Should I count calories?

With all these calorie counting apps that are around and the pressure is better on us to look a certain way calorie counting can be an easy trap to fall into. Whilst it can be useful in some clinical instances I don’t think it is helpful for the general purposes of dieting.
 
Formally, a Calorie is a measure of the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water one degree Celsius. It was first used in engineering and physics, but eventually found its way into nutrition, we have Wilbur Atwater to thank for that.
 
Whilst it may make sense that tracking your calories, macros and nutritional intake will help you with your weight, overall health or dietary intake in fact it can have the opposite affect. It can lead to you becoming obsessed with counting everything you eat and feeling you have to stick within a certain number of calories per day. This will stop you enjoying your food and impact your socialising too.  What if you are out with friends in a cafe, a once a week occurance and the cake you is 450kcals plus a coffee 150kcals but you are only allowing yourself to eat 1500kcals a day? That cake is 1/5th of your calorie intake for the day, so is it worth eating it? Do you choose to eat it knowing you will be over your calorie limit for the day but that you have enjoyed your cake and time with friends, do you choose to eat the coffee and cake but then restrict your calories the next day to make up for it or do you decline the cake and feel deprived and as if you cannot join in?
 
Dietitian UK: Why I don't like calorie counting
 
I’d suggest that calorie counting can be a useful guide and tool for one off occasions but over the long term it has the potential to become obsessive.  Following a calorie restrictive diet does not make it a balanced diet. You could be getting all your calories from just fruit and veggies or be skipping a whole food group out.
 
There is also the question of is it even accurate? There is no way to accurately know the exact calories of the food apart from using a calorimeter in a laboratory. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to burn my food up each time! Yes this is worked out for us on food labels but that is a guide. A slightly different portion size, a different way of cooking, a slight change to a recipe and it will have a small affect. Does that matter? No not really as the calories are just a guide. 
 
Delving deeper,  your body will also not necessarily absorb all the calories that you eat. For some foods such as nuts for example, a proportion of the calories are excreted. So even know you may be eating  X  amount of calories you are not necessarily going to be absorbing all of those. Other foods can make your metabolism work harder, again showing calorie counting to not be a 100% accurate tool.
 
Personally I do not think counting calories on a daily basis is helpful and it can be a negative trap that you fall into. Instead look at the balance of your diet. Think about getting a range of nutrients in to your day and a wide variety of foodstuffs. Ensure you cook from scratch as much as possible, eating wholegrains and starchy foods, fruit and veggies, protein and healthy fats regularly. Enjoy what you eat, stop when you are full, eat when you’re hungry and be mindful of the food that you consume but not consumed by it.
 
 

Slow cooker chicken casserole

The temperature is set to drop. For me that means it’s time to bring out the slow cooker. What I love is how such little effort brings such great rewards. This chicken casserole took minutes to prepare, hours to cook and then was devoured. Plus the house smells amazing when you get home. 

So here is the recipe for you. This is totally something to make your own, use whatever you have in your store cupboards remembering to add a little liquid but not too much!

I served ours with extra veggies on the side (I have a broccoli addict of a child) and rice. My children love a slow cooker meal as it’s always so soft, easy to cut and chew.

Print

Slow cooker chicken casserole

Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings 4 adults

Ingredients

  • 400 g chicken thigh fillets
  • 4 carrots chopped chunky
  • 2 green peppers chopped chunky
  • 2 onions chopped chunky
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 reduced salt stock cube
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 150 ml water

Instructions

  1. Prepare the veggies.



  2. Pop into the slow cooker with the chicken and all other ingredients.


  3. Cook on high for 5 hours.

 

How to eat for Brain Health

We all want a healthy, functioning brain for as along as possible. How we eat and drink really does impact it.
 
Studies on cognitive function and brain health show that overall a wholefood plant-based diet with a limited intake of animal and high saturated fat foods is the way forward. A big piece of research on this is call the MIND diet. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago created the MIND diet –  this identified food groups and nutrients from the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet that had been linked to lower risk of dementia.  Over 900 older men and women’s diets were analyzed and  people who stuck closely to a MIND diet were 53% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over the 4.5-year study period, compared with people who adhered least to the diet.
 
10 brain healthy foods identified by the MIND diet:
Green leafy vegetables
Vegetables
Nuts
Berries
Beans/lentils/soybeans
Wholegrains
Seafood
Poultry
Olive Oil
Wine (in moderation).
 
5 foods identified to not be good for brain health by the MIND diet:
Red meat
Butter and margarine
Cheese
Pastries and sweets
Fried or fast food
 
See you can see that a brain healthy diet really does go along the lines of a Mediterranean diet and general healthy eating. Other research on 447 adults showed that they performed better in cognitive tests after four years on a Mediterranean diet compare to a control diet.
 
Here is my meal plan published in the Daily Mail as part of Twinstitute for BBC2.
 
Let’s dig a bit deeper….there are some specific nutrients that have been highlighted as improving cognitive function.
 
B vitamins and folate :  shown to have a link to improved cognitive function, possibly by decreasing homocysteine levels. The evidence is not robust but suggestive. For example a study on elderly people with an increased risk of dementia showed that high doses of B vitamins slight brain shrinkage over 2 yrs.
Specifically looking at vitamin B12, cohort studies have suggested that dementia rates are highest in those with a lower B12 status.
 
Omega 3’s: the brain comprises 60% fat and is one of the fattest organs in the body. With such a high percentage of fat in the brain it’s no surprise that fatty acid’s are important nutrient. Specifically we need to know which fatty acids are important. The research we have suggests that it is the omega three fatty acid‘s to focus on. These have the potential to slow cognitive decline. Fit to focus on therefore our fish, shellfish, algae and the plant foods walnuts, linseeds and chia seeds.
 
Antioxidants including Vits A,C and E: Oxidative stress is one of the primary reasons are brain function declines. Therefore antioxidants are of upmost importance. This brings us back to the good old fruit and vegetables once again proving that we just need to be eating more of them. There has been some research looking specifically at berries and berry juice linking this to increasing memory scores, also the famous avocado for its vitamin E content. Similarly flavonoids found in red wine, dark chocolate, green tea can also help fight oxidative stress. There are some small scale, low power studies that look at blueberries, green tea and red wine that suggest these can be helpful. We have some limited research suggesting that nut intake (specifically walnuts) is associated with better brain function. This fits in with the Mediterranean diet, they contain antioxidants including vitamin E and so it makes sense.
 
Water: about 75% of the brain is made up of water therefore dehydration even in small amounts can have a big affect. Therefore staying hydrated is key.
 
So top foods to eat more of?
Oily fish
Green tea
Plenty of fruit and veggies
Green veggies
Colourful berries
Nuts, seeds including walnuts
Avocado
Wholegrains
Drink water
 
And then a little of the red wine plus dark choc makes a perfect combination.

 

 

The next new super-nutrient we should all be eating.

Fibre is one of the lesser talked about nutrients and yet so vitally important for our bodies. A recent summary of the scientific literature on fibre has shown just how key It is to eat a high-fibre diet. Learn more about what fibre is here.
 
The research:
 
185 studies and 58 clinical trials were reviewed, this was a total of 4635 people! So we are talking big numbers and not a one off study. This means we can put more trust in this research and it is significant.
 
So what is this compelling evidence of fibre on health?
 
The research shows us that eating at 25g to 29 g of fibre day can lead to a 15-30%  decrease in all cause death. Eaitng more fibre led to13 fewer deaths per 1000 people and 6 fewer cases of heart disease per 1000 people.
 
Overall there was a 16 to 24% reduction of heart disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, and colorectal cancer. So we’re talking about up to a quarter reduction in your risk of these diseases just by eating more fibre.
 
Eating 8 g more of fibre per day had significant reductions in the incidence of these diseases and in the number of total deaths.
 
 
What are we eating now?
When we look at what the current UK population is eating only 9% of us are meeting the fibre recommendations of 30 g a day. Average fibre intake for UK adults is 19g/day according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2018).
 
So why are we not meeting the recommedations?  Is is even achievable to eat 30 g of fibre a day.
 
The advent of clean eating, low carb diets and dieting means carbohydrates have been given a bad name. However the wholegrain versions of these foods provide us with plenty of fibre.  There are other foods that provide fibre too – nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and of course fruits and veggies.
 
I think it is achievable to meet the 30g a day, here is an example day for you:
 
Porridge with berries and almonds for breakfast.
A baked potato including the skin with salad and an apple.
Baked salmon with whole-grain rice and two portions of vegetables.
A banana with yoghurt and some seeds.
 
 
Of course some people may struggle with eating a high fibre diet and with all of these things it is not a one-size fits all approach and a balance is key. For medical conditions, the general nutrition advice may need to be tailored to your needs and that is absolutely ok. So if you cannot eat a high fibre diet do not panic, just focus on eating the foods you know nourish your body. If you need help with this do seek out a registered dietitian/nutritionist who knows their stuff!
 

Back to school lunches

Back to School. It’s that time again. My girl loves having packed lunch is and actually I quite like knowing what she’s having. But it can become repetitive, so one of our aims is to get inspiration and vary each of the food groups. We always go for a carbohydrate option, some protein, raw veggies and fruit as the basics. Then we add in a few extras such a yoghurt, a muesli bar or some cake. Of course one of the biggest factors is what your child actually likes! It’s no good giving them beautiful looking nutritious food if the won’t eat it.
 
I’d love to say that we spend time each weekend baking for lunches or that we whip up spectacular salads each week. Truth be told, packed lunches are made quickly after dinner whilst I tidy up the kitchen, usually before I teach Pilates and while the kids run around the house like crazies. It’s doesn’t have to be complicated, but balance and variety are 2 of the keys 🔑.
 
Carbohydrates: Bagels, wraps, pitta, bread, baguette, crackers, rice, pasta, couscous.
 
Protein: tuna, cheese, ham, salami, peanut butter, cottage cheese, cream cheese, eggs, turkey, chicken, hummus.
 
Raw veggies: cucumber, 1/2 avocado (with a spoon), tomatoes, peppers, carrots, gherkins, olives, sweet corn, peas, mange tout, sugar snap peas, mushrooms.
 
Fruit: melon, apple, berries, satsumas, pear, grapes.
 
Extras: malt loaf, yoghurt, cheese portion, popcorn, cheesy biscuits, cereal bar, dried fruit bar, homemade flapjack.
 
 
 
 
 
Sandwich Filling Ideas:
Cheese and pickle 
Hummus and ham 
Egg and hummus
Salami and cream cheese
Avocado and cream cheese
Avocado and egg salad
Tuna and mayo
Mashed chickpeas, avocado and mayo
Peanut butter
Nut butter and banana
Cheese and marmite
 
Alternatives to Sandwiches:
Sushi (make a batch and use it for 3 days)
Pasta, rice or couscous  salads
Pizza Whirls – use your choice of toppings
Picky Box – crackers, cheese, veggies and let them make their own lunch at school
 
I’d love to hear your ideas! I share packed lunches regularly on my inst-stories so do give me a follow
 

Should I eat more plant based diet?

What are the benefits?

Plant based diets (PBD’s) are better for the environment and provide a more sustainable way of eating. There are also health benefits due to eating more plants altering the nutritional profile of your body. 

PBD’s tend to be lower in saturated fat due to less meat. They usually contain higher amounts of fruit and vegetables which means higher fibre content for digestive health (those bowels) and a greater range of antioxidant plus phytochemicals. 

The inclusion of wholegrains provides B vitamins and fibre, beans/pulses for soluble fibre and these help with blood sugar control, soy products provide phytoestrogens that can be helpful in the menopause plus nuts and and seeds that are packed with antioxidants and micronutrients.

Some specific health benefits:

Research shows us that PBDs can lead to lower levels of total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. This is going to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

 Also improvements can be seen in serum glucose levels which helps in overall health and in type 2 diabetes control. 

There has been shown to be a lower level of overall inflammation in the body. These factors combines are thought to contribute to a reduced risk of chronic diseases. 

Does this mean we should all go vegetarian/vegan? Well not necessarily. What I do think it means is that having a greater emphasis on eating plants sources of food is helpful and healthful. As with all ways of eating there are many ways to do it, so the benefits you see on paper will depend on how you actually approach this way of life. This in my mind is about adding in plant foods more than taking things away. 

Will I be missing out nutrients?

It is perfectly possible to meet your nutritional needs on a PBD. However you will need to be more intentional about it. Planning and being thoughtful about some key nutrients plus a couple of supplements will ensure you get all your body needs.

Protein : It can be easier to get protein from animal sources. However this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be eating plant proteins! Most people in the UK are exceeding their protein needs, especially with the focus on protein in so many snack foods right now.  When calorie needs are met it is more than possible to meet your protein requirements on a PBD. However it is a good idea to vary your protein sources through the week so that cover all those essential amino acids the body needs.

  • Mycoprotein, soya protein and pea protein 
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Tofu
  • Eggs and dairy (if these are eaten)

Iron : The recommended daily amount of iron for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher that for non-vegetarians, as iron which comes from plant sources (non-haem iron) is less efficiently utilised in our body than iron which comes from animal sources. Eat iron rich foods daily and all should be well. 

  • Iron fortified breakfast cereals
  • Beans
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Wholegrains 
  • Dried fruit 
  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Yeast extract 
  • Eggs, fish and poultry (if these are eaten)
johnny-mcclung-702726-unsplash

Calcium: one of my hobby horses, as I like to look after my bones. Calcium can be lower on a plant based diet but there are plant foods that will help those bones stay strong. Check your plant based milk is supplemented and get on those leafy greens. Some studies show a lower bone mineral density in those not eating dairy, so this is definitely a nutrient to think about. 

  • Fortified dairy alternatives (like: soya or nut milks and yoghurts)
  • Fortified juice drinks
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Tofu
  • Beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Bread
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

 

Vitamin B12: as this is mainly found in animal products it is one of the nutrients you may end up lacking. It is found in yeast extract and most multivitamins/minerals.

Omega 3 : mainly talked about as being in oily fish but also found in seaweed, linseeds and walnuts. If you know you won’t take in many of these foods you could take a supplement.

  • Seaweed (not recommended more than once per week) 
  • Chia seeds, linseeds/flaxseeds, hemp seeds 
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Soybeans and soybean oil
  • Tofu
  • Spreads and breads which are fortified with omega 3
  • Oily fish (if this are eaten)
  • Eggs and dairy which are fortified with omega 3 (if these are eaten)
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Iodine: highlighted in some studies as a nutrient that can be low on a PBD, but also on a meat eaters diet too!

  • Iodised salt
  • A limited amount of fortified dairy alternatives (e.g. specific brands of oat milk) 
  • Seaweed (but this is not recommended more than once per week) 
  • Dairy products and seafood (if these are eaten)

Selenium: mainly found in Brazil nuts so not necessarily a problem on  PBD but a good one to be aware of.

  • Brazil nuts 
  • Eggs and fish (if these are eaten)

Improve your Diet for 2019

 
Whilst diets are flying everywhere and detoxes around every corner here is how to make long-term change your diet that will give you lasting health benefits for life.
 
How are you eat impacts your gut health and your long-term risk of diseases. So here are my top 5 food goals, which I’m taking onboard for myself too.
 
 
Increase your fruit and vegetable consumption by one portion.
It may not seem like much but if you manage to do this every day then it’s going to make a long-term change over the year.
 
Plan your meals.
Plan out what you’re going to eat incorporating a variety of foods across the week. Different colour vegetables for the different antioxidants and phytochemicals. Different grains, different protein sources (e.g chicken one day, red meat another, fish and lentils other times.
 
Eat more gut friendly foods.
This can be simply more fibre from whole grains and fruit/veggies and more probiotics from live yoghurt, sourdough bread, pickles or kefir.
 
Go plantbased where possible
Note this this does not mean you need to go vegan. Incorporating plantbased proteins is going to be an ever increasing trend. It’s definitely one to follow. Plant based meals are better in terms of sustainability and environmental impact plus they deliver a range of nutrients you may not get through a meat meal. More on this to come in my next blog posts.
 
Cook from scratch more.
This doesn’t have to mean every day but go for it if you can! Everyone is busy so try planning in times when you can bulk cook and stocking up the freezer. Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be complicated or take that much time. I will be posting regular recipes on my social media to show what we eat. Trust me, I don’t have hours to cook.
 
However you start your new year try and keep your goals simple, achievable and remember that food is to be enjoyed! 
 
 
 
 

Nitrates, nitrites and eating sausages.

There has been so much talk about red meat over the last few years. The guidelines from the WHO told us not to eat too much red meat and showed the link between red meat and colorectal cancer. This risk was higher with processed red meat. Today it’s been more news about processed meat causing cancer, so as a population we are still eating our bacon it seems.

The problem this time is nitrates (NO3) and nitrites (NO2). These are often added to processed meats as they help it keep its pink colour and are important in food safety – protecting against botulism. Nitrates are metabolised to nitrites in the body, these are all fine until they combine with protein to form Nitrosamines. These can be carcinogenic. There lies the problem.

However nitrates themselves can be beneficial, they can relax blood vessels, being beneficial for blood pressure. They can improve the blood flow to muscles in exercise and they are a cofactor for reactions in the body.

Nitrates are found in processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami and chorizo. Interestingly they don’t seem to be added into UK made sausages, which is a slight win. They are also found added into higher amounts in smoked fish, cured fish and beer (especially German beer). The levels in your piece of ham are small. Nitrates are also found in vegetables however these naturally occuring forms do not appear to react in the body in the same way as those added into meats.

The take home – eating less meat is a good thing for the planet and for our bodies, but there is no need to cut it out entirely. In my opinion cutting things out is generally not a helpful approach. Processed meat is not something to be eating daily but it is ok to eat it occasionally. You can find some processed meats now that are nitrate free, check the labels nitrate/nitrites, but remember that does not mean you can eat it regularly. As a population we all should be eating less meat and more plant based proteins when we can. So keep that bacon sandwich for a now and again brekkie. 

                              

 

 

The benefits of Green Tea

Green tea is made by the rapid steaming of freshly harvested leaves which stops the process of oxidation to black tea.
 
Green and black tea contain similar levels of total flavonoids but the difference in oxidation means there are differing types of flavanoids. Black tea has higher levels of theaflavins and thearubigins and green tea has 3.5 x the catechins levels. The main catechin in green tea is Epigallocatchin-3-gallate (EPCG).
 
Brewing time, the method to make your tea and the tea quality are all things that influence antioxidant status. Tea polyphenols are effective antioxidants and scavengers of free radicals. Studies show an increases in antioxidant levels in humans after drinking green tea. This is what is likely to provide any health benefits.
 
 
There is a misconception that green tea is caffeine free like a herbal tea. It is lower in caffeine but still contains some. Up to 400mg of caffeine a day is considered safe. That’s 8 cups of green tea! It may not be as hydrating as water but it does still provide hydration.
 
Black Tea : 40-70mg caffeine per cup
Coffee: 80-115mg caffeine per cup
Green Tea: 25mg caffine per cup
 
Most studies on tea are observational, are conducted on animals or in Asia where there is a different diet. Therefore it is an area we need clearer studies and research results.
 
Heart disease
Flavanoids in green tea has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels and decrease blood clotting. A meta-analysis of 13 research trials showed a decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, blood Triglyceride (fat) levels and overall stroke risks. So it does sound like there are benefits for your heart.
 
Weight loss
This is a an area that had a lot of interest. There is some mixed evidence here suggested green tea may stimulate thermogenesis and increase fat oxidation. This means you burn more calories when you digest your food and you use up more fat stores. Sounds good but the results were modest and so this won’t give you large weight loss. It’s certainly no magic cure but switching from a soft drink to green tea daily will reduce your calorie intake.
 
Cancer
There are very mixed results in the research so over there is no clear proof either way. Green tea is certainly packed with antioxidants so it could help and it won’t hinder.
 
Osteoporosis
Animal studies and studies on post menopausal women shows an association between tea consumption and better bone health due to the tea polyphenols. We have some emerging evidence for green tea improving muscle strength and bone health. An exciting area to focus on.
 
Brain Health
There is some research showing a link between green tea and brain health with it improving memory and brain power. Could be worth a green tea cuppa in the mornings.
 
 
Over all we need more studies to give us further information but it does seem that green tea is a good choice for your cuppa.

Menopause and Diet.

The menopause is a time of life that can be distressing and cause symptoms that affect the quality of life significantly. However it is also a time of life that we neglect to talk about which makes it harder for women to know the evidence for treatments and where to get support. 

When does the menopause occur?

The average age is 51yrs, but there is a wide range. The menopause is defined as 12 months after your last menstrual period.  Women can be in the peri-menopausal stage where hormone levels are changing and symptoms are occuring for 4-5 years before the menopause occurs.

Symptoms can include hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, disrupted sleep, brain fog, poor concentration, vaginal dryness and joint pains. For some these are mild and for others these are severe causing day to day life to be altered and upsetting. 

There are many supplements, pills and potions around that are said to help with the symptoms of the menopause. Sadly a lot of these have no real evidence behind them and end up being very expensive. Nutrition is something that plays a pivotal role in our health so it will come as no suprise that there are dietary changes that can be made to help offer some relief. There are also health issues that need ot be considered with the menopause approaching, which are covered below. 

Hot flushes:

These are one of the most common symptoms and one reason why HRT is recommended. Other lifestyle changes that can help incllude reducing the intake of alcohol, spicy food and caffeine. Weight loss can also help, a study has shown an improvement of 30% with 5kg weight loss.

Countries that eat more soya foods seem to have a lower incidence of hot flushes. This is thought to be due to the phytoestogens. Research suggests 2 x 200ml glasses of soya milk a day of 80g soya mince will give you this benefit. 

Bone Health

Bone loss is escalated in the menopause, so calcium is slowly lost from the bones. this is due to osteoclast cells that breakdown bone work harder than osteoblasts (cells that build bone). The recommended daily amount of calcium in the UK is 700mg/d if there is no risk of osteoporosis. However many women reach the menopause with low bone mineral density, in which case they will need to be having more like 1000-1200mg/d. Therefore it is important to focus on increasing calcium rich foods. Good examples include dairy, fortified plant milks, sesame seeds, dried figs, watercress and fortified bread. Weight bearing exercise will also help with bone health.

A note of caution is that excess vitamin A is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, so post-menopausal women should not exceed 600 micrograms a day. 

Heart Health:

Levels of total cholesterol can rise after the menopause whilst levels of HDL cholesterol tend to fall. This can, combined with weight gain and falling oestrogen (oestrogen is cardio-protective) can be a risk for heart health. 

Weight gain:

Metabolic rate slows down by about 10% after the menopause, this is why central weight gain can occur. Therefore staying active and eating a balanced diet is key. Resistance training using your body weight or light weights is a good alternative to high impact workouts. 

Top Tips:

  1. Reduce saturated fats and eat more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, for example more nuts, avocado, olive oil and seeds. 
  2. Soluble fibre is good for heart health and cholesterol levels. Godo foods include oats, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas.
  3. Incorporate more soy based foods into your diet. Soya milk, yoghurt, soy mince and tofu.
  4. Ensure you are eating calcium containing foods – dairy, plant based fortified milks, green leafy veggies, tofu and tinned fish with bones. Also take a vitamin D supplement.
  5. Keep active and include weight bearing exercise in your week.

 

Freelance Dietitian specialising in helping those with Eating Disorders and a Media Spokesperson for the profession.