Beat the bugs with good nutrition: how to support your child’s immunity

shutterstock_269417912 mother and child Sept15It’s back to school and back to basics in terms of protecting your children from the vast array of bugs which will come back into school from all their friends after the summer holidays. With the new term now fully underway, the usual round of ‘bugs’ may have already started to commence their march into your home. Helping your children to be as ‘immune’ as possible is key to avoiding as many nasty bugs as you can. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives you some useful insights into preventing or at least lessening the impact of bugs this season.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


The Immune system is a complex one, made up in part by white blood cells that contain natural killer cells, antibodies and T cells – all of which help to protect the body against invading viruses and bacteria.

shutterstock_168036977 immune system Sept15The immune system should always be ‘on guard’ rather than be ‘switched on’. The uncomfortable feelings you might experience when you have picked up an infection, such as a high temperature or aches and pains, are mainly down to your immune response: a high temperature is actually needed to kill off a virus or bacteria, so it is a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time!

So, what can you do to support your child’s immune system?

Here are some really easy ways you can contribute to your child’s immunity this season:

shutterstock_308484509 no sugar Sept15AVOID SUGAR

Sugar in all its forms is an immune suppressant, meaning if you have too much your immune system won’t work as effectively as it should. Sugar means everything from table sugar, honey (other than Manuka honey), fizzy drinks and biscuits.

Sugar appears to block the beneficial effects of white blood cell activity. For example, it has been found that drinking two average-sized fizzy drinks can suppress the immune system for at least two hours afterwards, and maybe for as long as five hours. So, if you consider all the potential sources of sugar that may be in your children’s diet, you can see that the immune system may not be fully functioning as it should.

Drinking good old plain water needs to be encouraged, plus making homemade snacks such as muesli bars or flapjacks using natural sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia: these won’t suppress the immune system and will also be kind to their teeth too!


Having a well-balanced and colourful diet is key to building a healthy body and supportive immune system. However, there are a few key nutrients that specifically support strong immunity so it makes sense to ensure you and your family are including these in your diet on a daily basis.

shutterstock_265791974 vit C foods Sept15Vitamin C, found in all fruits and vegetables, helps increase white blood cell production when needed. It is also a key antioxidant, protecting the body against free radicals which can attack the immune system.

shutterstock_262776005 vit D foods Sept15

Vitamin D, primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine but also found in egg yolks, fatty fish, liver and cheese, is also key in immune system functioning. Because we are so sunlight deficient during the winter months, a supplement containing good levels of vitamin D is recommended for all sectors of the population; indeed Government guidelines recommend vitamin D supplementation for all children under five and this may well be extended to other age ranges in the near future.

shutterstock_161393798 zinc collage Sept15The mineral Zinc, is another well-known workhorse of the immune system. It’s found in seafood, wholegrains and eggs which may be a reason why children are sometimes deficient as these are not often well liked by our offspring. Again, a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement specifically for children is recommended alongside a healthy diet.

shutterstock_190220546 mother and sleeping child Sept15SLEEP SOUNDLY

Lack of sleep adversely affects the immune system. Part of the reason for this is that during sleep, the body releases proteins called cytokines which are part of the immune system. These are needed in greater numbers to fight infections, and therefore a lack of sleep will increase the body’s susceptibility to infection.

It’s quite by design that we always sleep more when we are unwell: it’s the body’s way of fighting infection. It can often be difficult getting your little ones off to bed in order for them to get sufficient ‘shut-eye’. However, there really is no substitute for a good old fashioned bed-time routine: a real wind-down, which maybe includes a bath, a story and a warm milky drink. Goat’s milk in particular contains high levels of serotonin which in turn makes melatonin – the hormone that helps us to sleep.

shutterstock_239276539 pelargonium sept15PELARGONIUM

Pelargonium is the most widely researched herbal medicine used for fighting coughs, colds and upper respiratory tract infections. Whilst people will often reach for the herb Echinacea to help prevent colds and flu, it’s not really suitable for children under 12 years of age whereas pelargonium can be used in children as young as six years.

Pelargonium can be taken if your child has come into contact with other children with infections or at the first signs that they are coming down with a nasty cold. Pelargonium can be taken for up to two weeks at a time – one to certainly keep on hand in the medicine cabinet.

So as we approach the ‘bug’ season, try these simple but effective measures to support your child’s immunity and keep you and your family fighting fit during the winter months.


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[1] Zinc for the treatment of the common cold; a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Science M et al. CMAJ 2012 Jul 10;184 (10): E551-E561

It’s all about the preparation: top tips for your sporting events

shutterstock_249902236 woman running and smiling Sept15Whether it’s a local charity run, a Tough Mudder or a triathlon, planning well will help you stay healthy and be in the best condition to perform at your peak, as well as enjoying the sense of achievement. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five tips for being both mentally and physically prepared.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

It’s all in the preparation! And this is so true when it comes to preparing for your chosen sporting event! Your training regime may take more than a year or it may only take a few months; however long your ‘build-up’ period, the better prepared you are, the greater your chances of the event being a success. And you’ll enjoy it even more!

shutterstock_194915099 woman watching TV Sept151: RELAX YOUR MIND

A recent study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology[1], found that too many mental challenges prior to a workout or an event deflated the body’s mental ability to push through any physical barriers. It showed that people who had just vegged out in front of the TV prior to taking up a physical challenge, actually performed better! Whilst this might not be entirely practical immediately prior to an event, it’s a good reason to ‘sweat the body’ in the morning where possible, as opposed to later on in the day when the brain is much ‘busier’. Equally, ensure you build in some key relaxation time in the lead-up to an event as this is clearly very important.

shutterstock_239255884 woman drinking water Sept152: HYDRATION IS KEY

Dehydration poses one of the most common nutritional problems occurring in sport. In most cases, fluid intake during an event, particularly an endurance event such as a marathon, will not match the rate of sweat loss. Therefore it’s imperative to start an event or training session really well hydrated.

If you consider that optimal water intake from all sources, including fruits and vegetables, should be around two litres daily, your water needs are going to be considerably greater than this when undertaking exercise (i.e. replacing the water that leaves the body as sweat). If you’re planning to take part in an endurance event, you should also be drinking more in the days leading up to the competition.

A great way to ensure you’re properly hydrated is to include some well diluted sugary drinks into your routine; diluted concentrates or cola drinks would be good choices. Whilst this is generally not recommended on a daily basis, the body rehydrates much more quickly using this method rather than drinking just plain water, therefore it’s a very useful tip before, during and after an event.

shutterstock_236843122 jam sandwich Sept153: LOAD UP PRIOR

Protein and carbohydrate requirements will vary from sport to sport and depend on intensity of the activity. However, in most sports or events the hour leading up to the event is the most important time for eating a high sugar snack; a banana or a jam sandwich made with white bread would be great choices. Whilst the daily diet should contain predominantly low glycaemic (slow release) foods such as whole grain rice, wholemeal bread or pasta, and whole foods such as beans, this is the one time when quick energy-releasing foods will really count.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s worth noting that every sport and, indeed every person, is different. Therefore, whatever foods you choose to eat pre-race or pre-event, make sure to include these in your ‘practice sessions’; there’s been many a competitor who has suffered with digestive troubles because they’ve eaten something pre-race that they are not used to!

shutterstock_218813746 tuna pasta Sept154: YOUR HEROIC PRE-EVENT MEAL

The night before an event is absolutely key. No wonder there are so many pasta parties prior to a marathon and for very good reason! There’s been copious amounts of research carried out on ‘pre-event carb loading’ and the conclusion seems to be fairly unequivocal. The night before your event, your carbohydrate to protein ratio needs to be around 70/30. Therefore, a large bowl of wholemeal tuna pasta is an example of a great pre-event meal. On the day of the event itself, an example of a good breakfast would be wholegrain porridge made with coconut milk, which provides some additional energy, together with some blueberries.

shutterstock_202069456 finish line Sept155: VISUALISE THE FINISH LINE

Sally Gunnell, the World famous British Olympic hurdler, made no secret of the fact that she visualised herself winning the Barcelona Olympics in 1992; she effectively imagined herself crossing the finishing line in first place. Of course, this could never have happened had she not have been hugely talented in her sport, but in an event where the difference between coming first or not is so small, it is believed that at least 60% of this fine balance is down to the right mental approach.

Everyone has pre-event nerves or uncertainties, particularly if you’re new to competing. So a strong, positive mental attitude is absolutely key, and visualising your win can be an extremely effective way of helping you cross that finish line.

Whatever your sporting event, make sure to enjoy your preparation and with a little extra planning you’ll be feeling on top form when you take your place on the start line. Good luck!


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1] Patterns of Change in Psychological Variables Leading up to a Competition in Superior Versus Inferior Performers. Boat R, Taylor IM. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2015 Jun;37(3):244-56


Think Zinc! How this important mineral effects the body and making sure you get enough.

shutterstock_292626194 woman eating oysters at the beach Sept15From immunity to fertility to healthy skin – Zinc is a true all-rounder when it comes to minerals required by the body. Found in most animal produce and that ever-famous ‘food of love’ the oyster, Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer tells us just why Zinc is so important for so many different bodily functions.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog picIt was first realised that low zinc could cause symptoms of deficiency relatively recently, during the 1960’s. In fact, this mineral was discovered as being essential to so many different functions in the body, the slogan ‘Think Zinc’ is actually very appropriate.

So starting with the basics, what is a mineral?

Minerals are the basic constituents of all matter. They can exist organically as part of living tissue, as well as existing in their inorganic form within the earth. Around 2.5 grams of zinc is stored in the body at any given time: it is termed a ‘trace mineral’, even though it has so many important functions.

What are the main functions of Zinc?

IMMUNITYshutterstock_174855620 woman with cold Sept15

This is probably what zinc is best known for; it appears to help regulate the function of white blood cells which are key in the healthy working of the immune system. Research has shown that zinc will certainly shorten the duration of cold and reduce its severity[1]. So, with winter not that far around the corner, it makes sense to ensure you’re eating enough foods containing zinc to help support your immune system.

shutterstock_301739126 lots of alcoholic drinks Sept15jpgENZYME FUNCTION

An enzyme is a molecule that speeds up chemical reactions. Enzyme reactions are involved in almost every bodily function and since zinc is used in over 200 enzyme reactions, it shows just how important it is! For example, it is part of ‘alcohol dehydrogenase’ which helps the liver to detoxify alcohols, so zinc deficiency can be an issue in those who drink a bit more than they should! It is also part of ‘superoxide dismutase’, an antioxidant enzyme which helps to protect the body from free radical attack, thereby further supporting the immune system.

shutterstock_117544627 woman with glowing skin Sept15SKIN HEALTH

Zinc helps to metabolise and maintain body levels of vitamin A, and it is through this action that zinc plays a key role in maintaining healthy skin. It is useful for skin healing, for skin problems such as acne and psoriasis and also supports the processes involved in generating new skin. By helping collagen production, it can also maintain the skin’s youthfulness – clearly a very good reason for making sure your levels of zinc are optimal! Additionally, it can be applied topically to help heal wounds and is often found in skin preparations, particularly those used for burns.

shutterstock_81162511 12 oysters Sept15FERTILITY

We have all heard that oysters are an aphrodisiac and for very good reason; they are one of the richest sources of zinc – and zinc is essential for healthy fertility and sexual development. Zinc is particularly important for male fertility, playing a significant role in the production of healthy sperm and optimising testosterone levels. So ladies, make sure your gentlemen visit the local fishmonger this weekend!

shutterstock_223017313 hair, nails, teeth Sept15NAILS, HAIR & TEETH

Whilst there’s a high concentration of zinc in the skin, our nails, hair and teeth also contain some zinc, demonstrating that it is important for keeping these tissues healthy too.

Zinc needs adequate stomach acid to aid its absorption, and, like other minerals, it competes for absorption. For example, zinc and iron actually compete with each other, but some of the richest sources of both minerals are found in animal foods, particularly red meat. A lack of certain nutrients in the diet is often only realised when deficiency symptoms are apparent, which is why supplementation is a good insurance policy, particularly if you’re keen to have luxuriant hair!

shutterstock_161393798 zinc collage Sept15What does Zinc deficiency look like?

One of the signs of zinc deficiency are white spots on more than three of your fingernails. Additionally, a loss of taste and lack of smell are also signs, which in turn can affect appetite – this is one reason why people with eating disorders have often been found to be deficient in zinc.

The daily nutrient reference value or NRV for short (i.e. the minimum amount you should have per day) of zinc is 15 milligrams. However, this really is the minimum needed and is not a sufficient amount for any therapeutic use.  When you consider that zinc is best absorbed from animal sources, and the average diet only contains around 10 milligrams of zinc at most, it’s no wonder that deficiency is fairly common. This is why zinc is always found in good quality food supplement formulations.

Take into consideration every day occurrences such as mineral depleted soils, general aging, the female contraceptive pill, the refined Western diet and the prevalence of houses containing copper pipes (copper also competes with zinc for absorption) and it’s no wonder that people will often suffer with zinc deficiencies.

shutterstock_236232739 steak on wooden board Sept15How can I get more Zinc in my diet?

The good news is that with some mindful food choices and a daily supplement, you can keep your body in good working order! Zinc is found in a wide range of foods; for example, most animal foods including red meats, liver, egg yolks, milk as well as seafood, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. Additionally the well-known aphrodisiac the oyster is one of the richest sources.

So turn the lights down, prepare your oysters and steak, and get ready to increase those zinc levels with a romantic night in!


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[1] Zinc for the treatment of the common cold; a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Science M et al. CMAJ 2012 Jul 10;184 (10): E551-E561

Cycle your way to a healthy lifestyle: nutrition to keep you moving on two wheels

 shutterstock_253853761 woman on bike Sept15Tomorrow (September 3rd) is ‘Cycle to Work Day’ – a national event encouraging as many people as possible to take to two wheels and cycle to work. But cycling is a great way to keep fit year-round whilst enjoying the great outdoors – fresh air, exploring the countryside – all whilst getting a work out. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top dietary tips for super cycling success.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog picCongratulations if you’re getting on your bike tomorrow and cycling to work for the first time. But if you want to take advantage of the many health benefits associated with cycling longer term, and particularly if you’re planning for it to be the beginning of a new regime, then have a look at how to maximise the benefits of your time on two wheels with a good nutritional plan.

FIVE PRE-CYCLING EXERCISE TIPSshutterstock_144550064 woman biking in countryside Sept15

  • Congratulations if this is the start of a new fitness regime! If you’re cycling because you want to lose weight then don’t over-compensate by eating additional calories just because you’ve exercised: if you put in more calories than you expend, then weight gain will occur.
  • Sports drinks and shakes are often calorie-laden so unless you’re doing lots of additional exercise, or are competing in an endurance event, just adapting your diet will be sufficient.
  • Water, water, water! Many people are generally dehydrated regardless of the amount of exercise they do! So make this a great time to get into some good water habits and try to drink at least 2 litres of water daily.
  • It’s all in the planning! It’s not difficult or complicated to eat the right foods to support additional exercise: just take a little longer before your food shop to plan you meals for the week ahead.shutterstock_144420346 woman cycling in forest Sept15
  • Cycling is an excellent sport and provides an all-round body workout. It’s great for the heart, it will give you iron thighs and brilliant upper body strength, so always remember to do a full body warm-up before you tackle any big rides.

As with any exercise, fuelling up before you start out on your bike, and recovering properly when you get back, is the key to sporting success.

shutterstock_270983405 porridge and blueberries Sept15START THE DAY RIGHT

The very best way to start your day before you jump onto your bike (just ask the professionals including Chris Frome!) is to enjoy a bowl of porridge. Make it with wholegrain oats, your choice of milk – coconut milk is great for providing energy – together with some blueberries and sliced banana on the top. Oats are a slow-release food, meaning that the energy provided from the oats will keep you sustained throughout your journey and you won’t suffer a dramatic low when you arrive at work. Berries also have a low glycaemic index, or are slow release, and bananas provide some slightly more immediate energy. So, you’re now fuelled up and ready to go!

WHEN YOU ARRIVEshutterstock_216731794 nuts and apples Sept15

Hopefully you arrive at work safely and feel invigorated, ready to start your day! What you eat (or not) really depends on how far you’ve just cycled! If you’ve cycled for around half an hour, then you should be fine until your mid-morning snack. Why not make a low glycaemic snack; an apple with a few nuts and seeds will be perfect. If, however, your journey took you closer to an hour, then a snack would be a good idea as soon as you arrive at work. A combination of protein and carbohydrate would be perfect. For example, you might like to take a small amount of cereal with you to eat on arrival; a pre-prepared smoothie with a few brazil nuts included would also be a great choice.

shutterstock_216668371 water bottle splash Sept15THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Whether you’ve decided that the Tour de France is definitely in your future plans, or you just want to join in the fun of being out on the open road on two wheels, make sure today is the day that you keep your body properly hydrated. The body is over 75% water, so the general recommended amount of water to drink on a daily basis is around 2 litres. Depending on how much cycling you have done, you may want to up this to 3 litres or more.

shutterstock_187591727 egg and avocado wrap May15WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?

Lunch can often be a challenging meal for us as we are so busy at work, and it can so often be dependent on food availability. So if you take your lunch with you, you can come armed with a healthy, nutritious lunch packed full of protein; for example, a mixed salad with chicken, tuna or prawns.

Don’t fancy a cold lunch? Most work-place environments have some kind of ‘heating-up’ facility – often a microwave – so a chunky soup, containing vegetables, lentils or barley with a wholemeal roll, would be a great option. Why not make a simple jacket potato with some tuna. Whatever you choose, always ensure you eat some protein – chicken, fish, egg, tofu or beans – which will help you avoid that 3 pm slump!

shutterstock_230424046 protein foods Sept15WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

If your ride home is only a short one, you might want to consider extending your route! Remember, this could be the start of a new regime, so enthusiasm at the outset is key. However, you’ll no doubt be looking forward to your dinner once you arrive home, so make sure you use this as a real opportunity to re-fuel and give your body as many nutrients as possible.

Here is a quick and nutritious dinner option: oven-baked salmon with pesto quinoa, with some baby tomatoes and coriander thrown in, plus some steamed spinach and broccoli.   High in essential vitamins, minerals, essential fats and fibre, low in saturated fats and totally delicious!

So as you take off on your bike tomorrow don’t just think about it as a one day one-off; think of it as the start of something really exciting and rewarding for you and your body! Good luck!


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