Nutritious alternatives to pumpkin this Halloween

A Halloween jack o lantern carved out of a watermelon

With Halloween festivities in full flow, pumpkins are top of the shopping list not just for making lanterns but also for eating.  However if pumpkins are not to your taste, fear not as there are plenty of other tasty and nutritious options in the same vegetable family.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her favourites.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

The curcubit family, from which the pumpkin hails, is very large with around 995 species, although many you may not have heard of!  However, there are some very well-known and highly nutritious members of the family that can be included regularly into your diet, particularly if pumpkin is not your favourite vegetable.


The term ‘cool as a cucumber’ is often used and for very good reason. Cucumbers are cool to the touch but also have a very high water content (around 96%), which makes them both refreshing to eat but also wonderful to revive tired skin and eyes.

Although their high water content makes their nutritional value relatively low compared to other family members, as with any colourful vegetable they still provide valuable nutrients, namely vitamin C, K, B1 and B5 as well as some trace minerals.

Cucumbers are great to include in many recipes and will certainly help to flush out toxins from the body and can even help with weight loss. Cucumber works really well with strong flavours such as tuna. Why not try searing a fresh tuna steak and adding a Japanese-style salad with sliced cucumber strips, spring onions, cherry tomatoes with a dressing of lime juice, soy sauce and sesame oil? This makes a quick, easy, tasty and nutritious mid-week dinner.


Courgettes, also known as zucchini, are very easy to grow in your home garden because the plants produce large quantities of the vegetable. However, if you’re not very ‘green-fingered’ then both the green and yellow varieties are readily available in the supermarkets and are extremely versatile in many recipes.  Plus they’re very low in calories and are packed with immune-boosting beta-carotene and vitamin C.

Zucchini can be used in ratatouille with tomatoes and onions, in a soup with pea and pesto, plain griddled, or sliced, lightly fried and layered with ricotta cheese and drizzled with olive oil.


Is this just a pumpkin by any other name? Well not quite, but the two are very similar.  Obviously the two come from the same family, and one could easily say that pumpkin is just another type of squash. However, they certainly taste different.

With regard to nutritional content they’re pretty similar. Butternut squash is very high in beta-carotene which converts into vitamin A in the body, as needed.  Beta-carotene is also a powerful antioxidant which helps support the immune system – a real positive for this time of year.

One of the tastiest ways to eat butternut squash is alongside sweet potato and beetroot simply roasted in the oven with a little olive oil and freshly ground pepper – truly colourful and delicious!


Did you know that watermelons were first harvested in Egypt around 5,000 years ago?  Since then they have reputably become THE best-loved fruit in the US.  And that’s no surprise!

Obviously, as their name suggests, they contain a high percentage of water – around 92% (not quite as high as cucumber, but close!)

Another little-known fact about watermelons is that they may improve libido.  This is because they contain a compound called citrulline which converts in the kidneys to arginine; an amino acid that helps to relax blood vessels encouraging blood flow to the sex organs.  This effect may also be beneficial in cases of erectile dysfunction.

Interestingly, whilst tomatoes are well-known for their lycopene content, watermelons actually contain more!  Lycopene is great at zapping unwanted free radicals that try to harm the body, but it’s also protective of the heart, male prostate and skin.  Moreover, it has great anti-inflammatory effects which is positive for the bones and joints.  Watermelon is a real winner; delicious in flavour with many nutritional benefits.  It’s always best enjoyed simply on its own.

So, whether you like pumpkins or not, there are many other members of the family which can be enjoyed this Halloween and all year-round!


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Healthy Halloween foods with nutritious bite!

Two women holding jack-o-lantern pumpkins over their faces

With Halloween falling eerily close on the calendar, it’s the perfect time to think about getting in the spooky mood.  As we know, foods come in all colours, so why not celebrate Halloween by eating deliciously healthy treats with traditional Halloween colours?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us some ideas to make this Halloween the healthiest yet with orange, black and green foods!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


Top of the list of traditional Halloween orange foods has to be pumpkin!  In fact, it’s almost too nutritious to be put outside the front door and used as a lantern!  However, as with all winter squashes, they’re an amazing source of beta-carotene, which is one of most powerful antioxidants.  They’re also easily digested and rarely cause allergies.

For the pumpkins that you use as lanterns, don’t forget to save and roast the seeds in a little olive oil.  You can spice them before roasting by rolling them in a mixture of salt and dried spices: cayenne, ginger, cumin and cinnamon all work really well together. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fats, minerals and fibre.

Mango is, of course, orange and in season right now!  Mangoes are relatively new to the UK; they were traditionally cultivated in India but are now widely grown throughout the tropics.  As with all orange fruits, they’re packed with vitamin C – great for boosting your immunity now the autumnal weather is starting to bite.


Black is not a very common food colour, but nature has provided us with some black foods to treasure.  For example, blackberries are packed with nutrients including immune-boosting vitamin C.  Their colour is due to the anthocyanins, which are plant compounds that have real health benefits; they’re full of age-defying antioxidants.

Black rice contains as many antioxidants as blackberries and helps to manage inflammatory conditions.  Black rice might not be a top choice when thinking about preparing rice for a meal, but it’s really worth a try; it’s got a distinctive nutty flavour and interestingly, during the Ming Dynasty it was called ‘longevity rice’ and was reserved for the Emperors to give them good health.  Use it in the same way you would any other types of rice.  Why not prepare a black Halloween risotto?

For a real Halloween twist, why not add some jet black squid ink to your own home-made fresh pasta? It’s delicious prepared with garlic and olive oil or alternatively it’s traditionally served with fish, often mussels in white wine and garlic sauce.


You can go very green for Halloween! Green apples spring to mind at this time of year as apples are bang on season right now.  What would Halloween be without some traditional apple-bobbing? And of course let’s not forget toffee apples!  Whilst many toffee apple recipes will suggest using red apples, there’s nothing wrong with using green; they’re often slightly sharper in taste which helps to balance the sweetness of the toffee.  Create some ‘scary’ toffee apples using caster sugar, golden syrup and some red and black food colouring.

Another deliciously healthy Halloween green food is globe artichoke.  Although they look slightly strange, globe artichokes contain some wonderful health benefits; they contain a compound called cynarin which helps to detoxify the liver and aid digestion.  Young globe artichoke buds can be cooked and eaten whole.  Alternatively, they can be prepared by cutting in half and removing the base and top and also the hairy middle.  They can be gently boiled and used in a variety of recipes or as a starter with hollandaise sauce.

However, if you’re looking to ‘up-the anti’ with spooky but healthy Halloween foods, think guacamole as green slime. Green olives with a raisin stuck on using cream cheese make great eyeballs on sticks! Why not create a Dracula mouth by slicing green apples into a mouth shape, adding some peanut butter in the middle and then stick on some monster teeth using sliced marshmallows.

Halloween doesn’t always need to be about sugary sweet and treats; it can still be scary but healthy!  Have fun!

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Five immune-boosting nutrients to get you ready for the cold season

With the winter months fast approaching, the season for bugs looms large. Thankfully nature has provided us with a wealth of nutrients to help fend off colds and flu. Whilst vitamin C and the mineral zinc are well-known as great immune-boosters there are 5 other key nutrients which are essential to keep you fighting fit this winter.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares these five top immune-boosting nutrients!

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Vitamin D tends to be associated with healthy bones and teeth, but it is also a key player in the health of the immune system.  Vitamin D is fondly known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin because it’s primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. So during the winter months, people living in the Northern Hemisphere, including the UK, are likely to be deficient.  This is the very reason that Public Health England recommend supplementation of Vitamin D for everyone, particularly during the winter.

So how does it work?  It would seem that vitamin D activates a key part of the immune system – the killer T-cells – that detect unwanted viruses and bacteria.  T-cells rely on vitamin D in order to activate, otherwise they would remain dormant.

As well as taking a supplement of vitamin D this winter, eat plenty of oily fish, particularly those containing small bones such as sardines, pilchards and mackerel.  However whilst they provide some vitamin D, they may not be sufficient to keep your immune system in tip-top shape all winter-long so supplementation is recommended.


You may be surprised to know that your gut is home to 70% of your immune system.  It’s actually the body’s largest protective barrier between you and the outside world, and these defences come in the form of beneficial, friendly bacteria or probiotics.

One of the most prevalent strains of friendly bacteria is lactobacillus acidophilus, which is often found in yoghurt with active cultures. Probiotics need feeding to be as efficient as possible. Foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, lentils, oats and bananas will all feed these good guys and boost your immune system at the same time. You can also try a good quality probiotic supplement.


Women in particular may associate vitamin B6 with supporting good hormone balance, but it also plays an important role in the immune system.  Vitamin B6 helps to increase antibody reactions which fight infections, and also stimulates the production of T-cells.


The good news is that vitamin B6 is rarely deficient in the diet.  However, increasing intake is going to have a positive effect on the immune system.  Avocados (great on toast for breakfast), bananas (an excellent afternoon snack), salmon (also packed with health-giving omega-3 fats), and foods containing wholegrain flour (such as whole wheat bread) provide excellent amounts of vitamin B6.


Beta-carotene is turned into vitamin A in the body when needed, which is essential for the health of the immune system as well as vision and cell integrity.

Vitamin A itself is mainly available in animal produce such as meat, liver, eggs, butter and cheese, so vegetarian and vegans may be lacking. However, beta-carotene is widely available in lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables including carrots, butternut squash, broccoli, kale and cantaloupe melon.

Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A when needed but it does require sufficient protein, zinc and vitamin C to do so.  A diet rich in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, plus adequate protein either from animal or vegetable sources, together with some nuts and seeds will ensure beta-carotene can carry out its work most effectively.


As with a number of other nutrients, vitamin E improves B-cell and T-cell function (both key parts of the immune system). It also protects white blood cells from damage.  However, just like many other nutrients, vitamin E doesn’t work in isolation; it works hand-in-hand with selenium.

Luckily wheat germ and whole wheat flour both contain good amounts of these two nutrients so try to include these in your diet. Avocados, sunflower seeds and oils are all great sources of vitamin E.

As we know, when it comes to nutrients, nothing works in isolation in nature. Therefore eating a colourful ‘rainbow’ coloured diet every day is going to go a long way to keeping the bugs at bay this winter.

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Warming seasonal food: delicious and nutritious autumn dishes

With summer now quite a way behind us, and the nights’ drawing in, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of eating stodgy, comfort foods. But poor food choices can lead to low energy and low mood. So what are the best warming dishes to eat this autumn?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some healthy and hearty meal and ingredient ideas to warm you up this autumn.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


We tend to think of salads as having to be cold, but there are an abundance of salad recipes that are served warm.  For example, a roasted vegetable salad is both colourful and nutritious.  Why not roast some sweet potato (in season right now) with some red pepper and beetroot?  They can be served warm with some tossed mixed leaves and balsamic vinegar.

Additionally, chicken livers are great in salads, plus they’re really cost effective and are an excellent source of protein.  Even better, liver is high in iron – a mineral that is frequently deficient in the daily diet and is essential for energy and healthy red blood cell production.  Chicken livers work really well lightly sautéed in butter and thyme, served warm on a bed of salad leaves topped with artichoke hearts.


Certain herbs and spices naturally bring blood to the surface making us feel warm even if they’re used in cold dishes; they can act like an internal radiator!  Warming herbs also aid digestion and balance blood sugar.

One great example is cinnamon; it can be used in so many different ways: it is perfect sprinkled on porridge in the mornings which will sustain energy levels throughout the day without leaving you feeling bloated.  In fact, cinnamon is great sprinkled on any dish where you might be otherwise tempted to reach for sugar.  Think natural yoghurt, stewed fruit, pancakes or cereals – the choice is endless.

Ginger is another warming herb which can be used in so many dishes, particularly stir fries or Thai-style fish.  However, for an excellent morning perk-up, ginger can be used in a warming tea, freshly grated with half a lemon; not only will your body feel warm even when it’s cold outside, this tea will help flush your liver through so your skin will glow!

Cardamom is another favourite which also helps to stop indigestion and can be used in the treatment of coughs and colds.  Why not start your day with some fruit topped with natural yoghurt?  Cardamom pods can be simmered gently in water and vanilla extract for around five minutes and then poured over some dried fruits such as pears, prunes and apricots.  For a great breakfast, sprinkle some sugar-free muesli over the top and you’ll be warm and energised all day long!


Forget the stodgy, creamy pastas; think warming lunch-time soups, wraps or hearty chillies.  You can make some great soups at the beginning of the week using butternut squash, lentils and other root vegetables of your choice and refrigerate it in batches for the rest of the week.

Many of us tend to stock up on bread during the colder months which can lead to bloating and low energy.  However, why not make up some wholemeal wraps instead?  Wraps are great for lunch filled with avocado and tuna; this is a high protein lunch which will help avoid any afternoon slump.  Alternatively, wraps can be filled with sizzling beef and salad and topped with guacamole for a warming Mexican-style dish.

Chillies will not only warm the body, but also protect against colds and flu as we get into the season of bugs!  They can be used in traditional chilli con carne as well as curries.  An excellent seasonal curry can be made with spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and chickpeas alongside chilli and curry spices of your choice.

So jump into autumn and breeze through the days without noticing the cooling temperatures by creating some of these warming dishes!

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Boost your protein at every meal with these great food ideas

Every cell in the body needs protein; it’s required for growth and repair, enzyme and hormone production and plays a key role in creating antibodies which fight off infection as part of the immune system.  Generally, around 15-20% of our calorie intake should come from protein.  So what should we be eating?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her tips for including protein at every meal time!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


In many ways, breakfast is actually the most important meal of the day.  It is a key opportunity for the body to be refuelled with essential nutrients.  Eating breakfast is vital because blood sugar levels are low after a night’s sleep and the body needs feeding in order to provide sustained energy for the day.

Top of the list for best breakfast choice would be eggs; they’re a complete protein source, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids the body needs and which it cannot make. The main reason we need protein in our diet is to supply the eight essential amino acids and eggs provide these.

If eggs are not for you, how about a designer muesli instead?  If you mix up some oats, barley flakes, rye flakes, wheat germ, seeds and add some chopped apricots and raisins, you’ve got a tasty and nutritious breakfast.  All these grains all contain protein.  This muesli can be mixed up and stored for a while; a portion can also be soaked overnight in milk or apple juice, making it easier to digest in the morning.  Even better, all the grains are slow energy-releasing, which means they’ll keep you going through the day plus they’re also packed with energising B vitamins.


Lunch often has to be prepared quickly or transported to the office or place of work.  But this shouldn’t stop you from including a choice of protein and colourful foods.

Chicken noodle salad is a good example of something that can be made in advance with cooked chicken breast or left-over chicken, rice noodles, baby corn, sliced carrot, soy sauce, garlic and shredded cabbage or spinach leaves.  However, if you’re vegetarian you can swap the chicken for tofu or prawns and you’ve got a really quick, nourishing salad.  The protein (chicken, prawns or tofu) can either be eaten hot or cold.

Another high protein and energising carbohydrate lunch can be found in a spicy bean salad. Beans are low on the glycaemic index but also contain good amounts of protein.  Tinned mixed beans can be combined with tomato, cooked French beans, coriander and Tabasco sauce along with your favourite dressing.  Easy, quick, delicious and sustaining!


Protein is found in so many different foods, which means there’s a wealth of dishes on offer for dinner.  Animal protein includes red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, dairy products, and eggs.  Animal proteins generally contain all the amino acids whereas plant-based proteins don’t.  However, by carefully combining grains with beans, for example, you can get all the essential acids you need.

Quinoa, which has a very similar texture to couscous, has a really good amino acid profile, making it a great protein source whether you’re vegetarian or not. Quinoa works really well as an easy dinner dish with roasted vegetables.

If you’ve had eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch, then how about some protein-packed fish for dinner?  Oily fish such as trout is absolutely delicious and is also packed with omega-3 fats which are great for the brain, skin and heart.  Any oily fish can be really simply cooked in a baking dish, drizzled with lemon and olive oil and served with some lightly toasted pine nuts and steamed vegetables.

Another excellent source of protein are lentils.  They’re also packed with fibre to keep the bowels super-healthy.  Lentils work really well with spinach; whilst you’re cooking some brown lentils, chop some coriander, cumin and garlic.  These can be briefly stir-fried before adding to the pan with some spinach.  All the flavours combine really well together and you’ll be getting some energising iron from the spinach as well as some heart-loving garlic.

With so many protein options available, your body can be properly fuelled and nourished all day long.


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

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts