How to kick start your immune system with exercise and nutrition

From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyershutterstock_209236522 trainer made out of vegetables Feb15Want to avoid the usual round of colds and flu this winter?

Then get those trainers on and go for a gentle jog!  You may be surprised to learn that moderate exercise helps to support the immune system so that you’re less susceptible to infections.  Moderate exercise of around 30-60 minutes, several times a week, increases the amount of killer cells that are naturally present in the immune system, helping to fight off potential invaders.

Conversely, more intense exercise perhaps undertaken whilst training for a marathon, can potentially suppress the immune system for 24-36 hours after the event, but the right foods and lifestyle changes can help to negate any potential downsides.  So, as with most things in life – it’s all about balance!

Regular, moderate exercise has many positive benefits:

shutterstock_237220609 smling woman jogging Feb15Your energy input and output is better controlled, therefore so is your weight.

Increased lean muscle means that more calories are burnt at rest, again making weight management easier.

Exercise increases endorphins which can lift your mood.

Energy levels generally will be improved.

You are likely to be less susceptible to infections due to enhanced immune system functioning.

Increased blood flow and oxygen around the body will help you to look healthier and possibly younger as your skin will glow.

You’ll feel so much better generally – and that’s a promise!

So, you’ve bought the gear and your trainers are ready and waiting by the front door.  Fantastic start but what else do you need to know?

It goes without saying that you should ensure you’re supporting your body nutritionally.  Ask yourself: what are the main reasons you have decided to adopt a more active lifestyle?  Often, the motivation stems from a desire to lose weight so it is really important to remember that just because you have started to exercise, doesn’t mean you can eat lots more calories!  A 30-minute gentle jog will burn around 300 calories – that’s generally less than you would eat in a lunchtime sandwich.

shutterstock_134844665 isotonic drink fitness woman June16

It’s great to be enthusiastic about a new exercise programme but build up slowly to avoid the risk of injury. For example, if you’ve taken up running recently, simply try and go that little bit further every couple of weeks rather than pushing yourself too hard from the start.  This will be much more sustainable in the long term and will also help to keep the immune system well-balanced.

And, as we have already mentioned, it’s fantastic if you have decided to commit to any type of endurance event, like a charity run or half marathon, but be mindful of your diet so that your immune system is supported, and your recovery after training is optimal.

Here are five key ways to keep your immune system in tip top condition:shutterstock_233995030 woman juggling peppers Feb15

Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables with as much colour variety as possible. Challenge yourself to eat all the colours of the rainbow!

Avoid sugar, alcohol and fried foods which can all suppress the immune system.

Try to eat a generally low glycemic diet; this means one that is one low in refined foods (such as white bread, pastries and sugary snacks) but rich in wholegrain foods, such as wholewheat bread and pasta, quinoa, beans and pulses.

If you’re regularly training for 90 minutes or longer, you will need to keep topped up with a carbohydrate-rich sports drink during the sessions. This helps to minimise any negative effects on your immune system during prolonged exercise regimes and provides sustained energy.

Eating sufficient protein is also key, as it is used to make many types of immune cells, including antibodies. Good sources are eggs, chicken, turkey and all kinds of fish.

Eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is important for a number of reasons; these foods naturally contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, the B vitamins as well as magnesium, iron and zinc – all important for the immune system.

shutterstock_247851763 antioxidant veg tower Feb15Fruits and vegetables are also packed with antioxidants.  Exercise causes the body to produce more free radicals; therefore the body’s requirement for antioxidants is increased.  The body is naturally equipped with protective antioxidant enzyme systems, but increasing intake of fruits and vegetables provides the nutrients needed for the body’s systems to function, and also delivers greater antioxidant cover.  This can really help to keep the immune system supported.

How can supplements help?

It is not always easy to get everything the body needs from the daily diet, particularly when you’re putting it through its paces.  This is where supplementation is key; but which nutrients or herbs are especially important to keep your immunity levels up?

Vitamin C: a well-known and well-researched nutrient when it comes to providing immune protection.  It supports several types of immune cells within the body and also helps speed up the time taken to recover from infection.

Zinc: an important mineral, essential for maintaining many functions of the immune system, and a constant supply is required to keep producing all types of immune cells.

Selenium: Frequently depleted in the diet due to modern farming methods, this is an essential mineral for enhanced immune cell response.  It is also needed for the production of one of the body’s most powerful antioxidant enzymes, known as glutathione peroxidase which, amongst many other functions, helps protect the body from premature ageing.

Rhodiola: a powerful ‘adaptogenic’ herb, meaning it adapts to the body’s specific needs.  It has been found to increase overall performance in terms of exercise, as well as supporting the immune system.  It is also a great mental enhancer, particularly protective during life’s stressful times.

Echinacea: traditionally used for many centuries, this is now one of the most well-known immune-supporting plants.

Get the perfect balance of work, rest and play – and stay positive!

shutterstock_160528004 woman laughing in bed Feb15When it comes to immunity, down time is just as important as getting the blood pumping. Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can take its toll on the immune system.  Many people find that when they reduce their intake of caffeine and alcohol, their sleep patterns improve enormously.

And lastly – always try to think positively no matter how hard the day may be!  Laughing out loud has extremely positive effects on your mood and the happiest people tend to live the longest.  Negative thinking can have a detrimental effect on the immune system so finding positivity wherever you can in your world will be hugely beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing.

The Top Five Superfoods in Fashion for S/S 2015

From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer


shutterstock_243279688 lettuce model Feb15

Welcome to the ‘Superfood Catwalk’!

It changes as quickly as the season’s fashions.  A food that’s ‘in vogue’ one year, may not be the next.  However, there are always some remarkable foods, such as the humble blueberry, that warrant front page headlines every year – they will never go out of style.

So what is a ‘superfood’?

A superfood is just that; a food that brings enormous benefits to health.  They are always packed full of nutrients and very often contain high levels of antioxidants.  So, which do we think will be heading down the catwalk this spring/summer?


Blueberries can never be excluded from the superfood list.  Not only are they low in fat, they are also packed with antioxidants – one of the highest of all the fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings.  We now know that freezing blueberries does not damage the anthocyanin content – the colourful pigments that give many foods like blueberries their wonderful shades of purple, red and blue colours. shutterstock_156407993 Blueberries Feb15They’re also packed with vitamin C and are full of fibre.  

The other great attribute of blueberries is their low glycemic index – in other words they help balance our blood sugar levels and thereby help us effectively to manage our weight.  A generally low glycemic diet will also help those with Type 2 diabetes who need to keep blood glucose levels under control.  And if that’s not enough, a research study carried out in 2012 found that eating more berries helped to reduced cognitive decline in the elderly[1] – what’s not to like!


Quinoa is a protein-packed grain that has been gaining much credence over the last few years.  Firstly, let’s get the pronunciation right – it’s ‘keenWAH’!  And it’s great for those on gluten-free diets as it has none!  It’s also very unusual, since it’s a basically a seed that’s eaten as a grain.

shutterstock_164830661 Quinoa Feb15It has superfood fame due to its low fat, high protein, mineral dense nutrient status.  Quinoa is packed full of magnesium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, potassium and manganese and is also very high in fibre. Regarding its protein content, it contains all the essential amino acids so it is what’s called a ’complete’ protein.  This is very unusual for a vegetarian food; the majority are what we would call ‘incomplete’ as you have to combine a grain with a pulse, for example, to achieve the full essential amino acid profile.


Spirulina is a natural algae that’s incredibly high in protein and nutrients.  In fact, its nutrient profile is fairly remarkable, considering its humble beginnings from the bottom of the food chain.

shutterstock_192066365 Spirulina Feb15Spirulina is packed with essential fatty acids, omega 3’s and 6’s, as well as the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E.  Additionally, it has a great mineral profile, including potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, sodium and zinc.  Quite a list!  And what’s more, spirulina is very high in chlorophyll which helps to remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system.

Coconut Oil:

A fairly recent addition to the catwalk, although a food that has been eaten for thousands of years, coconut oil has many reasons why it is appearing in our top five.  Some people are concerned that it contains a high percentage of saturated fats, therefore if they consume it, they will put on weight.  However, the reverse is in fact true. shutterstock_239132320 Coconut oil Feb15Many people, including athletes, will use it as part of their weight management plan because it’s packed full of medium chain triglycerides – fats that are metabolised differently by the body.  These fats go straight to the liver and are used by the body as an energy source, so it’s a ‘win-win’ situation.

It’s also one of the safest oils to cook with because it has a high melting point and therefore no harmful ‘trans fats’ are created.  Plus, you get the subtly delicious taste permeating into your food.

Coconut oil is also great for the skin, and particularly for those with skin complaints such as eczema.  In fact, you can use it all over your body – it makes a great moisturiser, plus you can use it on your hair as a conditioner.



No list of superfoods – even a short one – could miss out fabulous broccoli!  Its virtues are almost too long to list but let’s just take some time to highlight a few. For a start, any fruit or vegetable that is darkly coloured will always contain high levels of antioxidants; broccoli contains the flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin, together with the carotenoidslutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. These are all antioxidants and have a huge number of overall health benefits.

It’s also a key source of the most famous antioxidant, vitamin C.  It’s a harsh world out there, and our body needs all the protection it can get from harmful free radicals that bombard us every day: packed full of all these antioxidants, broccoli really is a great vegetable to have as a diet staple every week.shutterstock_215788177 Broccoli florets Feb15

Broccoli’s nutrient profile in terms of vitamin and mineral content is enviableand it can also help with detoxification:  Broccoli can have a profound effect on the liver’s phase 1 and 2 detoxification systems, which is quite rare in foods.  And last but by no means least, most of us are lacking in sufficient fibre in our diets and broccoli provides around 10 grams of fibre within a normal-sized portion – a quarter of the required 30-40 grams of fibre that’s recommended daily.  We can safely say that this vegetable will never go out of fashion!


So just as Mark Twain famously said “Clothes make the man”, we can truly say that nutrients make the food!


[1] Eating more berries may reduce cognitive decline in the elderly: flavonoid-rich blueberries and strawberries offer most benefit. Am J Alzheimer’s Dis Other Demen. 2012 Aug;27(5):358

Detox: 3 key steps to a healthier you in the New Year!

From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer

shutterstock_250878538 Detox juices Feb15

Detox! It’s probably one of the most overused words, particularly at this time of year! But what does it actually mean and why does it become overly important in January and February?

There are many different approaches to detoxification. Nutritionists often deal with ‘clinical detoxification’- stricter protocols involving more specialist situations which can include activities such as high dose supplementation, saunas, significant lifestyle changes, dietary intervention and exercise and should generally be carried out under the supervision of a Nutritionist.

But there is plenty of home detoxing you can do yourself and it’s easier than you may think!

If you’re generally feeling sluggish, have put on a little weight or you just want a fresh start, there’s a number of much simpler routes you can follow. Making small, gentle changes is kinder to your body in the short term, and will hopefully encourage better, sustainable nutrition for the future.

shutterstock_250462048 Artichoke Feb15Step 1: Look after your liver

It is the main organ of detoxification, and as such the most over-worked organ in the body, so it makes sense that any kind of detox programme will involve a form of liver cleanse and support. There are a few signs you can look out for which may suggest that your liver is struggling: excessive tiredness; poor digestive function; bad breath; greasy skin; constipation; poor appetite.

Interestingly, the liver is under strain every day from just from dealing with the pollutants all around us and the toxins that exist within our food chain – and that’s before we overindulged in any excesses during the Christmas period!

The good news is that certain amino acids, including taurine, and other vitamins that work together, such as the B vitamins and vitamin C, can be found in the Alive! range of multi-vitamins, and these are important nutrients needed to support the liver’s detoxification processes.

The herb ‘milk thistle’ can also support your body’s detox by increasing bile production: this helps to break down fat in food as well as supporting a healthy gallbladder. Other plants such as dandelion, artichoke and parsley are also good dietary additions for supporting the body’s liver function.

shutterstock_127629347 glass of water with splash Feb15Step 2: Get your bowels moving!

Constipation is one of the first signs that the liver is feeling sluggish, but being constipated also makes you feel lethargic. The more constipated you are, the more toxic your body becomes – it’s a vicious cycle. However, by increasing your intake of fibre from foods such as flaxseeds and whole grains (for example, oats and brown rice) you should hopefully be able to get things moving again.

Drinking two litres of water a day is a great goal to aim for; your body is actually made up of about 80% water so you can understand why it’s so important to drink enough during the day. And don’t forget that your water intake includes drinks like herbal or fruit teas. Green tea specifically helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which in turn helps support a healthy bowel. Additionally, a review of many studies carried out at the Institute of Life Sciences into the health benefits of green tea, concluded that it was particularly supportive in cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

shutterstock_195071285 jamjar pint with fruitStep 3: Get your diet on track

It goes without saying that if you’re starting a detox plan, then you need to cut out alcohol and sugar. Sugar in all its forms slows down digestion and encourages weight gain; it also places an increased burden on the liver. Caffeine should be avoided during a detox – why not switch to green tea or other herbal teas, as a preference. Whilst, green tea does still contain a small amount of caffeine, the overwhelming health benefits and antioxidant potential outweigh any negatives.

Try to eat a ‘rainbow’ coloured diet. This means you should include as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as possible. Sweet potatoes, beetroots, blueberries, strawberries, green leafy vegetables including broccoli and kale are especially beneficial, together with the much maligned Brussels sprout, which contains an abundance of nutrients including high levels of minerals and also vitamin C. It is also high in sulphur, which is needed for the liver’s natural detoxification processes.

Juicing is an excellent way of increasing your intake of essential nutrients from fruits and vegetables. The Department of Health recommends that we eat a minimum of ‘5-a-day’ but in actual fact, optimal health is achieved from eating nearer nine or ten portions! Juicing can make this more achievable.

A juice recipe combining apple, beetroot, ginger and carrot for example, provides a wealth of antioxidants, thereby further encouraging detoxification. Going on ‘Juicing Retreats’ has become quite fashionable as a quick way of detoxing and losing weight at the same time. These are successful for many people but ideally this kind of detoxification should only be undertaken for one week and if you have any existing health issues, make sure to consult a healthcare professional before you start. And do take it easy as a detox can cause headaches and tiredness if you’re not used to it. Remember – detoxification doesn’t need to be painful to be effective!

shutterstock_231165298 Protein selection Feb15It is very important to eat sufficient protein whilst detoxing. Several amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein (including taurine), play an important role in liver health. Chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, lentils, beans and nuts are all important sources of good protein and you should plan to include one of these in your diet every day. And if you can try to eat organic, where possible, to avoid pesticides even better!

So why not plan a detox programme starting this weekend: you and your liver will be very grateful!


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

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and wellbeing tips.

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

Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

Therapeutic potential of green tea in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Masterjohn C, Bruno RS. Nutr Rev 2012 Jan;70(1):41-56. Doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00440.x.

Seven reasons why you need a multi-vitamin

suzi-sawyer-clinical-nutritionistFrom our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer

As a Clinical Nutritionist, one of the questions that I get frequently asked about in my practice is ‘do I need a multi-vitamin?’ Of course, we can all cite people that we know or hear about, who appear to be healthy and vibrant, and live to be a good age, but who are most definitely nutrient-depleted. To be honest, these people are actually few and far between when we look at the UK population as a whole, so why play Russian roulette with your health when you don’t have to?

So, the next question is inevitably, ‘why can’t I get everything I need from my daily diet?’ And the answer is you can, but how perfect is your diet every day, or even every week? There are 27 vitamins and minerals that are deemed to be essential as they all have a minimum daily reference intake value, and, therefore, should be eaten daily. Additionally, there are trace minerals which are part of our body’s make-up, together with essential fats, which have to be eaten in sufficient quantities, because the body cannot make them.

What are some of the most common deficiencies?

Some of the most commonly deficient nutrients tend to be the minerals, magnesium, zinc and iron. In fact, it is estimated that at least 6% of women in the UK are having less than the recommended daily reference intake of iron. Part of the difficulty in getting these minerals is that people tend to shy away from eating dark green leafy vegetables, or seafood, where you can find them in abundance.

Additionally, low Vitamin D status amongst people living in the northern hemisphere has become a really hot topic of late. So much so, that the Department of Health has actually issued recommendations for supplementation in high risk groups, particularly children under 5. For the first time in many years, we are actually seeing cases of rickets – a disease caused by lack of Vitamin D – in children. Vitamin D is predominantly made on the skin in the presence of sunlight, which of course is certainly lacking for at least six months of the year, in certain parts of the world.

Here are seven reasons why you should consider taking a multi-vitamin and replace some of the lost nutrients:

  1. Many nutrients, particularly the B Vitamins, Vitamin C and Magnesium are depleted by stress – the curse of our modern age
  2. The soils in which our foods are grown are nutrient-depleted, particularly in Selenium, which is a key antioxidant mineral
  3. The Western diet is high in refined food; that means foods such as white bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and pastries – in other words low nutrient value foods. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed the population was still eating too much fat, added sugar and salt and not enough fruits, vegetables, oily fish and fibre, which of course are nutrient abundant.
  4. Fortified foods are enriched with nutrients, after the naturally occurring ones are removed by processing, therefore, they are still lacking many essential vitamins and minerals
  5. Certain foods such as black tea, spinach, bran-based foods and beans all contain high levels of phytates. There are some positive health benefits associated with phytate foods but they also deplete important minerals, particularly iron, of which we tend to be deficient in any case.
  6. People who use low-calories diets to lose weight will be nutrient deficient. It is impossible to consume sufficient vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats in these situations, but particularly where calorie intake is less than 1500 calories a day. Plus, if people are eating ready-made low calorie meals, they will also be nutrient starved!
  7. Even with the best of intentions, very few people are able to eat the ‘perfect’ daily diet, due to time constraints, availability of foods, financial burdens, or lack of knowledge. In fact, we have information overload in terms of what we should or shouldn’t be eating, and many people are totally confused.

One other point to bear in mind is that it is generally unwise to take specific vitamins or minerals in isolation or without taking a multi-vitamin as well, or unless under the guidance of a Nutritionist. Nutrients work in synergy and you can sometimes cause further deficiencies by overloading on one specifically.

It is always best to take your multi-vitamin in the morning, with food, so that you can gain the benefits of the energising B Vitamins  for example, and not be over-stimulated when you are trying to sleep.

And finally… try to be consistent. Results of taking a daily multi-vitamin will not be felt overnight – sustained intake is the key.

Here’s to health!