Springtime Nutrition: top seasonal eats to boost your immunity

There are many reasons to eat seasonally, not least because foods will generally be more nutrient dense if they’re eaten at the time that nature intended.  Spring brings a wealth of foods that deliver some wonderful health benefits, particularly for the immune system.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, suggests five foods which are great immune-boosters and are in season right now!

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With its peppery-tasting, dark green leaves, watercress is amongst the healthiest of fresh salad vegetables.  It’s very rich in many vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C and beta-carotene, both great for the immune system.

Watercress is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family which are renowned for their immune-boosting and antioxidant properties; in traditional medicine, watercress was used to treat kidney disorders and liver malfunctions.  It also seems to have natural antibiotic properties and has been used in complementary medicine to speed up the body’s detoxification processes.

Watercress soup is delicious and super-easy!  All you need is to chop some potatoes, onion and garlic, sauté in a pan, add some stock with around three bunches of watercress and blend.  A delicious and wonderful spring immune-booster!


Another in-season vegetable staple, the greatest nutritional benefit of the carrot is that it’s an excellent source of beta-carotene.  Beta-carotene provides great nutritional benefit in its own right but also converts into vitamin A in the body which then becomes a powerful immune-boosting nutrient.  In actual fact, vitamin A is as famous for its ability to help us see in the dark as it is for its action to fight infections.

Cooked or raw?  Interestingly, and unlike many other vegetables, carrots are more nutritionally beneficial when cooked.  This is because cooking breaks down their tough cellular walls to enable the body to convert the beta-carotene into vitamin A more easily.

So whilst munching on a carrot is a great snack, carrots are much better in a soup, roasted with honey as a vegetable side or cut into batons and used in stir fries.  However, they’re still a great versatile vegetable.


It’s specifically this variety of broccoli that’s in season during spring-time.  All types of broccoli provide an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which, as we know, are great for the immune system.

However, as with all fruits and vegetables, the darker the colour, the greater the health benefits and nutrients available.  The coloured pigments deliver excellent antioxidant properties mainly through the anthocyanins naturally present, which help to defend our bodies against any unwanted invaders! Therefore, purple sprouting broccoli can really ‘pack a nutritional punch’ and even more so when it’s fresh and in season.

Unlike carrots though, when broccoli is boiled, almost half the vitamin C content is destroyed; therefore lightly steaming or stir frying is the much better option.  In fact, since broccoli is at its tastiest right now, there’s nothing nicer than some steamed broccoli with a knob of butter to accompany your salmon or fillet steak.  Plus it will add some wonderful colour to your plate!


Another member of the wonderful cruciferous family of vegetables, cauliflower is a spring superfood.  Like all other members of the family, it contains sulphurous compounds that may protect the body against certain cancers.  However, it’s also a great source of vitamin C, and its fibrous content helps to keep the bowels in smooth working order.

However, it may cause some flatulence when eaten; this can be avoided by eating it with some spicy accompaniments such as garlic, caraway, coriander or turmeric.  Additionally, because of cauliflower’s low calorie content, it’s a great component of any slimming campaign.  Indeed, cauliflower rice has become very popular as a healthy, low- fat, but starchy vegetable to help fill you up without piling on the pounds!


Sometimes forgotten on the spring menu, but still tasty, particularly with a crumble topping, rhubarb is actually a vegetable and not a fruit!  However, it contains really good amounts of vitamin C, as well as heart-healthy potassium. In traditional Chinese medicine it was actually used as a purgative or laxative, mainly due to its fibrous content.

Although rhubarb does taste better with some sugar added, you can always use low-calorie xylitol, which is a natural plant-based sweetener, so you’re not adding lots of calories to your desert but still enjoying its great health benefits.

The only thing to remember is that rhubarb leaves are poisonous and its best not cooked using an aluminium saucepan.  However, it tastes great stewed with some apple and a scoop of ice cream as a special treat!

So as you enjoy the spring weather, these immune-boosting foods will also provide an extra spring in your step to enjoy those longer days!


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Everything you need to know about Vitamin A


Vitamin A was the first vitamin to be discovered hence giving it the name ‘A’!  And whilst every vitamin delivers their own health benefits, vitamin A really is one of the all-stars.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer delves a little deeper into the amazing health benefits of vitamin A!

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Vitamin A is also known as retinol.  It was so-named because it’s crucial for the eyes; the retina at the back of the eye is key to good eyesight.  In fact, it’s essential for great vision – night and day.

Vitamin A was also once known as the ‘anti-infective’ vitamin because it has wonderfully positive effects on the immune system and helps to fight viruses and infections.  It’s also a powerful antioxidant which helps to hold back the years and protect us against some of the most prevalent degenerative diseases.


You may have heard the term pro-vitamin A.  This is because vitamin A can actually be produced in the body from beta carotene, as needed. Serious vitamin A deficiency is actually very rare in the Western World since the body has its own production unit.

Foods high in beta-carotene are generally fruits and vegetables that are red, yellow and orange in colour. This partly explains the ‘old-wives tale’ of carrots helping you to see in the dark!


Vitamin A is available in animal foods, with fish liver oils being the richest source.  All types of liver, egg yolks and dairy are excellent sources.  There are many different fruits and vegetables that are pro-vitamin A, being carrots, kale, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.

Additionally, vitamin A is a fat soluble nutrient that can be stored in the liver so generally a ready-supply is available in the body, as required.


Since vitamin A is readily available directly in foods or in the form of beta carotene, there’s no end of choice for creating delicious vitamin A-packed meals. Think shepherd’s pie with sweet potato topping, liver and bacon with crispy kale side or chicken curry made with crème fraiche.

Even better, make your breakfast a real vitamin A treat with poached eggs and grilled tomatoes!  Eggs are actually the best way to start the day for many reasons alongside the vitamin A content; they’ll get your blood sugar levels well balanced so your energy levels will be sustained throughout the day.


Yes indeed. The reason being that vitamin A plays a key role in stimulating cellular activity associated with skin repair and protection of mucous membranes.  Vitamin A works at the base layer of the skin epidermis, healing and repairing.

A synthetic form of retinol, retinoic acid, has been produced, which is used to treat persistent and difficult skin conditions, particularly acne. However, because vitamin A is stored in the liver, care needs to be taken when using retinoic acid on a long-term basis because it may impede liver function.


You may have heard the advice that liver shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities during pregnancy.  This is because too much vitamin A can be harmful to the growing baby.  However, there is no cause for alarm.  Remember that vitamin A is absolutely essential for developing eyes.

The daily nutrient reference value (NRV) for vitamin A is 800 micrograms.  This is for supplementation purposes. Taking a supplement at this level is actually recommended during pregnancy.  It is perfectly safe (and indeed very wise) to eat plenty of colourful fruits and veg during pregnancy; remember the body only converts beta-carotene to vitamin A as needed by the body.


We know that vitamin A deficiency is rare.  However, people suffering from malabsorption issues or liver problems can sometimes show slight deficiency symptoms such as poor immunity and susceptibility to infections.  Skin problems can also be a sign of deficiency and bumpy skin on the back of the arms can be a good indication that something’s up!

It’s worth also noting that people who have a high alcohol intake, who take cortisone medication for inflammatory problems, or have a high intake of iron may be low in vitamin A; iron competes with vitamin A for absorption in the body.  However, both work happily together when eaten or taken in supplement form at normal levels.



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Spice Advice: the health benefits of 5 common spices

Spices not only provide flavour and colour to a range of dishes, they also deliver a whole host of health benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, picks her top five favourite spices and tells why they’re so great for our health.

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It has been said that many years ago cinnamon was actually more valuable than gold!  Slightly hard to believe, but what we do know is that cinnamon has a really positive effect on blood sugar balance; this needs to be kept under control to help prevent type 2 diabetes and to keep weight in check.

Cinnamon can help manage blood insulin markers; both insulin and glucose need to be kept well balanced, ideally through the right dietary choices, but these, together with blood cholesterol levels can be better managed when you’ve got some cinnamon in your diet.

Sprinkle some onto your porridge or breakfast cereal, add it to plain yoghurt or you can even sprinkle some over your cappuccino!  It also adds a real zing to many baking recipes such as flapjacks, muffins or apple strudel.


Turmeric has reached somewhat iconic status in recent times.  Over the years it has been used for many things including liver disease, digestive problems, coughs, colds and wound care.  Turmeric is the spice that makes curries yellow; Asian populations have long known of its wonderful health benefits, as well as its delicious taste.

The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin and in recent times, research has mainly centred on its amazing anti-inflammatory benefits.[1] This is key in moderating any joint issues and also in preventing some of our most common and serious degenerative diseases.

Turmeric is actually quite difficult to absorb into the bloodstream.  Therefore, it needs to be used in dishes that contain some kind of fat such as meat, chicken, fish or eggs to benefit from it the most.  Alternatively, turmeric has been found to be better absorbed when eaten with black pepper, so any curried dish using both ingredients is certainly going to be beneficial to your health.


Ginger is another very versatile spice that delivers so many health benefits, whilst adding a wonderful flavour to a wealth of dishes.

It is probably best known for its benefits to the digestive system; it appears to help with indigestion and also flatulence.  It also feeds the friendly bacteria naturally present in the digestive tract, so over a period of time its benefits become even greater.

Ginger can be very helpful with counteracting the nausea associated with travel sickness or morning sickness.  It is also great for the circulation, and it’s been traditionally used to cure colds. Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory; any niggling aches and pains can often be soothed by regularly eating ginger.

As well as adding a wonderful ‘zing’ to stir fries, curries and Thai dishes, it’s easy just to grate a teaspoon of ginger with some lemon juice, a teaspoon of Manuka honey and drink with some warm water every morning.  Many people quickly notice the benefits to their overall health from doing this regularly.


Cayenne pepper, also known as capsicum, comes from the capsicum plant which belongs to the nightshade family.  Its active part is called capsaicin, which gives the fruit its spicy heat and redness.  When it’s applied to the skin, capsaicin stimulates blood flow and promotes natural warmth to joints and muscles.

When cayenne is added to dishes (it’s great in curries and stews), it can help to balance blood fats (particularly cholesterol levels) whilst also regulating blood pressure.

Even better, cayenne promotes the release of endorphins – the body’s ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals.  So add it as much as possible to your cooking particularly where you want an extra kick – it can also give you a mood boost too!


Cloves have a very distinctive fragrant taste and smell and have long been used to improve the flavours of preserved foods.  They are an acquired taste and are not for everyone, but your body will certainly love them for their health benefits.

Cloves are known to promote healthy digestion, bowel movements and reduce flatulence.  In fact, if your digestion is needing a little helping hand, try making a tea with dried cloves and drink regularly.  Cloves are actually really gentle on the digestive tract, plus they can help break down fats in foods, which can cause digestive upsets in some people.

Interestingly, cloves were historically used for toothache and gum health so it might be worth gargling with some clove water if you’re struggling with any pain in the mouth.

So add some spice to your life, and your food, for an extra health boost!

[1] Srivastava S et al.  Curcuma longa extract reduces inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers in osteoarthritis of knee:  a four-month, double blind randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Inflammapharmacology 2016 Dec; 24 (6) 377-388


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

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie