Our immune systems get a real workout at this time of year with cold, flu’, and tummy bug germs thriving in warm, dry, centrally heated homes and offices. It’s a good idea to top up on immune-supporting nutrients to give your system the best chance of fending off these invaders as much as possible.
Here are 4 simple ways to nourish your immune system this winter…
Need more? Try these too:
– Vitamin C has powerful anti-viral action, particularly against the flu’ viruses. Food sources include watercress, peppers, kiwi, berries, peas, parsley, broccoli, and lemons. If you’re at high risk of infection consider using at least 1000mg per day of ascorbic acid or Ester-C.
– Zinc may help to reduce the severity and shorten the duration of colds. Food sources include poultry (chicken soup really can work wonders), pumpkin seeds, red meat, and cashew nuts. Zinc citrate lozenges are a quick way to boost levels and helpful at the first tingles of a cold.
– Echinacea has a long history of traditional use for respiratory infections like colds and flu’. Go for an organic whole herb extract that contains the natural balance of active compounds; A.Vogel do tinctures, tablets and a throat spray in their excellent ‘Echinaforce‘ range. It’s a winter staple in my remedy cupboard!
Do you have a favourite cold and flu’ remedy? Come and tell us over in the Facebook group and find out more winter health tips and nourishing recipes!
Over 250,000 people participated in Veganuary 2019 (a massive increase from the 3,300 who participated in 2014) and 2020 is set to be even bigger.
Done properly, a plant-based diet can provide nearly all the nutrients we need to thrive. I say “nearly all” because of the vitamin B12 conundrum – more on that later. Done badly, a vegan diet is the same as any other poor diet.
As a nutritionist I come across all kinds of diets. Vegan, juice fasts, raw food, keto, Paleo, Hay (eating proteins at a different time to carbs, not chewing on actual hay…though no doubt someone will one day, and probably make a ton of money from the idea) – and people ask my opinion of them.
When it comes to veganism, I think it’s great for many people so long as it’s done properly and involves eating real food. I have several vegan friends and colleagues, including the brilliant nutritionist Elena Holmes, who epitomises the healthy vegan lifestyle.
However, a vegan diet is not;
– The answer to our environmental and food sustainability issues
– The cure for every known health issue
– Easy to follow. This is especially true if you dislike vegetables and pulses. And I have met vegans who don’t like vegetables. Good luck with that.
There are certain nutrients that a wholly plant-based diet can struggle to provide and you may need to consider supplementation to side-step any deficiencies. Remember that some deficiencies can take months, even years to present with full on symptoms. Vitamin B12 is a good example of this. You may have good bodily stores of B12 when you begin a vegan diet, and these stores can keep you going for several months before they drop and you start to notice symptoms like tiredness, brain fog, and poor memory.
The most bioavailable form of B12 is unique to animal products. It plays an important role in mental wellbeing, heart health, nerve cells, and red blood cell function.
Top sources include shellfish, lamb, and beef (there’s an interesting list on Nutrition Data: it’s a US site, hence the inclusion of moose meat – not a common source for those of us in the UK!).
Many foods suitable for vegans are fortified with B12; nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals for example. Certain plant foods do naturally contain B12, the most notable being the sea vegetables green and purple nori. Studies have shown that eating these forms of nori can improve B12 status, though you would need to eat substantial amounts every day to support levels in the long term. Same goes for shiitake mushrooms. Of all the edible mushrooms, shiitake carries good levels of B12 but you would still need to eat an average of 50g (dried weight) per day to maintain levels. That’s a whole lot of mushrooms. To be on the safe side, include these foods regularly and consider using a B12 supplement if you plan to be wholly plant-based for more than a few months.
Spirulina and other edible cyanobacterias (commonly called blue-green algaes) contain pseudovitamin B12 which isn’t bioavailable to us as humans. We can’t absorb it or use it so please don’t be fooled by advertisements claiming otherwise.
Iron – haem and non-haem
Iron deficiency is a particular issue for female vegans due to regular iron loss from periods. Haem iron in animal products is much better absorbed than non-haem iron from plant sources. If you are relying on non-haem iron, be sure to include sources of vitamin C too, as this helps the absorption and usage of plant-sourced iron.
Good combinations include;
– Millet grain (iron) in a salad with vit-C-rich-foods like watercress, parsley, and peppers
– Blackstrap molasses (iron) in hot water with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice (vit C)
– Pumpkin & sunflower seeds (iron) in a fruit salad with papaya, kiwi, and strawberries (all good sources of vit C)
Many of us, whether vegan or not, are low in vitamin D simply because we don’t get enough regular sunshine here in the UK. Unfortunately for vegans, the optimum dietary sources of vitamin D3 (the most active usable form) are eggs, liver and butter, with plant sources like mushrooms providing a little D2.
It is advisable for everyone to take a supplement during winter months (October to April) and vegans may need to continue all year round. To check your levels, see your GP or try a home test kit from www.vitamindtest.org.uk
Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to have plenty of omega-6, but often struggle with omega-3. Nuts and seeds provide what is known as the ‘parent’ omega 3 fat, Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA). This needs to go through several conversion steps before it becomes EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). These are the omega-3 fats we use for brain and heart health, and which are ready formed in fish oils.
These conversion steps rely on co-factor nutrients like magnesium, B-vitamins, zinc, and vitamin C, and a lot of ALA gets lost during the process. There isn’t an easy answer to this dilemma, other than to ensure vegans include walnuts, flaxseed oil, and/or pumpkinseed oil everyday for their rich ALA content, and to enjoy plenty of food sources of the co-factor nutrients too;
– Magnesium: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, dark green leafy vegetables
– Zinc: nuts & seeds
– B-vitamins: widely spread throughout the plant kingdom; sweet potatoes, brown rice, avocadoes, nuts, seeds, and dark green leafy veggies are especially useful
– Vit C: watercress, peppers, broccoli, berries, kiwi, papaya, peas
Are you experimenting with Veganuary this year?
Have you a delicious vegan recipe to share?
Tell us in the comments below, hop on over to the friendly Facebook Group for more conversations and recipe ideas or catch me on Twitter @nutritioninyork
We’ve had smashed avocado, coconut water and kale everything. Smoothies, juice diets, goji berries, and veganism. Now it’s time for 2020 to give us the next big foodie trend. Will it be nettles? Pine needle tea? Or my favourite (and vastly underated) combo of mashed carrot and swede?
According to food trend forecasts from Waitroseand Whole Foods, flexitarian eating styles and plant-based options are set to continue their popularity next year. Research reveals celery juice, tahini and seaweeds are all in increasing demand and could be the next big trends (though I have to say, celery juice excites me about as much as pine needle tea).
These have always had a devoted fan base. Their distinctive taste adds depth and saltiness to soups, stir fry, and casseroles and makes a great sprinkle topping for salads (and chips!). Rich in iodine, zinc, selenium and fibre seaweeds are especially good for mental wellbeing, energy, weight loss and supporting healthy thyroid function if your thyroid is underfunctioning (hypothyroidism).
Seaweeds are an extremely useful source of iodine for those who are dairy-free. Aside from fish and seafood, dairy products are the main source of iodine in most diets. If you’re not regularly eating fish and/or dairy products, aim to include seaweed 2-3 times a week to look after your iodine intake.
Clearspring produce a wide range of seaweed products as do Seagreens. Both companies carefully source and sustainably harvest the seaweeds, ensuring strict high standards of production.
Well known as a key ingredient in houmous, it can be hard to know what to do with any leftover tahini paste. The type of tahini might influence your decision here; there are two types of tahini to choose from based on what sort of sesame seeds have been used. Hulled sesame seeds produce a paler paste, whilst unhulled result in a darker coloured paste and slightly bitter taste.
Nutritionally, it is a great source of protein, B-vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium – great for energy levels, healthy bones, cardiovascular health and hormone balance. A perfect menopause food if ever there was one.
If you’re brimful with houmous, try these suggestions for using up tahini paste;
– Add to salad dressings with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice
– Spread on griddled aubergine with a dash of soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free)
– Drizzle it over warm falafels
– Make baba ganoush
– Add a spoonful to butternut squash soup for a thick, creamy and slightly nutty taste
– Mix with honey and spread on sourdough toast for a comforting snack
Perhaps my resolution for 2020 could be to get more excited about celery juice. Whilst I love crunching on raw celery sticks (especially smothered in nut butter) the juice just turns me off.
Many of the health benefits of celery come from its fibre content and antioxidant compounds. Celery fibre aids digestion and cholesterol balance, whilst the antioxidants have anti-inflammatory actions, helping protect cells and tissues from damage.
The fibre is lost in celery juice, but vitamins and minerals remain, and celery’s high water content makes it a good base for a mixed veg juice blend.
According to the trend-setting soothsayers other foods to watch in 2020 include fruit based sugar substitutes such as pomegranate syrup and coconut syrup; different kinds of noodles, and unusual types of flour – think cauliflower flour and banana flour rather than plain or self raising.
Let’s see what unfolds over the next twelve months. Maybe there’ll be a late surge for carrots & swede mash after all…
Tell us what will be on your plate in 2020 – come and join the conversations over in the Facebook group. Trendy and non-trendy foods allowed. So long as they taste good.
Friday mornings are a bit exciting in my house; it’s Riverford delivery day. At around 9.30am a friendly driver drops off the weekly box (hiding it behind the recycling bin if no-one’s home) packed with a delicious selection of organic fruit and vegetables. And, rather helpfully, a leaflet detailing different ways to cook some of the more unusual contents.
I decided to find out more about the faces behind the vegetables and met up with Eleanor Fletcher who runs the York & East Riding Riverford Franchise.
Hello Eleanor! Can you tell us about how you came to run the local Riverford delivery scheme?
Hi! Yes, well I was born in York and grew up in Helmsley before life took me to London where I worked in publishing. As a family, we’d planned on moving back to York at some point anyway, then one day I spotted the York Riverford franchise was available. We’d been Riverford customers for many years and I was familiar with the products and really liked the ethos of the company, so I took the plunge and applied.
We began the new York franchise in August 2018 – it really was like jumping on a galloping horse! There used to be 2 franchises in Yorkshire but these were combined into one when I took over. We now cover York and East Riding and over to the west as far as Pontefract and Castleford.
Wow, that is a huge area to cover! I’m guessing the food isn’t all grown up here in Yorkshire; where does it come from?
Riverford has 3 main farms in the UK; one fairly locally in Northallerton, one in Cambridgeshire, and one near Totnes in Devon. We grow different produce at each farm according to what suits the soil and climate. For example Yorkshire’s good for potatoes and brassicas, Cambridgeshire for onions, leeks and lots of salads in the sandy soil, while Totnes has a milder climate suited to tomatoes and winter salad leaves which wouldn’t survive well up here in the North.
All our meat comes from the Riverford butchery in Devon. Dairy products are supplied by Acorn Dairies up near Barnard Castle and eggs from a farm in County Durham.
Is all Riverford produce UK grown?
No, we use some French farms in the Vendee, and a co-operative of Spanish farms too. All our produce is land freighted though, we never air freight. And thanks to extensive research we’ve discovered that a tomato grown in Southern Spain and land freighted to the UK has a lower carbon footprint than one grown in a heated greenhouse here in England.
One of the common objections about organic produce is that it’s expensive and hard to get hold of. That’s often the case in supermarkets but your boxes pretty much prove that to be wrong! Why do think customers choose Riverford?
I think they choose us for a variety of reasons. Concerns about intensive farming methods and pesticides is a big driver for a lot of customers. They appreciate the higher welfare standards of organic farms – for both the animals and staff – and love the freshness of our products. Our usual turnaround time from farm to doorstep is 36-48 hours. We don’t leave our veg hanging around in distribution centres for days and weeks, which is why it lasts longer and tastes so fresh.
Customers recognise how organic farming is preserving and enriching the soil and caring for wildlife. Plastic is a really big issue too. Our boxes use 77% less plastic compared to the supermarket equivalents of our products – that’s a huge difference. We reuse the cardboard delivery boxes time and time again, and some of our smaller cardboard boxes can be composted on a household compost heap.
As well as running the delivery scheme you also run cooking workshops showing people how to use the produce in the boxes. What are your favourite veggies and how do you serve them?
That is a tough question! *thinks for a moment* Ok, I’m going to answer it by seasons…
In winter I love the deep savoury flavour of celeriac in soups, roasted, or as celeriac mash.
Autumn has to be cime di rapa which is a bit like spinach, but with the pepperyness of rocket.
Then in spring and summer I love using the bunched carrots. They’re thinner and less robust than winter carrots but perfect for roasting whole and using the carrot leaves in pesto instead of basil.
Thank you so much Eleanor!
To find out more about Eleanor’s delivery scheme and cookery workshops hop over to;
If I had a magic time machine I’d go back to the early 90s and have a quiet word with myself about food.
I’d also have a quiet word about hairstyles and picking at spots, but food would be first.
At age 14 I was a terrible pescetarian. I lived on tuna pasta bake, Linda McCartney Country Pies (*instant bloating*) Findus cheese pancakes, baked beans, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Black, two sugars.
I carried on eating like this into my late teens and early twenties. My repertoire expanded a little when I moved out of home and lived with people who introduced me to houmous and feta cheese.
As you might expect, my health wasn’t exactly dazzling. Every month I had 10-14 days of pre-menstrual tension symptoms of anger, depression, forgetfulness, brain fuzz, bloating and spots. This was followed by heavy painful periods lasting 7-8 days. I ping-ponged through the day on sugar-caffeine highs followed by exhausting slumps, and my bowels could tick off every type of poo on the Bristol Stool Scale.
If I’d known then what I know now, I would have abso-flippin’-lutely eaten differently. The cheese pancakes would have been accompanied by broccoli for a start.
Nutritional gems I’d share with my Pearl Jam fan-girl, rubbish-pescatarian 14yr old self:
Drink some water. I lived on coffee & tea, both of which were playing havoc with my digestion and blocking iron absorption (not a great combo with heavy periods). Drinking at least 1l of water a day would have done my digestion, energy, and skin a whole lot of good.
Eat greens, everyday. Mum always included at least 1 green veggie with our evening meal, however I could have been a lot more pro-active myself. Brassica veggies in particular (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, rocket) are packed with nutrients that support oestrogen processing in the liver – essential for hormone balance and managing PMT.
Ease up on sugar. Adding 2 sugars to every black coffee really racked up my sugar intake and contributed to the bloating and teen spots. Add in white bread, white pasta, and other refined carbs and the sugar total was HUGE! Swapping to herbal teas and complex carbs would have made a significant difference to energy, digestion, skin health, and hormone balance.
Eat Real Food. Back then, as a pescetarian I really needed to be eating a lot more fish, eggs, beans, pulses, and colourful fruits & veggies and none of that processed fake food marketed to vegetarians.
Protein, protein, protein! Again, the fish, beans, pulses and eggs would have helped with this, alongside nuts and seeds. I was in dire need of protein building blocks for healthy skin, zingy energy levels, and stable moods, and my diet wasn’t supplying them!
Prep a proper packed lunch. A typical lunch consisted of cheese sandwiches with white bread, cake, and maybe a piece of fruit (maybe). Then I’d come home at 4pm and feast on chocolate spread sandwiches. Blimey, my pancreas was working overtime! Better options would have been wholemeal pittas with salad & fish / eggs / fruit salad with nuts & seeds / houmous / guacamole / and a lot less chocolate spread!
What nutritional gems would you share with your teenage self?
It’s that time of year again…the ninth month… it’s Sourdough September!
This month-long celebration of all things sourdough is a national event run by the Real Bread Campaign with the aim of encouraging people to enjoy genuine sourdough products and support the independent bakers who produce them.
Now I’m certainly no baker. I can talk about food, write about food, and on the whole, produce tasty nutritious meals – but baking? No. No. And again no. My skills are seriously lacking. But this doesn’t stop me enjoying the occasional slice or two of a good quality sourdough bread. With butter. Natch.
True sourdough bread contains only flour, water, salt, and the starter culture that triggers the fermentation process and natural leavening. Compare this with the litany of ingredients in mass produced breads: emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilisers, improvers, bleaching agents, acidifiers, colourings – the list is looong.
Why are all these ingredients used?
Because of the Chorleywood process. Since its creation in 1961, the vast majority of bread made in the UK is done so by this process. It’s a time-saving method of producing dough with minimal fermentation time, and is needed to meet our (apparently) insatiable demand for processed bread. The process requires all these extra goodies in order to work. Plus preservatives and mould inhibitors to give the loaf a longer shelf-life.
Baking a sourdough loaf requires time and patience and brings with it an understanding of what real food – slow food – truly is. The process cannot be rushed, the end results are different every time, but the flavour and taste are worth the effort!
A potential nutritional advantage of true sourdough is the way the fermentation process reduces gluten levels. The natural bacteria in the starter culture ferment and breakdown a lot of the wheat proteins, including gluten, making them easier to digest.
Italian research from 2007 explored the gluten-degrading powers of fermentation microbes. The study results show how bread made by the sourdough fermentation process had residual gluten levels of 12ppm (parts per million). Anything below 20ppm is classed as ‘gluten-free’. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every sourdough loaf out there contains such tiny amounts of gluten, but it does illustrate the gluten reducing powers of natural sourdough fermentation.
When buying sourdough do watch out for what the Real Bread Campaign call ‘sourfraux’ – fake sourdough bread. Thanks to the rise in popularity of artisan breads like sourdough, many supermarkets and bakers are producing imitation sourdoughs that still include additives and haven’t gone through the full fermentation process. It is worth asking how the bread has been made and whether the proper starter culture has been used, so you can be confident of buying a genuine sourdough loaf.
Care to share any marvellous bread baking tips?
Do you have a sourdough starter you’d like to pass on?
What is gluten, and what does it do when we eat it?
Gluten is a type of protein found in the grains of wheat, barley, and rye. It’s made up of several different protein fractions, and can be difficult for some people to digest.
Haven’t we been eating wheat, barley, and rye for thousands of years? Surely we’re used to it by now.
Well, yes and no. Yes, we have been eating grains for thousands of years, but not the sorts of grains we have now. Modern varieties of wheat for example contain much higher levels of gluten due to the cross-breeding of grains and the pursuit of varieties of wheat that are shorter, easier to harvest, and more glutinous for bread making.
As a result, many people struggle to digest gluten. And for some, it can play a critical role in triggering increased intestinal permeability (aka ‘leaky gut’) and auto-immune conditions.
It’s a familiar situation: you’ve been dashing round all day grabbing food on the go when suddenly, heartburn starts. Ouch.
Heartburn (also called acid reflux) is caused by stomach acid escaping up into the oesophagus (the tube that runs from your throat to your stomach). Normally, a ring of muscle called the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (LOS) tightens up to keep food and acid safely in the stomach. However, certain factors can affect this ring of muscle, stopping it from closing properly and allowing some acid back up into the tube.
The oesophagus isn’t equipped to deal with this acid and it goes into spasms. Sometimes the spasms and pain are so bad they are mistaken for a heart attack. Other symptoms include a sour taste in the mouth, a sickly burning sensation at the back of the throat, bloating, nausea, and a sudden increase in saliva.
Having an occasional bout of reflux ( eg once every few months) isn’t too concerning as the trigger is usually easy to identify and resolve. Eating a large celebratory meal with a few drinks for example, or indulging in some unusual foods on holiday. But if you’re experiencing reflux more than twice a week, it’s possible you could have GORD – GastroOesophageal Reflux Disease.
What causes heartburn & reflux?
Several factors make heartburn and reflux more likely to occur. Pregnancy, for example, and being overweight. Both these conditions increase pressure on the LOS, making it easier for small amounts of acid to escape back into the oesophagus.
Caffeine, chocolate, mint, peppermint, and alcohol can reduce the tone of the LOS, preventing it from closing properly. That’s all kinds of alcohol by the way. I’ve often been asked if there’s a special type of wine or particular beer that doesn’t relax the LOS, but sorry, the answer is no! Other foods can worsen the irritation caused by reflux: this group includes spicy foods and citrus fruits, which is why curries and orange juice are often a problem.
An important thing to note here is that none of these factors causes excessive amounts of stomach acid to be produced. It’s rare to have too much stomach acid. In fact, most people with reflux and heartburn have too little, and that’s another part of the problem…
Stress & Digestion
Aside from foods, the biggest single trigger for heartburn and reflux is stress.
Stress disrupts your entire digestive process from start to finish. Imagine your digestion is like a factory production line. Each part of the line can only do its job if the part before it is working properly. So, if the very first part of digestion isn’t up to scratch, the stomach will suffer.
The very first part of digestion isn’t chewing or swallowing food, it’s SEEING and SMELLING the food. Even HEARING it being cooked (sizzling pancakes anyone?). This stage is called the Cephalic stage after the Greek word ‘kephos’ meaning head. It’s all about the senses of smell, sight, and sound.
When we use these senses, we trigger nerve impulses that go down the vagus nerve into the digestive system. These impulses tell the stomach to get ready for the arrival of food, to get busy producing gastric juices! If we skip this stage as is the case when eating on the go, food arrives in the stomach with no warning and the stomach struggles to deal with it.
Eating on the go usually goes hand-in-hand with feeling busy and stressed. The problem is, our fight-or-flight stress response runs in direct opposition to our rest-digest-heal response. We cannot do both things at the same time: we cannot digest food comfortably whilst being stressed.
This is what happens;
How to manage heartburn & reflux mindfully and naturally
Now you know what might be causing the problem, let’s look at simple ways to deal with it.
1. Make time for eating
As we’ve just discussed, eating on the go is a big trigger for heartburn and reflux so the most important step is to make time to eat. This can be 10 minutes, so long as that’s 10 minutes with no phone, emails, or TV. Just you and your food.
2. Take 3 slow deep breaths before eating
Deep breathing instantly down regulates the stress response and switches your nervous system into rest-and-digest mode. Look at your food whilst taking these deep slow breaths, enjoy the smell and sight of your meal. Engage these important cephalic senses!
It’s amazing how many people simply hoover up food. Like some kind of alien with a suction tube rather than a human with a mouthful of teeth.
Chewing stimulates even more of those important nerve signals, and also helps us to know when we’re full. If you think you’re over-eating, try chewing more to reignite your satiety signals.
4. Avoid foods that relax the LOS
Alcohol, mint, peppermint, caffeine and chocolate. I know there’s a lot of ‘treat’ foods in there, but think about how much better you will feel.
5. Enjoy a small bowl of bitter salad leaves before your main meal
Bitter foods like rocket, watercress, mustard leaves, dandelion leaves, mizuna, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice stimulate the gastric juices. Use the lemon juice and apple cider vinegar in a simple dressing with olive oil and black pepper for a delicious green salad starter.
*Please do not do this if you already have an active stomach ulcer or gastritis or are taking H2 blockers or PPI medications*
6. Eat larger meals earlier in the day
The speed at which your stomach empties is partly controlled by diurnal rhythms. It empties slightly faster in the morning than in the evening. You’re also more likely to be upright and moving round during the day: lying down after an evening meal makes it easier for acid to flow back up into the oesophagus.
Experiment with having a smaller evening meal, and eat more at breakfast and lunch instead to see if this eases your symptoms.
7. Enjoy an overnight fast
Fasting is the only way for your digestive system to have a rest and do some ‘housekeeping’. Does that sound weird? Well, the billions of bacteria in your gut have a lot of maintenance work to do, keeping your gut lining healthy. The easiest way to give them chance to do this, and for your stomach to have a rest, is to fast overnight for 12 hours. So, if you finish your evening meal at 7.30pm, don’t eat again until 7.30am the following morning. Herbal teas and water are okay, just no food.
Which steps can you take?
Have you found your own natural way of managing heartburn & reflux?