Clearly, it does contain many health benefits, being high in protein and bone-loving calcium.  However, it’s also high in amines which can trigger migraines (especially soft cheese) and disrupt sleep if eaten too late into the evening.  Most importantly, cheese has a high fat content so should be eaten in moderation to ensure it doesn’t adversely affect weight and blood fat levels.

Goats cheese round

There are many alternative, delicious vegan cheeses available now, often made from coconut or soy.  If cheese is your weakness, why not try to change it up as much as you can with some alternatives?

Cakes

There are very few of us who don’t enjoy cakes in some form or another. However, if this was your ‘go-to’ treat pre-Lent, then try not to fall back into the same pattern post-Easter. Cakes are calorie high and nutrient sparse; sugar in all its forms robs the body of other nutrients. Have this in mind before you reach for a slice.

Homemade flapjacks

There are some great sweet and healthier alternatives that you can create in your own kitchen. Think homemade muesli bars or flapjacks, fruit pizza made with oatmeal, chocolate covered bananas, or fruit loaf. They all contain some health benefits (especially energising B-vitamins and immune-loving vitamin C) and should help you manage any sweet cravings.

So, celebrate your 40-day resolve this weekend, and plan your next 40 days and beyond to be even healthier with these delicious alternatives!

Stay well.

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How to stay healthy during the lock down

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

It’s “National Walk to Work Day” today. But in these strange times, very few of us are likely to be walking into work.  However, we can still embrace this day and use the time to take good care of ourselves, continue exercising or even start a new fitness regime. 

It’s very possible to stay healthy and fit even during ‘lockdown’.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five tips to help boost your wellness during these difficult times.

 

Walk if you can

Walking is still one of the best, but often most under-rated forms of exercise. It’s also great for improving immune system function. Try to walk briskly and get the heart rate elevated.  If you’re able to get outside now, and it’s safe to do so, make your daily exercise really count.  And if you’re not used to walking very far, try to go a little further each day, but always walk for at least 30 minutes if possible.

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Whilst walking is great exercise for the whole body, including the legs, leg muscles still need further challenging.  Why not stop every ten minutes or so and do 10-20 squats? This is one of the best exercises you can do for the legs.  Keep squats as low as possible for best effects.

Create an ‘at-home’ circuit

Short, sharp circuits, often referred to as HIIT (high intensity interval training), are incredibly effective for weight loss and fitness.  Even better, you can set up a simple circuit in your living room.  Jumping jacks, burpees, side, forward and back lungs, jumping squats, high knees carried out in a continuous loop will certainly get the heart racing.

Close up of woman working out at home

The beauty of this type of training is that it raises your metabolic rate, so you’ll get the ‘after-burn’ if you do this first thing in the morning.  There are plenty of circuits you can find on-line.  Whilst it may be hard to keep your motivation up right now, if you do find yourself with more time on your hands, then try to use the time purposefully.  You may find your fitness levels improving, especially if you’re someone who generally struggles to find time to exercise.

Look after your good bacteria

Whilst it’s important to keep the outer body working well, you need to look after the internal too.  Clearly, we don’t know everything that’s going on within and often the body doesn’t tell us until we get sick.  But prevention is always better than cure and what you eat can have a significant impact on wellbeing.

A range of green vegetables

It’s super-important right now to look after your immune system to protect yourself as best you can.  The beneficial bacteria in your gut (also known as friendly flora) are the gatekeepers to the immune system. It needs nourishing and feeding with the right foods. Try including natural yoghurt, fermented foods such as tofu, tempeh, kefir and kombucha, plenty of green leafy vegetables and asparagus.  Drinking green tea is also good for feeding the gut bacteria.

Sleep well

Having enough sleep is essential for a healthy immune system.  It’s also essential for a healthy mind and body.  Stress and anxiety can really impact our ability to get a good night’s sleep.  If you are badly affected, then try to take steps to minimise them.

Close up of woman sleeping

Sometimes reverting to a simple routine can be helpful.  Start with a warm bath, using some essential lavender oil, light some candles, read a book and download a calming app.  Limit the time you read or listen to the News right now as this can exacerbate stress.  Sometimes, you must cocoon yourself in order to get your sleep patterns on track.

Plan and enjoy your meals

It’s often difficult now to get the food you want when you want it.  However, try to ensure you’re eating nutrient-dense foods as much as possible.  Choose unrefined, whole grains rather than white, refined foods and keep sugar intake as low as possible; sugar is very detrimental to immune system function. Choose well balanced meals with protein and plenty of vegetables.

Chicken breast with side salad representing balanced meal

Clearly, if you’re stuck indoors for long periods, it’s very tempting to snack but do try and put the fridge in isolation as well as yourself; your health will be much better for it.

So, whilst we all come to terms with the new way of the world, try to move more and keep well through a good diet and exercise regime.

Stay well.

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How to stay healthy and fit through the crisis

WOman holding a weight in one hand and plate of fruit and veg in the other

With the likelihood of a prolonged period of social distancing and home working, our normal everyday routine will become very disrupted.  Whether you’ve got a little more time on your hands because you’re not travelling to work, or you’re having to work much longer hours because you’re a key worker, it’s most important to keep as fit and healthy as possible during these challenging times.

Finding new ways to keep fit or new dishes to try will help to boost your morale and wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for lasting wellness.

Load up on fruits and veggies

It seems like the shelves have been stripped bare of dried goods, such as pasta and rice, but fruits and vegetables are hopefully still available, certainly in lots of areas.  Also, don’t forget the corner shops and local farmer’s shops which still seem to be well-stocked.

A range of fruits and vegetables

Protecting the immune system is the most important thing you can do right now and there’s a variety of ways you can really help yourself and your family.  Fruit and vegetables are some of the richest sources of immune-boosting vitamin C, a great anti-viral agent.  Whilst it’s not going to cure the virus, having strong immunity will put you in better to shape to fight it if you are unlucky enough to succumb.

If you’re used to having pasta-based meals, then why not try more vegetable-based ones?  Sweet potato curry or sweet potato vegetable pie (loaded with immune-boosting beta-carotene), roasted veggies with chicken, fish or tofu, cauliflower curry, fajitas with avocado and red peppers – it’s just about getting more creative with your choice of dishes.

Sweet potato shepherd's pie

If you’re one of the 72% of the population currently not eating the minimum five-a-day of fruits and vegetables, then use this time to eat as many as you can daily.  Frozen are just as good as fresh as they’ve generally been frozen quickly after harvest.  Make your meals as colourful as possible!

Take a vitamin D supplement

We are all advised by Public Health England to take a vitamin D supplement through the winter months.  Never has there been a more important time to be taking a vitamin D supplement; vitamin D is essential for the immune system. And even though some sunshine has appeared, it can never produce enough vitamin D on the skin to be fully effective.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

Better still, take a daily multivitamin which includes a minimum of 10 micrograms (ug) of vitamin D: a multivitamin will also help plug any other nutrient deficiencies and further protect the immune system. You can also get some vitamin D from foods; eggs, mushrooms and fish are good sources, plus certain fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Sleep and rest well

In these times of heightened anxiety, stress can have a detrimental effect on the immune system.  It’s therefore really important to make sure you’re getting sufficient rest and seven or eight hours sleep per night.  Lack of sleep suppresses T cells in the immune system, which are needed to fight viruses and infections.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Equally, trying to take some relaxation during the day, can help you to sleep better at night.  Try using a calming app, practising meditation, reading a book – whatever you find helpful.  Also try to keep to regular bedtimes.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

If you’re used to being a social butterfly, clearly everyone’s wings have been clipped for a while.  Use the time to cut down on caffeine and alcohol as both will stop the body from sleeping peacefully.  If you’re in the situation of being indoors much more, then take the opportunity to re-think your life and try to ditch those foods or activities that are not promoting good health.

Warm yourself from the inside

It’s crucially important to keep the body hydrated to protect vital organs and make your internal environment more difficult for viruses to enter.

Glass of water with lemon

Additionally, if you’re dehydrated, your brain is going to feel foggy, concentration will be poor and energy levels low.  The body really likes warm drinks (about blood temperature).  Start the day with some warm lemon water to flush through the liver.  You can also sip this with some immune-boosting ginger throughout the day.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

There’s a myriad of herbal teas which also boost immunity; echinacea, peppermint, red bush, green, rosehip and turmeric. Have one on the go throughout the day.  Soups containing loads of vegetables are also great immune boosters; chicken broth is thought to help fight viruses.  If you can boil up the bones to make a chicken stock first, even better!

Get some exercise

This is more difficult now with formal exercising venues, as well as public parks, largely being closed.  However, even if it’s a stroll around the block, getting some fresh air (away from other people) is great for the immune system.  However excessive exercise actually depletes immunity, so for some perhaps an enforced ‘slow-down’ may be good. Don’t overdo it.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

Get creative with some kind of exercise routine. Running up and down stairs, press-ups, core exercise, squats and lunges can all be carried out at home.  Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises only require a mat: there are plenty of free videos online to follow in order to keep motivated.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Most importantly, try to stay positive.  This is a phase in time that will pass.  However, the more you can do to keep yourself healthy the better you’ll come out the other side.

Stay well.

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Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

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

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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The importance of being kind: to others and to yourself

Hands surrounding a heart shaped world globe to represent kindness

Most of us try to be kind to others especially our partners, family and friends most of the time. However, within our stressful lives, we’re often so busy making sure everyone else is ok, we forget to think about ourselves. 

Being kind to yourself is so important for overall health and wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some everyday ways you can bring more kindness into your life.

 

Be kind nutritionally

Your body will reward you with good health if you show it some love and kindness.  Be honest with yourself; are you simply eating to live, often on the run, without thinking about putting the right fuel into the body?  Every mealtime is an opportunity to take in precious nutrients the body needs to keep well. Right now, during the winter months, it’s also important to be looking after the immune system.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Think about colour variety on your plate; that will ensure you have lots of different nutrients from colourful fruits and vegetables.  Cook up some warming winter soups which will last a few days.  You don’t need to overthink them – just throw in as many vegetables as you’ve got in the fridge (frozen is good too).  You can also add some beans, lentils or barley to give them ‘bulk’.  A thick soup is a very nutritious meal all-in-one.

Be kind to the environment

Thinking about the environment and cutting down on the amount of animal produce you consume is also an act of kindness to yourself.  Being completely vegan is not necessarily a good idea for health as it can lead to nutrient deficiencies and it certainly doesn’t suit everyone.  However, reducing intake of animal produce, and including more plant-based foods, is great for both your health and the environment.

A range of milks made from nuts

Cow’s milk can cause inflammation in the body, especially in people with existing eczema, asthma or joint issues.  Dairy produce can also disrupt hormones.  Therefore, try to include plant-based milks such as almond, coconut, soya, hazelnut and oat.  Equally, red meat is high in saturated fat and quite tough on the digestion, so reduce the amount you’re eating. For protein foods, choose sustainably sourced fish, beans, soya produce, organic poultry and eggs.

Be kind to your soul

Do things that make your heart sing!  We can sometimes get so entrenched in everyday life that we forget to enjoy ourselves!  Long work hours and busy lives leaves little time for ‘play’.  However, it’s important to have time doing what you love and that genuinely feeds your soul.  Why not take up a new hobby, something you’ve always wanted to try, however diverse that may be?

Close up of a tap dancer to represent new hobbies

Perhaps it’s joining a singing group or doing something creative; there’s no end of choices.  Start by writing a list and then work your way through.

Be kind to others

If you choose to be anything, choose to be kind. There’s a famous saying: ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’.  Not everyone is good and kind in this world but if you set your intention to be kind to others, you will be rewarded, and the right people will gravitate towards you.  You know how pleasurable it feels when you do something good for someone, however small, to help them through their day. And it can make a real difference to how someone feels.

A group of happy volunteers

Why not think about volunteering?  It can bring so many rewards and you often learn new skills on the way.

Be kind to your mind

Spending hours on social media is not being kind to your mind.  In fact, it can be very disruptive emotionally.  Plus, being exposed to blue light emitted from electronic devices, upsets sleep patterns. Even using a tablet to read a novel is not ideal if your overall exposure to devices goes into many hours a day.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Practicing meditation (and it does take practise) is one of the best things you can ever do for your mind.  Just like the body, the mind needs time to rest. It seems to be getting more of challenge to quieten the brain.  However, once you’ve mastered it, you only need to find around 20 minutes a day to meditate.  The results will be astounding, and you’ll sleep better and more peacefully for sure.

Being kind to yourself and others comes in many different forms but actively practising this in all areas of your life will be uplifting and rewarding for you and those around you.

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

 

 

Natural ways to a stress-free Christmas

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

The lead-up to Christmas is traditionally a very stressful time of year.  There’s always so much to do and often many people to please. 

What you eat and how you plan your time can really help support your health and minimise stress, so you can fully enjoy the festive season.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top tips for a stress-free Christmas.

Load up on magnesium

Nature has supplied us with everything we need in terms of nutrients.  The good news is that the mineral, magnesium, is especially calming.  Whilst magnesium is important for energy production, it’s also needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body.  This includes playing a role in the production of the brain’s neurotransmitters, especially calming GABA which decreases activity in your nervous system. Magnesium also helps manage the body’s normal stress response as well as aiding muscle relaxation.  No wonder it’s known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’!

A range of foods containing magnesium

Foods high in magnesium are going to become your best friends over the next few weeks.  Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale, wholegrains such as oats, almonds, dairy foods, beans, and meat should all be on the menu.  It may also be worth taking a magnesium supplement.  If you take it about an hour before bedtime, it can help you to sleep peacefully too.

Try some calming herbs

Just as nature has delivered us calming nutrients, it’s also delivered calming herbs. And there are many ways you can use them in meal preparation.

Clearly, time is a precious commodity right now, so spending hours in the kitchen is not on the menu.  However, basil is a tonic for the nervous system: it’s calming and can also help digestion.  Why not use it in an easy chicken pasta dish, using whole wheat pasta (which contains more magnesium and B-vitamins) or with mozzarella cheese and buffalo tomatoes drizzled with a little olive oil?  Two easy supper suggestions.

Mozzarella, tomato and basil salad

Camomile is a popular calming tea which is especially good before bedtime, as is mint tea which is soothing for the digestive system.  Additionally, rosemary adds a wonderful taste and aroma to many different dishes. Think roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, lamb, chicken, soups, or simply rubbed over chunky bread with a little olive oil.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Some herbs can act as both an energy stimulant as well as encouraging calm and relaxation.  They are known as adaptogenic herbs; ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all have this effect.  They are best taken in the morning in supplement form to help with energy levels, but because they manage the stress response, they body will also feel calm and better able to sleep.

Make time for relaxation

Unfortunately, we often push ourselves very hard at this time of year.  This can suppress immune function making us susceptible to all the nasty colds and bugs flying around, not to mention leaving us feeling low and tired.

The good news is there are many relaxation apps you can download and listening to them won’t eat too much time out of your day.  Meditation can take a little practice, but an app can really help guide you along the way.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

The benefits of relaxation are far-reaching not just at this time of year but for long term health and longevity.  Try and allocate around 20 minutes a day. Just listening to a relaxation app and being still for a short time will refresh your body and mind.

It’s important to give back to the body what it needs.  While it’s working hard and functioning day to day, it’s easy to forget that the stress response uses up more nutrients (especially magnesium and the B-vitamins, which are essential for energy). Therefore, it should be properly fuelled with nutrients and lifestyle changes, so it continues to work as it’s best for you.

So, just a few small changes can make a massive difference to how well you cope over the next few weeks and can hopefully help you have a happier Christmas.

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 our sister site Herbfacts