Taking care of your mind matters: top nutrition and wellbeing advice for better emotional health

Two strawberries and a banana placed to make a smiley face

There’s much coverage in the Press and on social media about the importance of talking openly about mental health, and rightly so: there should be no stigma around the topic. Interestingly, getting your diet right can also be an important contributor to good emotional health.

So how can we help ourselves and look after our mental wellbeing through nutrition? 

This Time to Talk Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top nutrition and wellbeing tips for a happier mind.

Ditch the sugar

There is an important link between the gut and brain health. Eating foods, namely sugar, with no nutritional value and which deplete nutrients, should be avoided.  Most importantly, sugar can be something that many people are addicted to.  Like any addictive substance, it has side effects, one of them being low mood.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Being addicted to fizzy drinks, even the diet kind is not uncommon.  Many people are drinking between five and ten cans daily.  Not only does this deplete nutrients but sugar or sweeteners upset brain chemistry, both of which can cause low mood, irritability and lack of concentration.  They also upset blood sugar balance, leading to low energy levels and weight gain. Yes, even diet drinks can make you put on weight. Sugar, in all its forms, needs to be moderated as much as possible if you want to balance your mood.

Good mood foods

Certain foods can contribute to a much happier mood. Nutrient-dense foods contain key vitamins and minerals needed to produce the brain’s happy hormones and neurotransmitters.  Key to this are the B-vitamins which are also needed for a balanced nervous system.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

The good news is that B-vitamins are widely available in many foods including whole grains, meat, eggs, legumes, seeds and dark leafy vegetables.  Plus, bananas are a really good source of vitamin B6, a great transportable snack.

Protein-rich foods including chicken and turkey, eggs, soya products, as well as oats are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin.  Try to include protein at every mealtime for best effects.

Get more of the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it’s made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, it is also the sunshine vitamin because it plays an important role in balancing your mood. Whilst vitamin D is essential for bones, teeth and a healthy immune system, deficiency will cause low mood, even depression.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

During the darker, winter months, the only way to get enough is to take a daily supplement: even foods which contain Vitamin D deliver very little. Public Health England recommends a minimum supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily for everyone. Taking a vitamin D supplement daily is a really easy way of boosting mood naturally.

Get talking

We are all becoming more aware of the increased prevalence of emotional wellbeing issues and the fact it’s being more widely talked in general about can make a real difference to people suffering.  It’s always good to try and talk to a family member or close friend if you are feeling low or anxious. And it’s always good to talk to someone you know who you think may be having challenges.

Two women talking about mental health

Whilst many people bottle up their feelings, this can often make matters worse.  Putting on a ‘brave face’ and keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ might have been the norm years ago, but it can certainly cause more problems than it solves.

Getting outside professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist can provide much-needed support.  Most will offer a free initial session because it’s important to feel comfortable: it’s well worth investing the time to find the right person to help you.

Try some happy herbs

As we know, Traditional Herbal Remedies (or licensed herbal medicines) can be incredibly powerful and make a real improvement to many health complaints.  Top of the list for low mood is St John’s Wort which helps raise serotonin levels.  It can be bought in pharmacies and health food shops but always look out for Licensed Medicinal Herbs with the ‘THR’ symbol.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Herbs don’t work as quickly as pharmaceutical drugs, so you may need to wait two to three weeks before noticing improvements, but it’s certainly worth trying the natural approach.

Additionally, the herb passionflower is incredibly calming.  Anxiety often accompanies low mood, and the two herbs work very well together.  Passionflower tends to work faster and can also be used before a stressful event as well as for longer term.

So, make looking after your emotional wellbeing a top priority during 2020.


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Female nutrition: five of the best nutrients for women

A group of women of all agesThe body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.

Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.


Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.


Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.

Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.

Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.


The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!

Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.A selection of green leafy vegetables

Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.

So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.



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The importance of Vitamin D this autumn: are you getting enough?

A fried egg make to look like yellow sunshine behind a white cloud

It’s known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because vitamin D is primarily produced on the skin in sunlight. As it’s no secret that we’re coming to the end of summer, it’s more important than ever that we get plenty of vitamin D. It’s essential for healthy bones and teeth, supports the immune system and is also important in regulating our mood.

So how can we chase the sunshine this autumn? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her ideas on getting enough vitamin D through the coming months.

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The most active form of vitamin D (vitamin D3) is made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. What actually happens is that when ultra violet rays reach the skin, a form of vitamin D is converted into the active form known as cholecalciferol. This is then transported to the liver and kidneys which produce an even more potent form.

This is great if there’s sufficient sunshine! However, it’s a well-established fact that there’s widespread deficiency of vitamin D within populations living in the Northern Hemisphere (for example, the UK), as we get little sunlight during the autumn and winter months. The body can store vitamin D in the liver, but it’s often insufficient to last through the winter months, and that’s assuming there’s was enough to be stored in the first place.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Vitamin D is available in a few animal-based foods as D3 but in plant foods the form Vitamin D2 is harder for the body to convert into the active form. However, it’s still a very viable nutrient, and shouldn’t be overlooked.


Vitamin D is super-powerful and has far-reaching health benefits. What we know for certain though is that vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and teeth. This is mainly because it’s essential to metabolise the minerals calcium and phosphorus. It also plays a key role in keeping the immune system on track and is thought to help ease low mood. More research is emerging all the time on this topic.


Vitamin D is found in a number of foods and even though it still has to be converted to its most active form, food sources make a valuable contribution to levels needed by the body. Salmon, for example, is one of the best sources of vitamin D3. However, wild salmon contains more than farmed salmon mainly because of the food the fish have consumed. Other oily fish such as mackerel and sardines are great (tinned sardines are particularly good if you eat the small bones), plus tuna, egg yolks, oysters and shrimp.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

However, if you’re vegetarian, the only plant source of vitamin D is mushrooms. They work just like humans in that they produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Other than that, there are a range of fortified foods to choose from such as cow’s milk, soya milk, orange juice (not all brands will be fortified, so check the label), and some cereals which will also contain vitamin D.


Public Health England issued advice a couple of years ago that everyone should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the winter months, such was the widespread problem of deficiency. However, this should very much be considered a minimum level as the body generally needs much more. Supplements contain either vitamin D3 or vitamin D2 and they will both help prevent deficiency symptoms, which can include muscle and joint aches and pains, depression, poor immunity and more falls in the elderly.


The best advice is to start taking a supplement now but also try to eat more foods or fortified foods containing vitamin D.

So whilst the summer has almost finished for another year, top up those Vitamin D levels through diet and supplementation to make sure you are getting enough of this essential vitamin.


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Boost your immunity this winter: 5 foods you should be eating


With the temperature dropping dramatically and the onset of the traditional cold and flu season, now is the time to really ramp up your immune system, so that you don’t succumb to any nasty infections.  And more importantly so you can prepare yourself as much as possible to fully enjoy the approaching festive season!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides us with five immune-boosting foods to keep you fighting fit for the coming winter months.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


You might not necessarily put oysters at the top of the list when thinking about the immune system. However, oysters are really high in zinc which is one of the top immune-boosting minerals. Zinc is also the reason oysters are known as aphrodisiacs as it encourages the production of testosterone!


There has been a lot of research around zinc and its ability to reduce the length and severity of a cold. So with the celebratory season approaching, what better excuse to treat your friends and family to a few of these expensive shellfish!  Fresh is always best but you can still enjoy canned oysters and gain their amazing health benefits.


You might not automatically think of live bio yoghurt as helping support the immune system but these live cultures have a really positive effect on the beneficial gut flora which live within us.


Live cultures help to increase the number of good bacteria within the digestive system, which in turn helps to support the immune system. It is not that well known that much of your immune system actually resides in the gut itself, so having a healthy digestive system is key to overall immunity.


For the best health benefits, go for live natural yoghurt, rather than fruit yoghurt; sugar in all its forms actually destroys the good gut bacteria and fruit yoghurt varieties tend to contain either sugar or sweeteners – both ‘no-no’s for the immune system.  Don’t worry if that seems a little dull: you can add some delicious fresh blueberries or strawberries and you’ve got a super bowl of super foods!


Egg yolks are high in vitamin D, and this vitamin is a powerful immune-booster, in fact one of the best!  Vitamin D is known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because it’s primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine.  This is the reason why Public Health England is recommending that we all take a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily as we get such little sun in the UK.  Eating more foods rich in vitamin D is also recommended.


One of the best starts to your day is to have an egg-based breakfast; it will keep you feeling fuller for longer, keep your blood sugar levels well balanced, and keep your energy sustained throughout the day.  Even better, if you’ve been out partying the night before, eggs contain sulphur which helps the liver to detoxify (yet another positive benefit for the immune system).


Oyster mushrooms help to boost the immune system because they encourage production of white blood cells.  Shitake mushrooms are also beneficial because they are high in vitamin D.  Just like us, these little fungi produce vitamin D on their skin when the sun shines.


The best advice is to buy a variety of mushrooms and mix them all up when cooking as they all carry some benefit for the immune system.  Mushrooms are also high in selenium, a powerful antioxidant mineral which is also great for the immune system.


So get those stir fries going. Eat mushrooms raw in salads. Make a delicious soup as a starter for your Christmas fayre, or add them to a pie with steak! Mushrooms are so versatile and delicious!


As we come into the colder months, the body functions much better when we consume warming foods but it also loves warming spices, such as ginger.  In Chinese medicine, warming foods are known as ‘yang’ foods because they raise the body’s core temperature and improve the circulation.  Not only does this help you to keep warm during the cold winter months, but having better circulation means that essential nutrients are being delivered to all your cells and organs.  Plus you’ll look healthier and your skin will glow.


Ginger really warrants its title of ‘superfood’.  It’s a powerful antioxidant but it also helps to fight infections. The active ingredient in ginger is gingerol which activates the production of the immune-boosting white blood cells.


There are so many ways you can include ginger in your daily diet; in stir fries, grated fresh as a tea, as a marinade for fish with some lime and chilli, in a healthy juice or as it’s the season why not add to a hot toddy!

So keep your immunity boosted this season, and instead of coughing your way through Christmas, you’ll be singing carols loud and clear!


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The wonders of Vitamin D: an essential vitamin for wellness and long term health

shutterstock_310287731 woman sun bathing May16

Known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s predominantly made on the skin when the sun’s out, Vitamin D is currently one of the most talked about vitamins. And that’s because it delivers so many wonderful health benefits. Unfortunately it is very deficient in the UK population (not surprisingly) due to our lack of sunlight as we are located in the northern hemisphere.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides a complete low-down on Vitamin D and how we can make sure we get enough all year round.


Vitamin D is often described as a hormone rather than a vitamin; a hormone is defined as an essential compound that the body manufactures in order to control a particular biological function.  In the case of vitamin D, it helps to control the absorption of calcium.  It also serves a number of other key functions in the body, specifically supporting the immune system.

shutterstock_200010890 smiling woman in sunshine Aug15

So how does sunlight affect our Vitamin D levels? When sunlight hits the skin, it converts a form of cholesterol into the active form of vitamin D. This happens firstly through the liver and then through the kidneys, which is why many people with liver or kidney problems will often be deficient in Vitamin D and Calcium, regardless of their exposure to the sun.

Even in ‘sunny’ countries, people can actually still be deficient; a recent study[1] for example found that women in Brazil were actually lacking in Vitamin D!  Overall, research suggests that this vitamin is so important to health that widespread supplementation would be beneficial to all populations.


Vitamin D’s key role is to support the metabolism of calcium.  And since calcium is our main bone-building nutrient, Vitamin D is obviously key in bone health.  Indeed, a study carried out in 2010[2] found that Vitamin D could hold the key to pushing back the years when it comes to maintaining strong bone health and muscle strength.

shutterstock_277907438 highlighted bones of woman exercising May16

The better your Vitamin D levels, the more likely you are to maintain good structural function of the body throughout the years. Peak bone mass is achieved at around 18 years of age; bone mass declines more rapidly without adequate Vitamin D, which is why it becomes more of a problem as we age.


It has been found in recent years that Vitamin D plays a key role in the correct functioning of the immune system; it works by increasing the number of anti-inflammatory proteins as well as antimicrobial proteins, all of which help support immunity.


Vitamin D, therefore, helps to ward-off those dreaded coughs and colds.  These proteins are so powerful that they seem to be able to reduce the risk of developing pneumonia, which can be a complication following a bout of flu.


It appears that Vitamin D is successful in preventing a number of heart-related conditions.  Recent American studies3 have found that Vitamin D may help reduce the build-up of cholesterol in the blood vessels by helping to prevent cholesterol from sticking to the artery walls.

shutterstock_205649467 heart with hands sun Feb16

This is particularly important for diabetics (and there are now around 4.5 million people in the UK living with Type 2 diabetes), who are at a much higher risk of heart disease because they have difficulties in properly processing cholesterol.


It’s not just these health conditions where Vitamin D is so crucial; it’s needed for healthy teeth, treating chronic pain, weight management and the prevention of autoimmune and degenerative diseases.  It really is a wonder vitamin!


It’s not just being in the sunshine that makes us feel good!   It’s also the fact that higher levels of Vitamin D in the body are attributable to better mood, and even a reduction in depressive illnesses.

shutterstock_137699207 woman smiling in the sun Mar15

This is partly because there are Vitamin D receptors in the brain and also because it is thought that Vitamin D increases levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.  The mode of action isn’t fully understood but it’s always good to grab more happiness and positivity when you can!


Vitamin D is mainly found in animal food sources such as oily fish, egg yolks, butter, liver and milk.  There are small amounts in green leafy vegetables and mushrooms but these are not as absorbable.  Because of the animal origin of most Vitamin D sources, vegetarians and vegans may well need additional supplementation.



It is now fully accepted that we need higher levels of this amazing vitamin to achieve optimal health. Such is the extent of Vitamin D deficiency in the UK population, that Public Health England recommends a minimum of 10 micrograms of Vitamin D daily for everyone throughout the year.  Whilst we do sometimes see good levels of sunshine during the British summer, and the body can store Vitamin D, high factor sun cream blocks its absorption on the skin. So it is advised that we spend around 15 minutes in the sun every day before covering up.

So as you can see getting enough Vitamin D all year round, and especially during the dark winter months, really is essential to overall wellness and longer term health.


[1] Lopes et al. Highly prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among Brazilian women of reproductive age.

Arch Endocrinol Metab 2016 Oct 10:0

[2] Federation of American Sciences for Experimental Biology (2010, April 26). Better vitamin D status could mean better quality of life for seniors

3 Bernal-Mizrachi C et al.  (2009) 1,25 (OH) vitamin D inhibits foam cell formation and suppresses macrophage cholesterol uptake in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.  Circulation. 120 (8) pp.687-698



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[1] Rimer EG et al.  Acute dietary nitrate supplementation increases maximal cycling power in athletes. Int J Sports Physiol. Perform. 2015 Dec 2


Love lunch: how to get back into a healthy routine after the summer

For many of us, it’s now back to work after the holiday season. It can be hard to get back into a good lunchtime routine following a summer of treat-filled barbecues and delicious holiday cuisine. So kick those post-holiday blues into touch and start afresh with a new and exciting healthy lunchtime routine.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tell us how to get back into the swing of things and feel motivated, positive and energised with these top lunchtime tips!

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Whilst you may not have time to prepare a creative meal to take to work every day for lunch, there are a few simple rules you can follow to make sure you eat something satisfying and leaving you feeling energised throughout the afternoon.

shutterstock_364428101 protein sources Sept16It’s all about avoiding the 3 pm slump! So your lunch should always contain some protein and there are so many options to choose from. Mix it up with eggs, fish (salmon, tuna or prawns are good choices), chicken or turkey, pulses or beans. Additionally, quinoa is high in protein and makes a great base for any salad.

shutterstock_80804287 halloumi salad Sept16Your choice of meal may depend on the availability of fridge storage or cooking facilities at your place of work. So always think about how you can use leftovers from the night before; grilled salmon can be added to salad leaves and other salad veggies; quinoa is great with some tuna, cucumber and tomatoes; grilled vegetables are delicious with some halloumi cheese added.

shutterstock_72809221 jacket potato with tuna Sept16

If you have access to a microwave why not bring in a homemade bean soup with a wholegrain roll, or knock up a quick jacket potato with tuna and salad – as long as you follow the protein rule your nutritious lunch should last you through till dinner time!


Unfortunately, there tends to be a culture in many UK workplaces that if you take time out for a ‘proper’ lunch break, then you’re a part-time worker. This, of course, is not the case and does not promote a healthy work lifestyle.

shutterstock_173838809 woman at work desk indigestion Sept16

Most people experience some level of stress throughout the working day and it is shown that the digestive system slows down during stressful times. If you are eating at your desk it is more likely that you will not be digesting your food well and this is more likely to cause discomfort during the afternoon.

shutterstock_289351961 team work eating lunch Sept16

Taking some time away from your desk to eat your lunch means you can switch off from work if only for a short time. You are more likely to rush your food whilst sitting at your desk, so moving away from your workspace means you will probably eat more slowly: this in turn means that your digestive enzymes can do their work properly, and should ensure you have less bloating throughout the afternoon.


Well, a walk at least! Once you’ve eaten your lunch away from your desk, take a 15 minute brisk walk. Not only will this make you feel much more energised, it will also clear your head so you’re ready to return to your desk feeling refreshed. And while the sun still shines, just 15 minutes of sunshine a day will give you a good boost of vitamin D which will not only help your bones and teeth, but support your immunity throughout the coming months.

shutterstock_180940427 business woman walking park Sept16

Taking a walk shortly after eating also helps the glucose that has just been released to be better metabolised. This means you will have sustained energy for the rest of the day and that this glucose is less likely to be stored as fat. So, it’s a win-win situation!


Whilst eating away from your desk, it’s a great opportunity to plug into something completely different, something that will take your thoughts away from work: this could be listening to music, a podcast or an ebook, or engaging in an interesting topic online.

shutterstock_427841113 woman on ipad Sept16

‘Ted’ talks are really popular and there are so many that can be watched in around 15/20 minutes – great for anyone who really can’t spare a full hour for lunch. Why not use it as an opportunity to learn a new language, or engage in trending videos that day? Get up to date on the latest digital trends, explore new fitness ideas, discover recipe blogs. By turning your attention to new subjects, your mind will be more refreshed when you return to your desk after lunch.


Many workplace environments offer exercise facilities of one sort or another, whether on-site or somewhere nearby. If there is any opportunity to use your lunchbreak for exercise (whilst still leaving time to eat right) then grab it!

shutterstock_251393422 woman jogging close up trainers Sept16

Exercising at lunch time helps to reset you for the afternoon. Your body responds well at this time of day, due to its natural circadian rhythms. It’s a great time to do some kind of endurance exercise such as jogging or cycling, but any form of exercise that raises your heart rate will be beneficial not just to your physical health but also for your creativity and thinking ability for the rest of the day.

And if all else fails, that 15 walk around the block gets your body moving and ensures you get some much needed fresh air.

So as you return to work feeling refreshed and energised, seize the moment and keep that great feeling going with a new and energising lunchtime routine.


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Get healthy outdoors: making the most of the UK summer

shutterstock_294812558 woman hiking Aug16

With summer now finally here, it’s a great time to grab every opportunity you can to be outdoors. Enjoying the warmer days and evenings with friends and family means being out in the fresh air as much as possible – so why not create some new and healthy habits whilst you’re at it?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares 5 ways you can really benefit from the outdoor life and enhance your wellbeing.

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There are so many ways to enjoy exercise outside during the summer months. And for those of you that really hate the gym (or just don’t want to be inside on a beautiful day), now’s the time to switch it up and get moving outdoors.

shutterstock_84770905 family cycling Aug16

One of the most accessible forms of exercise, which is great for all the family, is cycling. And of course it’s becoming more and more popular, particularly with our recent Olympic successes! Hiking is also a great way of getting out and about, whether it’s a circuit or two of your local park or a day hike in the hills.

shutterstock_175401323 fitness in park Aug16

If you want to keep fit and raise your heart rate then burpees (squat down, jump your legs out behind you, and then jump back up into the air) and walking or alternating lunges are two of the best exercises you can do. Try to see how many burpees you can do in 3 minutes. If you’ve only just started, it won’t be very many initially but this will quickly improve as your fitness levels increase. Even better join a class in the park – there are so many popping up all over the country and all levels of fitness are welcome.


shutterstock_399216388 bbq Aug16

There’s nothing better than the wonderful taste of food freshly cooked on the barbecue, with all those delicious aromas in the air! However, it’s very easy to do the basics and throw a few sausages on the barbecue, served with a traditional lettuce-based salad but it’s not the healthiest. Instead, why not try something different, where you’ll still get your barbecued meat ‘fix’ but with the added benefit of some vegetables for extra vitamin C!

Homemade burgers produced with lean beef mince, roasted red peppers and shredded carrot are really tasty and easy to make: Pre-roast some de-seeded red peppers for around 15 minutes and then finely chop. Then mix up the lean mince, some breadcrumbs, beaten eggs, the roasted peppers and some shredded carrot. Make them into rounds and you’ve got delicious and healthy burgers to go straight onto the barbecue. Serve them with some chopped vine tomatoes, mixed with basil leaves, cucumber and onions and you’ve got a really healthy meal, packed with vitamin C!

shutterstock_93536554 herb garden Aug16

Whether you’ve got a garden, a patio, a balcony or just a windowsill, there’s always room for a herb garden!

As well as providing some wonderful flavours to your recipes, culinary herbs also provide some amazing health benefits. Rosemary, which is the perfect accompaniment to roasted lamb, is really good for the digestive system, but also protects the gut against any nasty invaders; it’s therefore, great to eat before traveling to foreign countries.

Sage, which really gives stews and pork dishes a real lift, is often used in mouthwashes but can also be made into a tea, which helps support the immune system.

Thyme, with its distinctive aroma and taste, is a great addition to soups and meat dishes, and is packed with essential oils which support the digestive system plus have beneficial antiseptic properties.

No space is too small for your personal herb garden and both your culinary skills and your health will reap the rewards!


shutterstock_379857400 tapas mezze Aug16

Just because you’re planning to eat outside doesn’t mean you always have to barbecue. It’s really relaxing just to be able to sit outside on a warm evening and enjoy your usual home menu. But why not evoke a Mediterranean vibe and prepare a traditional mezze plate?

For example, lay out some griddled aubergine (also called eggplant), roasted artichokes, fresh vine tomatoes, cucumber, Parma ham, cubed feta cheese, chopped fresh figs, olives and hummus with some warmed olive ciabatta bread. There’s something for everyone on this plate and you’ve got a great balance of nutrients, protein and carbohydrates so everyone will feel replenished. You can sit and pick at this varied mezze for hours and it also makes a great party platter!


shutterstock_407642230 woman relaxing outside Aug16

Just because you’re outside, doesn’t mean you’ve got to be racing around! You can just sit and enjoy the outdoors, taking in the scenery and watching the world go by or just have some quiet time to yourself reading a book in the open air.

Vitamin D deficiency continues to be a real problem in the UK, so sitting in the sunshine for around 15 minutes a day without sun cream will really boost your vitamin D levels. This in turn will boost your mood and your immune system as well as help support your bones.

Everyone seems happier when the sun comes out. And living in our fast-paced digital age has its benefits but it also means we never fully switch off. Just taking a gentle stroll outdoors and really absorbing the world around can be incredibly therapeutic. Most importantly, make some time for yourself outside, without distractions such as mobile phones or tablets.

So while the weather holds, grab every opportunity you can to get out and about and enjoy the many benefits outdoor living can bring!


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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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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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National Allergy Awareness Week: how nutrition can help fight allergies

shutterstock_360808592 woman in flower field Apr16It’s National Allergy Awareness Week which reminds us that it’s also the start of the allergy season; tree pollen starts to become problematic around this time of year quickly followed by the grass pollen season. But it’s not just pollen that causes allergic reactions; foods, dust, animals, moulds to name but a few can all cause some nasty symptoms.

The good news is that there is much that can be done nutritionally to help ease some of the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her seven top tips on how to help calm it down!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


It sounds simple but it can really help! When an allergen is present the immune system produces antibodies which trigger the release of histamine. Histamine is released in the body as part of its normal allergic response mechanism, and it is produced in greater amounts when the body is dehydrated. So, make sure you’re always drinking at least 1 ½ litres of water daily.

shutterstock_216668371 water bottle splash Sept15Additionally, there are foods that naturally contain high amounts of histamine including red wine, matured cheeses, spinach, strawberries and chocolate so it therefore makes sense to avoid these foods if you are prone to allergies. Preservatives and food colours also encourage the release of histamine. Therefore, a diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables will really help as well.

shutterstock_277712882 onion family Apr16EAT MORE QUERCETIN (BUT WHAT IS IT?)

Quercetin is a natural compound that helps to manage the release of histamine. It’s found in onions, garlic, spring onions, leeks and green tea, therefore these foods should all be included in your diet on a regular basis. Additionally food containing sulphur, such as eggs, together with onion, leek and garlic also help to prevent the release of histamine.

shutterstock_115649197 vitamin D Aug15GET MORE VITAMIN D!

Certain allergies, and in particular allergy-induced asthma attacks, have been linked back to a lack of vitamin D during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant it’s important to make sure you’re supplementing with vitamin D in any case and supplementation during pregnancy is now a specific recommendation from the Department of Health. It will help prevent vitamin D deficiency in your new-born but it also appears to provide some protection from food allergies as well.

shutterstock_265791974 vit C foods Sept15VITAMIN C IS KEY!

Vitamin C has many amazing health benefits but it’s particularly helpful for keeping the airways clear, which can become constricted during many allergic reactions, causing coughing and wheezing.  It also works really well with quercetin and, interestingly, both are often found together in the same foods, especially apples.

Because your immune system is on ‘alert’ during an allergic response, vitamin C can really help to keep it in check and reduce histamine levels. So, up your intake of fruit and veg – there’s such a wealth of colourful fruits and vegetables around so remember to try to eat a rainbow every day! All the berry fruits, especially strawberries, are high in vitamin C.

shutterstock_221308501 omega 3 foods Apr15CALM DOWN WITH OMEGA 3

The omega 3 essential fats seem to have an amazingly calming effect on allergies and this is partly due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel are great sources, as are nuts and seeds if you’re vegetarian or don’t like fish. Additionally, to obtain the real benefits of these amazing omegas, it’s a good idea to take a daily omega 3 supplement to really help suppress reactions.

shutterstock_137168057 digestion Apr16GET FRIENDLY!

The role played by the beneficial or ‘friendly’ bacteria that happily live in our digestive tracts, is well-documented. They are essential for a smooth-running digestive system but also play a key role in the health of the immune system.

A healthy gut wall lowers the potential of an immune reaction, particularly to food, but also to other potential allergens. Even better, the presence of good bacteria appears to stimulate the production of calming immune cells so, although hay fever is caused by airborne allergens, a strong immune system helps to prevent an immune response.

It’s a really good idea to take a course of probiotics for three months each year during high allergy season to really keep your digestive tract in good shape.

shutterstock_157407788 3 milk glasses Apr16WATCH THE DAIRY

Although dairy foods provide great amounts of protein and calcium, they can also cause an inflammatory response within the body; this can increase the amount of mucous your body produces, which can become problematic.

Dairy can often be a contributory factor in asthma and hay fever, so if you’re suffering from allergies then it might be worth reducing or even avoiding dairy for a couple of months to see if it helps.

There are plenty of healthy, dairy-free alternatives – think almond, hazelnut or soya milk – all of which still contain calcium. They are also great sources of protein. Additionally, green leafy vegetables are rich in calcium so you won’t be missing out on essential nutrients and you might just find you’re sneezing a little less!

So, if you’ve been dreading the pollen or you’re already fed up with your allergies, there’s plenty of nutritional help at hand to help see you through the summer months.


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