Gill South gets the lowdown on natural ways to improve your health and finds exercise is still number one.

I can't help thinking when I sit across from Dianna Tawharu that in olden times, say the 16th century, she would have been considered an alchemist who heals and makes people healthy.

Many a harried mum comes in to see the trained herbalist, nutritionist and naturopath at Global Health Clinic or her private practice, looking for a magic potion to heal their child's rash, raise their immune system or help with their husband's ingrown toenail.

We talk about getting healthy in summer. Summer is a good time to detox, says Dianna. She's not talking about fasting - just looking carefully at what you are eating. She suggests lots of leafy green vegetables - they provide a lot of fibre, vitamins and minerals. You should be eating three or four servings of greens a day, she says. Salad with breakfast, that's a new one. Detoxing is giving your body a spring clean, she says.

To start this process it is important to first make sure you have good bowel flora. Apparently this means having good numbers of acid-producing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

I assume with detoxing, you should drink lots of water. Dianna says this is true, but the quantity depends on the time of the year and how much fresh fruit and vegetables you eat, how much exercise you are doing, how much you are sweating, your bowel movements and so on. Generally between one and a half to two litres of water throughout the day is good. Some people drink three to six litres a day but may not be excreting enough and this can make them a bit puffy. They literally look waterlogged, Dianna says.

The naturopath, who used to work at Harvest Whole Foods, advises eating organic food to reduce the levels of toxins in your body. She tells me about salvesterols which are plant-derived compounds essential for wellbeing that cannot be made in the body and are supplied through our plants in our diet. The problem is that modern food selection and production methods are removing these natural antioxidants from the diet. Since agrichemicals have been introduced, the levels of salvesterols in food crops are a lot lower but if you eat organic food, you will be consuming higher levels of salvesterols. Dianna explains one reason for the disappearance of salvesterols in the diet is that they taste bitter, which consumers have become unaccustomed to. They are veges like kale, cavalo nero and endives. That bitter flavour is very important, she says.

Meanwhile the most important thing you can do for your health is to increase exercise, she says. I tell Dianna I want to swim more regularly. Swimming is a good one because it does not put stress on the joints, says Dianna. Exercise helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels - helps to beat depression, insomnia, and probably reduces the risk of developing cancer.

Next week:

After a fair bit of time in the sun, and with pale skin getting more freckled by the year, I think it's about time to get a skin check. I visit skin cancer specialist Dr Sharad Paul.