Build your bones: the importance of Calcium and Vitamin D

shutterstock_225313861 yoga warrior 1 May16It goes without saying that maintaining healthy, strong bones is incredibly important; your bones work hard, for many years, and they need to be well supported nutritionally, so your frame remains strong throughout your life.

Peak bone density is actually reached at around 20 years of age, so what can you do now to keep your bones as strong as possible for the future?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on how to build strong bones from an early age, but also how to maintain them throughout your life.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, most of which isshutterstock_97126880 calcium food sources Oct15 stored in the bones. Indeed, bones have a great storage facility for calcium, which starts before birth and continues for many years. Therefore, eating foods containing good amounts of calcium, particularly during the teenage years is key to building good bone density; milk, yoghurts, soya foods, green leafy vegetables and bony fish, particularly sardines are great choices. Interestingly, low fat milk and yoghurt actually contain the same amount of calcium as full-fat, so your waistline doesn’t need to suffer at the expense of your bones!

shutterstock_115649197 vitamin D beach May16Calcium can’t be metabolised without sufficient vitamin D, the wonderful ‘sunshine’ vitamin! Most of the body’s vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunshine, so it makes sense to be taking regular holidays (as if we need another excuse for some time in the sun)! During the summer months, just 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight, without high strength sun cream, is sufficient to make the essential vitamin D that your body needs.

shutterstock_405426820 mum and child on beach May16Throughout the year, but especially during the winter months, taking a vitamin D supplement may be a good choice. The Department of Health actually recommends vitamin D supplementation for teenagers, children under 5, those over 65, pregnant women and those breastfeeding, plus people who don’t get much sunlight or who have darker skin. The UK does not get as much sunshine as many other countries in the world so again a supplement can be beneficial for many people living in the northern hemisphere. In terms of which foods contain Vitamin D, there is some in egg yolks, bony fish and cheese so also include these foods in your diet as much as possible.


If you’re making great efforts to eat the right bone-building foods, it makes sense not to eat foods or take drinks that are going to deplete the body of calcium.

shutterstock_234083842 multi coloured fizz drinks May16Fizzy drinks contain phosphoric acid. This creates acidity which the body doesn’t like, therefore calcium is leached from the bones to counteract that acidity, and all your hard work can go to waste. This is especially key with children and teenagers who may overload on fizzy drinks. Alcohol and coffee also create more acidity, therefore should be drunk in moderation. Additionally, red meat, especially processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami are not well-liked by the bones, so also eat these sparingly.

shutterstock_278791859 green vegetables May16TIP 3 – EAT YOUR GREENS

It’s not always easy to get children and teenagers to eat their greens! However, if you can get them into good habits from an early age, their bones will certainly appreciate it – in fact it’s important for all the family to eat their greens!

Green leafy vegetables are rich not just in calcium but magnesium as well. Magnesium is a key mineral stored in the bones, second only to calcium, and works in partnership with Calcium to build and maintain strong bones throughout life.

Think kale, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli and cabbage; try to eat at least one of these every day. They are also great to add to juices with pineapple, carrot, and beetroot – a real mega nutrient hit your bones will love!

shutterstock_144464215 bone broth May16TIP 4 – COOK UP SOME BROTH

Whilst your grandmother might have cooked up a bone broth many years ago, most good quality restaurants will always have a pot on the go and they will use it as a stock base. However, your grandmother knew a thing or two about nutrition.

A broth made from bones provides an excellent source of calcium and magnesium and also helps to support the immune system. You can use any leftover bones, maybe from some roasted meat or chicken (you can also make a fish broth or buy bones from a good butcher). You can then add whatever takes your fancy; typically, onions, parsnips, carrots and celery, together with garlic and herbs to suit your particular taste. You can also use this as a wonderfully healthy stock base for gravy – just like the top restaurants do!

shutterstock_229927744 women sports May16TIP 5 – EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE!

It’s especially important to take regular exercise for healthy bones from an early age. Your skeletal frame likes to be active; think of how active our ancestors were, particularly cavemen! Any weight-bearing exercise is the key but this doesn’t have to mean spending endless hours in the gym. Brisk walking, dancing, racquet sports, yoga, tai chi, golf and jogging are all great exercise your bones will love, and should be encouraged from a young age, and on a regular basis. Indeed, it’s the combination of the right nutrition and exercise which has the biggest positive impact on bone density throughout life.

It’s never too early or too late to take care of your bones and with some mindful diet and lifestyle choices, they’ll keep you going strong.


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Going Green: what are the benefits of a vegetarian diet?

shutterstock_279051854 woman shopping vegetables May16There’s so much talked and written about the vegetarian diet – is it healthy or not and how easy it is to replace all the nutrients from a diet which includes meat and fish from fruit and vegetables? With so many delicious vegetables available all year round it is easy to access a wonderful range of produce to suit all tastes and culinary creations.

There are many excellent health reasons for following a vegetarian diet, either fully or partly. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her ‘low-down’ on why it’s good to be green!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Obviously a vegetarian doesn’t include meat or fish in their diet, for health or humane reasons (sometimes both) or just by choice. However, sometimes a vegetarian will eat fish (known as a pescatarian) and there are also those who follow a vegan diet, which we know means they do not eat any food of animal origin, including milk, cheese and eggs.

There are three main reasons why a vegetarian diet is so good for your health:


As a general rule, the body should always be in a more alkaline state than acidic. Too much acidity creates all manner of health problems and acidity is at the route of many of our degenerative diseases, including osteoporosis.shutterstock_271645694 jogger with bones higlighted in leg Aug15

Foods high in protein such as meat, chicken, eggs, fish and dairy, contain strong acids in the body, and the body then has to work very hard to neutralise them. It does this by ‘buffering’ the acids with the body’s alkalising minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. This, in turn, has an effect on the health of the bones, because valuable calcium is being leached from them to counteract the acidity. Interestingly, Eskimos, who eat a very high protein diet of seal meat and fish, with very few fruits and vegetables, have some of the highest rates of osteoporosis.

shutterstock_247851763 antioxidant veg tower Feb15So, if the amount of animal protein being consumed means are bodies are more acidic, then eating more fruits and vegetables means our body is naturally going to be more alkaline. Vegetarians will certainly be smashing the minimum recommended ‘five-a-day’ advice, which brings so many other health benefits including the number of vitamins you will be taking in.

shutterstock_249965482 woman making heart in front of tummy Nov15YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM WILL LOVE IT!

As a nation, we generally don’t include enough fibre in the diet; refined and white foods such as white bread and pasta, together with cakes and biscuits contain little fibre. A vegetarian diet naturally contains a higher amount of fibre due to the amount of fruits and vegetables being consumed. It also generally  includes beans, lentils, quinoa and peas, all of which are also high in fibre and it is fibre which keeps everything running smoothly in the digestive department!

shutterstock_246430579 beans lentils pulses May16Red meat is quite tough on the digestive system; its fibrous structure makes it particularly difficult to break down effectively, hence people can often get pain and indigestion after eating a meal containing red meat. So increasing your vegetable intake will also increase your fibre intake, making for a healthier digestive system.

shutterstock_152320829 vegetables May16IT’S LOWER IN SATURATED FAT

Vegetarians often have a much lower incidence of heart disease, partly because their diet is naturally lower in saturated fat, which is high in red meat. Saturated fat can accumulate in the arteries leading to high cholesterol and blood fats – both markers for heart disease. It’s also well documented that eating a diet high in red meat can reduce life expectancy – partly because of the high fat but also because red meat, and especially processed red meat such as bacon and ham, contains high amounts of salt – another potential marker for heart disease.

It’s much easier to lose weight when eating a diet which contains maybe only 5% saturated fat.  Plus, because vegetarians naturally eat more fruits and vegetables, they are automatically eating more antioxidant-rich food – yet another amazing health benefit, and also a way of increasing longevity.

Here are a few simple vegetarian meal suggestions to get you going:

It’s important for everyone to eat some protein at every meal; this will keep you feeling fuller for longer and helps to maintain even energy levels throughout the day.

shutterstock_250482523 spinach omelette May16Breakfast is therefore going to set you up for the day and should never be skipped! An egg and spinach omelette, some natural soya yoghurt with blueberries and some seeds, or quinoa porridge are all great options.

shutterstock_310299464 mixed bean salad May16


Lunch is equally essential and again, you’ll need the protein to help prevent that 3p.m. slump! An avocado salad, a mixed bean and grain salad, or a vegetarian sandwich with hummus, tomato and rocket will all fit the bill.

shutterstock_247682437 pesto pasta May16Dinner is a great time to be stocking up on some essential omega 3 fats which help the body to repair at night, as well as providing you with protein. Why not try some roasted vegetables with some whole wheat pasta combined with walnuts (omega healthy) and some pesto? Alternatively, try some peppers stuffed with wholegrain rice, mushroom, tomatoes and walnuts and baked in the oven – delicious!

And don’t forget that even if you’re eating some animal protein from eggs and dairy, combining grains and pulses (not necessarily in the same meal) you’ll be getting the same essential amino acid profile to make up complete proteins and help the body to repair and produce hormones. Try to eat grains and pulses on the same day, to be most effective.

So, all in all being green is great! And, you’ll certainly be ‘maxing’ out on some amazingly healthy foods!


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Are you getting enough Vitamin D? Why you need the sunshine vitamin.

shutterstock_274532183 woman in sunglasses looking at the sky Aug15Many people know that vitamin D is also called ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because it’s primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However many people are unaware of why vitamin D is so important to our overall health and also why it’s linked to calcium absorption.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us what we need to know about vitamin D, how it works with calcium, and the all-important ‘low-down’ on why together they’re so crucial to our health.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it’s primarily produced on the skin in the sun. The Department of Health have acknowledged that a massive 60% of the UK population are deficient in vitamin D, which is putting the nation’s health at risk. shutterstock_397937623 UK map May16Countries located in the Northern Hemisphere which lack sunshine all have populations that are equally deficient. And whilst a sunshine holiday can certainly boost our vitamin D levels, using high factor sun cream can block its absorption plus because the body can’t store it, and we simply don’t get enough throughout the year.

shutterstock_277907438 highlighted bones of woman exercising May16WHAT DOES IT DO?

Vitamin D’s most important function is the metabolism of calcium. This means that both nutrients are vital for the health of bones and teeth. Sunlight on the skin activates a pre-cursor to vitamin D and it is then converted to the most active form of the vitamin – D3.

However, it’s not just the bones and teeth that need vitamin D – it also helps to regulate the body’s immune responses, helping protect us against infections such as colds and flu.

More and more functions of Vitamin D are being discovered; it’s also important for muscle strength, good mood and healthy blood pressure – new research is being carried out all the time. It is so important that the Department of Health recommends that all pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies and young children aged six months to five years and those over 65 years should take a daily vitamin D supplement or a multi-vitamin containing at least 10 µg (micrograms). This also applies to anyone who isn’t exposed to much sunlight.

shutterstock_360639257 vitamin D foods May16WHERE CAN I FIND IT?

The most active form of vitamin D (D3) is the one produced by the sunlight on the skin. However, there are some food sources of vitamin D (D2) which, interestingly, are also foods high in calcium so it’s a double whammy! Plus, both forms of vitamin D are available as a supplement or as part of a multi-vitamin.

Top of the list of foods to eat are oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and pilchards. Egg yolks and butter also contain vitamin D, and milk and cheese contain lots of calcium and a little vitamin D. There is a small amount of vitamin D in green leafy vegetables, and again, they’re a good source of calcium, and mushrooms are also a good vegetarian source of vitamin D.

So, why not try making savoury pancakes with eggs, butter, milk, cheese and mushrooms. Your children will love them (hopefully all the family will as well) and you’ll be getting both vitamin D and calcium to boot!

shutterstock_310287731 woman sun bathing May16WHAT IF I DON’T GET ENOUGH?

Vitamin D deficiency can manifest itself in a number of ways. With 60% of the population reportedly not getting enough Vitamin D, rickets in children is becoming more prevalent, partly because of the use of sun creams with high SPF, which is completely understandable.

However, in order to improve levels of vitamin D within the body, just exposing the body to the sun for 15 minutes a day is sufficient and, generally, would not be long enough to cause any skin damage or burning.

A lack of vitamin D can also result in a loss of bone mineral content, making fractures more likely and also an increase in bone pain and muscle weakness. Osteomalacia or ‘soft bones’ is another condition on the increase in the younger age groups.

shutterstock_352168949 beautiful woman skin May16IS VITAMIN D THE ELIXIR OF YOUTH?

Research carried out in 2010[1] found that vitamin D may hold the key to long-lasting physical function. Of the 2,788 people studied, those with higher levels of vitamin D had much better physical function as they aged, than those with lower levels.

Those with the highest levels of vitamin D were able to lead more active lives, demonstrating that it’s not just the bones that need vitamin D, but it’s needed for muscle strength and the ability to keep physically active. Yet another great reason to start supplementing right now.

So, it’s never too early (or too late) to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium, and taking adequate steps now can really help to support a healthier and stronger you in the future.

[1] Houston D et al, Better vitamin D status could mean better quality of life for seniors. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 2010 (April 26).


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Fruit versus veg – how to balance your nutrients

shutterstock_335355719 woman with fruit and vegetables May16There’s so much written about fruits and vegetables and how much we should be eating. The advice is generally to eat as much as you can, but there is also some confusion around balancing your intake of fruits and vegetables –so what is best?

To help cut through the clutter, Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her easy-to-understand guide on the best ways to balance your fruit and vegetable intake.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


The ‘five-a-day’ message has been clearly communicated over the years. It’s the number of portions of fruits and vegetables that we should aim to be eating every day. However, nutritionists (myself included) will always recommend that this should be the minimum amount, but some people struggle with getting enough in their diet on a daily basis. This is why juicing is a great way of increasing your intake (more on this later!)

So, firstly, how much is a portion?

This varies considerable by fruit or vegetable, but as an example, one portion is:

shutterstock_351985349 2 satsumas May16Two small fruits such as satsumas

One large tomatoshutterstock_124776505 tomato May16

shutterstock_368525279 strawberries May16½ cup strawberries

shutterstock_223522591 half grapefruit May16Half a grapefruit

shutterstock_409150363 two asparagus spears May16Two broccoli spears

shutterstock_412172380 pear and apple May16One apple or pear

shutterstock_251601376 carrots May16Three heaped tablespoons of cooked carrot

It’s not an exact science but this at least gives you a good idea to get started. And of course, we’re talking about eating 5 portions over a period of one day, not all at one mealtime.

shutterstock_212634163 fruit versus vegetables May16WHICH IS BEST – FRUIT OR VEG?

Fruits and vegetables actually carry similar nutrient profiles, it’s just that the concentrations are higher in vegetables than in fruit. For example, spinach tops the chart for calcium content, sweet potatoes come out in first place for vitamin A and yellow peppers win hands-down for vitamin C.  Spinach is also a winner when it comes to iron.

When it comes to the all-important fibre, avocados (which are technically a fruit) come out high, as do dried apricots. Fibre is essential for keeping the bowels moving, and releasing toxic waste from the body, but both fruits and vegetables contain good amounts – another good reason to up your intake.

Whilst individual nutrient levels are higher overall in vegetables than fruit, so many of the amazing health benefits found in both are bound up within their beautiful colours. It’s the colourful pigments in fruits and vegetables that contain numerous health benefits, including anthocyanins, and other wonderful health-giving antioxidants. These fantastic compounds help protect the body from the ageing process as well as our serious chronic diseases.

So, sometimes, it’s easier to look at the colour variety on your plate; if you’ve ‘eaten a rainbow’ over the course of the day, you’ll certainly be achieving your minimum ‘five-a-day’ and maybe even more than that!

shutterstock_350298476 dried apricots and raisins May16WHAT ABOUT THE SUGAR?

When it comes to sugar content, fruits contain more sugar than vegetables. The highest sugar content is actually found in dried raisins and apricots! And although fruit provides many nutrients there is no such thing as ‘healthy’ sugar. Fruit contains fructose which is a type of sugar; the main difference between fructose and other sugars such as sucrose, is that fructose has to be processed by the liver which means it doesn’t have such a negative effect on blood sugar levels.

Fruits such as strawberries, are lower in fructose and have a low glycaemic index; that means that you could actually eat a punnet of strawberries before the sugar content would be anywhere near that of a banana! So as you can see sugar content also varies considerably from fruit to fruit – and always remember that dried fruits contain more sugar than fresh fruit.

shutterstock_361740236 basket of vegetables May16SO WHAT’S THE CONCLUSION?

Vegetables are the real winner, even though fruits deliver some wonderful health benefits. The advice is to try to eat more vegetables than fruit where possible but we should certainly not discourage our children from eating fruit if they won’t eat vegetables.

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that, as a nation, we are still falling short of the minimum ‘five-a-day’ so are there any easier ways of getting more into the daily diet? Juicing vegetables and adding some low glycaemic fruits such as apples or pears is an excellent way of rapidly increasing intake: think apple, carrot, beetroot and ginger and you’ve got an amazingly healthy and colourful juice that really packs a punch!

So increase your vegetables, think about which fruit you eat (and try and stick to fresh) and aim for a colourful plate of food at every meal.


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