Category Archives: Nutrition Education

Which diet is the best?

Huge thanks to Naomi Leppitt, RD for her input in this post.

  • There are so many diets out there and a comparison study of Atkins, Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers and Rosemary Conley showed they all result in weight loss of a similar amount (Truby, 2006). 
  • Very low-calorie shake diets (eg Lighter Life, Cambridge, Herbalife etc) result in greater immediate weight loss than standard low-calorie diets and may even induce the remission of diabetes, but over a year, they’re shown to be just as effective as each other (Tsai and Wadden, 2006).
  • What about  low-carb/low-fat diets? Well, in theory- a low carb diet should help with fat loss. When you eat carbs your body releases insulin  part of insulin’s job is to enable cells , to use the energy from carbs or store it. Eating less carbs can mean less insulin = less fat storage. Studies show in the short term, low-carb dieters lose more weight than low-fat dieters, over the longer term, they have similar results (Hession, 2008). 
  • Intermittent fasting diets, like the 5:2 work because on the days you  eat normally, most people will not fully compensate for their fasting days,  they eat less overall; and the fasting period has all sorts of positive effects on how your body processes energy.
  • What about exercise? When comparing dieting alone versus just an exercise regime, a comparison of multiple studies found that more people lose weight with dieting than exercise (Shaw, 2006), and that’s likely because it’s easier to reduce the amount of energy taken in, than try to burn that much more through activity. For example, cutting down a couple of biscuits will save 160kcals but it would take a 30 minute work to expend that amount of energy. However, those that diet and exercise, lose more weight than just dieting alone (Wu, 2009). 
  • So there is not one diet that is necessarily better than another. They can all work IN THE SHORT TERM. This is the key. In fact the research tells us that 80% of weight lost by dieting is regained after 5 yrs.
  • Instead of sticking strictly to one type of diet for the short term, think about what will work for your lifestyle long term. Diets are about changing the balance of your macronutrients and reducing your calories or burning more through movement. So how can you make swaps you can stick to? If you love carbs, do you need to check your portion sizes are not too large? What can you add into your diet to boost the quality? More fruit and veggies can mean less sugary snacks and eating protein at each meal can keep you fuller. Can you build more walking into your day? Quality of life is so important, so any changes need to be sustainable and not make you feel restricted or miserable. 

So how do I achieve healthy weight loss?

When someone wants to lose weight, there is often the desire to lose it quickly. We all want change NOW! However, it’s worth being mindful of the other effects of rapid weight loss and crash diets on your body. When you lose weight fast:

  • That initial fast weight loss is satisfying but it is due to fluid losses. It won’t all be fat.
  • Muscle is lost too as well as fat, which can slow metabolism. This means you use less calories in daily life.  It can be particularly detrimental when you’re older, as it can lead to frailty.
  • By eating minimally you just probably won’t be getting enough nutrients, especially if you are cutting out whole food groups ie no carbs, or no dairy. This can be ok short term but if these changes are for the long term you need to replace those nutrients.

A healthier weight loss approach is:

  1. To make small changes over time that you can keep to for the long term. 
  2. Find a dietary approach that works for your lifestyle and food preferences.
  3. Don’t pick fad diets that cut out whole food groups and promise unrealistic results.
  4. Think about what you can add in rather than what you need to take out. Do you need more fruit and veg, more water, can you have yoghurt as a pudding to prevent that mid afternoon choccie biscuit?
  5. Avoid weigh yourself every day or even each week or even at all… because your body weight is affected by so many things other than what you eat. It can be demoralising and demotivating when the scales don’t change as quickly as you want them to. Think about how your clothes fit and other signs that your weight is changing.
  6. Partner your food changes with some gentle increases in daily activity. You don’t have to sign up to a marathon, but there are some great couch-to-5k programs and at home videos to follow. In fact you can buy my Pilates DVD here.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself the foods that you love but eat them in sensible amounts and frequencies.

References:

Hession M et al. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obes Rev 2009, 10(1):36-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00518.x.

Truby H, et al, Randomised controlled trial of four commercial weight loss programmes in the UK: initial findings from the BBC “diet trials”. BMJ 2006, 17;332(7555):1418

Tsai AG and Wadden TA The evolution of very-low-calorie diets: an update and meta-analysis. Obesity 2006 14(8):1283-93.

Shaw  KA, et al. Exercise for overweight or obesity. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 4. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003817.pub3.

Wu T et al Long-term effectiveness of diet-plus-exercise interventions vs. diet-only interventions for weight loss: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev 2009, 10(3):313-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00547.x. 

Hall D.H and K.Scott. Maintenance of lost weight and long term management of obesity. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012

Which Oil should I choose?

We all need fats and oils in our diet for our bodies to function properly and for our food to taste food and cook properly. The question I was asked recently was which oil is the best choice? So here is a run down for you:

When choosing an oil the top things to consider are:

1. Smoke point – the temperature at which oils start to break down and release free radicals that can cause damage to the body (see my previous post on this).

2. The type of fats – Monounsaturated fats have heart health benefits and can help improve cholesterol levels. These are a better choice over saturated fats. However we always need balance so some saturated fat in the diet is also fine.

3. Flavour – an obvious essential to consider. How does the flavour suit the food you are preparing? 

4. Cost and sustainability – whilst is it not always true the most expensive oils are the healthiest, they can have a better flavour and could be more sustainable.

Extra virgin olive oil

(EVOO) well known as a healthy oil due to having the highest monounsaturated fat content of all the oils making it super heart healthy. Plus, it contains Polyphenols (antioxidants) that can fight the free radicals in the body. Its smoke point is low which means it is not suitable for using at high temperatures. Better kept for salad dressings and drizzling on bread.

Light olive oil is a better choice for general purpose cooking as it has a high smoke point. A great general purpose oil for roasting, grilling and a stir fry. 

Coconut Oil

Has a high smoke point, so can be used in all forms of cooking, however it’s solid nature at room temperature makes it unsuitable for a salad dressing.  It has a lot of health claims but these are controversial and lacking in evidence. Whilst it is totally fine to use in normal quantities, large amounts are not going to give extra health benefits. Great for Asian dishes where you want that coconut flavour.

Rapeseed oil

Rapseed has a medium-high smoke point and a neutral taste making it a good multipurpose oil. With the lowest saturated fats and a blend of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is can help with cholesterol levels. Plus it contains vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant good for skin health.

Sesame oil

This is one of my top favourites for a stir fry due to it’s nutty taste and mid-range smoke point. It contains monounsaturated fats and antioxidants too, making it healthy for the heart. 

Avocado oil

Contains monounsaturated fats which are good for heart health. It has the highest smoke point of all plant oils so can be used for all forms of cooking plus dressings and cold foods. However it comes with a price tag and is not a sustainable crop.

So the verdict. For general purpose cooking choose a rapeseed or light olive oil. The other oils can be nice to have for different flavours and styles of cuisine, but aren’t essential!

SHOULD I GO LOW FODMAP?

Currently, many people are being sent straight to the low FODMAP diet and it is being suggested they start on this diet by themselves. This diet has a big health halo about it and is being seen as a miracle cure. Now whilst this is an evidenced based approach and totally can work for many people, there is more to this than meets the eye. In reality there is never a miracle cure and this is a complex diet that really needs dietetic support or a lot of support from a health care professional who understands it. This diet is very restrictive leading to large changes in the foods you eat, many people follow the first elimination stage and do not progress to the reintroduction stage leaving them with limited food options. The Fodmap diet can be suggested too early on, as there are a number of simpler strategies to try first, which may make all the difference.

Firstly, what is the this Fodmap thing? FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. This essentially creates a diet low in allergens and common triggers, with foods being introduced back to the diet slowly to assess their role in triggering a flare up. People often report these foods as common triggers:

  • Dairy
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Caffeine 
  • Fatty foods
  • Certain fruit and vegetables
  • Lentils, beans and pulses

So cutting out all these foods gives your digestive system a rest, but it also leaves you with large gaps in your nutrition. Being on this diet also affects your gut bacteria and could after your fibre intake. So it’s key not to stay on it for longer than you need to. This is why working with a specialist is important, someone to help you plan what you can eat, find a balanced way of eating and ensure you only stay on the elimination stage for as less a time as possible.

You know how sometimes in life we have the tendency to jump into the deep end before seeing what other options there are?Whilst these strategies may not help everyone they are worth trying first.

  1. CHEW WELL – Slow down your eating and chew thoroughly. It helps your body digest.
  2. SMALLER MEALS – Having smaller meals means there is less for the body to digest. Do make sure you eat more frequently so you still meet your nutritional needs.
  3. REDUCE YOUR STRESS – Easier said than done but find things that help you destress. Reading, mindfulness, colouring, a bath. Whatever works for you!
  4. FIBRE – Try reducing your fibre or increasing it! It depends on your symptoms. If you have bloating and pain then decreasing insoluble fibre (beans, pulses, seeds, root veggies and brassicas) can help and slowly increasing soluble fibre (certain fruit and veggies, pats, pectin) can help. This has to be balanced with your fluid intake.
  5. MOVE MORE – Moderate exercise can also help symptoms.
  6. WATCH YOUR DRINKS – Reduce caffeine and alcohol.
  7. BREATHE BETTER – deep breathing can make a world of difference to our bodies and minds. 10 minutes a day can really help.

Whilst I appreciate it is not always easy to get access to a dietitian who is trained in the low Fodmap method it is worth trying these initial strategies first

Priya is trained in the low Fodmap diet and can work with you on a 1-1 private basis in person or via video call. This requires a minimum of 2 consultations.

Ways to keep youR gut happy

Huge thanks to student dietitian, Kristi Brown for this guest post.

“Gut health” is a term that you will have heard if you are remotely interested in nutrition, health and/or science. But what does it mean and why is everyone talking about it?

The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria that reside in the GI tract, particularly, the large intestine. These good bacteria influence the health of the gut and play a role in helping to regulate the body’s systems, such as the digestive and immune system. There is also very interesting emerging research being done surrounding the role of the microbiome in mental health conditions and the “gut-brain axis” – a bidirectional communication between the microbiome and the brain.

So, (hopefully!), it is a bit clearer why good gut health is being promoted but what might not be as clear is – how do we achieve it?

One such way is fibre. Fibre cannot be completely broken down by digestive enzymes in the stomach and so, passes through to the large intestine where it acts as food for the bacteria there.

The current fibre recommendation is 30g, however, it has been noted that people in the UK do not usually consume that much. Below are some ideas on how to easily increase your fibre intake. Please remember to consume to tolerance and to build up over time, as too much fibre too quickly can have effects such as bloating. Try adding in one extra fibre rich food a week and see how you go. (Yes I know, pun intended, fibre makes you go to the toilet too ;))

Practical tips to keep your gut happy

  • Variety is key – different bacteria enjoy different foods, so varying what you eat is a good way to keep them all healthy. Think of the colours you eat and the types of vegetables and fruit. Rotate what you eat, so if you usually enjoy broccoli, try asparagus. This way, you increase the chances of feeding all the bacteria in the gut and most importantly, you don’t get bored.
  • Buy frozen – I still hear people say that frozen isn’t as good for you as fresh. This is a myth – in fact, the nutrients are locked in the food when frozen and it’s cheaper than fresh (double yay!) 
  • Reduce waste, eat the stalks and skin – we generally throw the stalks from broccoli/cauliflowers and leave the skin when eatin a baked potatoes, when this is where the most fibre is. Leave the skin on (but wash and scrub veggies first). You can add to things like – soups, stir fries, curries, chilli’s – you name it!
  • Beans, beans good for your heart – again, go for variety. Baked beans are good but try kidney, butter and borlotti beans for a change. High in fibre, inexpensive and they bulk out your meal. Add to fajitas, chilli’s, make into burgers, add to a pasta dish, soups – the list goes on…
  • Add seeds and nuts to your snacks, cereal, yoghurt and main meals. Cashew nuts on a stir fry, sesame seeds on bolognaise, linseeds in your porridge, pumpkin seeds on yoghurt. It all helps, plus seeds provide a whole host of nutrients.
  • Go wholegrain when you can – switching to brown and wholegrain versions of foods can make a big change to your fibre intake. You could use 50/50 bread, wholemeal seeded wraps or brown rice.

I hope that has given you some ideas on how to up your fibre intake; keeping your gut healthy and providing a range of benefits from the other nutrients in the food (win-win!)

CAFFEINATED VS DECAF

Many thanks to Naomi Leppitt, dietitian, for this blog post. You can find her blog here.

☕️ What is caffeine and what does it do?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant, meaning it temporarily activates your brain and central nervous system. The effects of caffeine depend on how much you have, how sensitive you are, what medications you take and even time of day. For example, someone might be kept up all night with one cup of decaf coffee, whereas someone else might sleep soundly after a double espresso!

☕️ What contains caffeine?

  • Coffee 
  • Tea (more depending on how long you leave the teabag in!)
  • Green Tea and Oolong
  • Cocoa and chocolate 🍫 

Caffeine is also added to:

  • Soft drinks like cola 
  • Energy drinks
  • Smedicines (read the label!)

Caffeine can:

☕️ make you feel more awake and alert

☕️ improve learning, memory and mood

☕️ increase heart rate and blood pressure

☕️ cause intestinal discomfort 

☕️ increase rate of urine production 

☕️ be addictive 

Feeling more awake sounds great, but some of those other effects might outweigh the positive effects for you. You don’t have to quit your morning coffee entirely, but you may find it helps to switch to decaf coffee.

☕️ How is coffee decaffeinated?

Either the beans are directly soaked in a solvent (methylene chloride or ethyl acetate), which keeps the flavour in, while removing most of the caffeine. (Don’t worry: they rinse the beans so none of the chemical remains in what you’re drinking!) Or the beans are soaked first, and that water is treated with the solvent to take out the caffeine, so the solvent never touches the beans. Sometimes solvent isn’t used at all, just water or carbon dioxide. Whichever way is chosen, there’s no evidence to say one method is safer than the other.

☕️ What about tea?

Both green and black tea come from the plant Camellia sinensis 🌿, and the difference is that black tea is fermented. Black tea contains more caffeine than green tea, unless you’re more of an Earl Grey drinker. Matcha tea contains more caffeine than regular green tea (because it’s ground, so you consume the whole leaf). Overall tea has less caffeine than coffee, so it won’t stimulate your heart as much.

Green teas contain a substance (L-theanine) that has been shown to reduce anxiety and have a relaxing effect without any drowsiness, so people often find they get the benefit of the pick-me-up without the jitters. Not only that, but green tea contains anti-inflammatory catechins, which are being shown in research to have anti-cancer properties. 

Tea can be decaffeinated with carbon dioxide or just hot water (for green tea), and these processes keep in most of the catechins, so you won’t lose out on the positive effects. Tea also can be decaffeinated with solvents, but again, there won’t be any solvents in what you’re drinking. 

☕️ Are decaffeinated drinks caffeine-free?

Even after decaffeination small amounts of caffeine remain (usually 1-2%, but sometimes up to 20%!). Even though it’s a small amount, it’s still enough that some people may still feel the effects.

And, even if you’re having decaffeinated drinks, be mindful that over the day, those small amounts of caffeine add up to the equivalent of a caffeinated drink.

☕️ So should I switch to decaf?

You may benefit from switching if you suffer with IBS, incontinence or anxiety. And if you’re pregnant, 🤰🏼 you should limit caffeinated drinks to 2-3 cups per day (as lots of caffeine has health risks to the baby or could result in miscarriage), so switching to decaf means you get the flavour without the risk!

Note that if you tend to drink a lot of coffee or tea, and decide to switch to decaf, you may feel withdrawal symptoms such as headaches 🤕, feeling drowsy 😴 or not being able to concentrate as well 🧠. 

If you have an anxiety disorder, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, or kidney disease, you may have been advised to cut out caffeine, but, be aware that switching to decaf drinks won’t mean you’re entirely caffeine-free! Alternatively, you could substitute with a non-caffeinated drink such as herbal or fruit tea, hot sugar-free squash or malted drinks.

References:

Butt, M. S. et al. (2015) ‘Green Tea and Anticancer Perspectives: Updates from Last Decade’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 55(6), pp. 792–805. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2012.680205.

Decaffeination 101: Four Ways to Decaffeinate Coffee. Available at: http://coffeeconfidential.org/health/decaffeination/.

Green Tea vs. Black Tea: Which One is Healthier? Available at: https://www.cupandleaf.com/blog/green-tea-vs-black-tea (Accessed: 20 June 2019).

Kimura, K. et al. (2007) ‘l-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses’, Biological Psychology. Elsevier, 74(1), pp. 39–45. doi: 10.1016/J.BIOPSYCHO.2006.06.006.

Liang, H. et al. (2007) ‘Decaffeination of fresh green tea leaf (Camellia sinensis) by hot water treatment’, Food Chemistry. Elsevier, 101(4), pp. 1451–1456. doi: 10.1016/J.FOODCHEM.2006.03.054.

Lieberman, H. R. et al. (2002) ‘Effects of caffeine, sleep loss, and stress on cognitive performance and mood during U.S. Navy SEAL training’, Psychopharmacology, 164(3), pp. 250–261. doi: 10.1007/s00213-002-1217-9.

McCusker, R. R. et al. (2006) ‘Caffeine content of decaffeinated coffee’, Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 30(8), pp. 611–613. doi: 10.1093/jat/30.8.611.

NHS. Water, drinks and your health. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/water-drinks-nutrition/.

Ohishi, T. et al. (2016) ‘Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea’, Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, 15(2), pp. 74–90. doi: 10.2174/1871523015666160915154443.

Ramalakshmi, K. and Raghavan, B. (2005) ‘Caffeine in Coffee: Its Removal. Why and How?’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 39(5), pp. 441–456. doi: 10.1080/10408699991279231.

Nutrition Tips for a Plant based Diet

Eating a more plant based diet or switching to a vegan diet is definitely on trend right now and whilst normally I’d not be recommending you jump onto the lastest fad in terms of nutrition, this is one I do agree with. I spoke about this at Womens Health Live so thought it was time I blogged on it too.

We all need to be doing our bit to help our planet. Eating more plants, preferably those grown locally and not wrapped in lots of plastic, is one step in the right direction towards a more sustainable diet.

But are there any nutrition concerns with eating a vegan, vegetarian or plant based diet? Whilst it is well known there are health benefits there are also some health risks if you are not consciously eating certain nutrients.

CALCIUM

If you are reducing your dairy intake then you are also reducing your calcium. To help with this check that the milk you use is fortified and focus on non-dairy calcium rich foods being in your diet. The higher calcium content foods are chia seeds, fortified plant based milks, yoghurts and tofu.

An adult needs 700mg calcium per day, the requirements are higher if you are breastfeeding.

Non dairy calcium foodsCalcium mg
30g chia seeds178
1/2 pint Calcium enrich plant milk (rice, oat, soya)330-370
100g tofu350
1 pot Soya yoghurt150
1 tbsp tahini130
150g baked beans
80
2 slices wholemeal bread75
23 almonds75
1 large orange70
2 tbsp cooked greens70
30g cashews28
3 dried apricots20
3 tbsp cooked lentils25
1 tbsp kidney beans25
1 tbsp hummus12

IODINE

The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones which play a key role in metabolism. Iodine is also needed in pregnancy for proper bone and brain development. There is an rise in iodine deficiency in the UK so it’s a nutrient to be mindful of.

Iodine deficiency is a potential concern if you do not eat meat, fish or dairy, so it’s important to be aware of other sources of iodine. Symptoms of iodine deficiency can include a swelling in the neck where the thyroid hormones are struggling to be made so the thyroid gland is on overdrive, fatigue and weakness, inability to concentrate/recall information, hair loss and dry flaky skin.

All is not lost, you can get your iodine in. Firstly, check your plant based milk as some are now fortified with iodine. Iodised salt is a good option (but not too much salt of course 6g max a day), seaweed limited to once a week and dried prunes are other options.

See this great food fact sheet on Iodine.

IRON

A nutrient that comes up a lot in terms of vegan and vegetarian diets. Can you meet all your iron needs on a plant based diet? Yes, totally but you need to plan things and be on the ball.

The iron you get in plant based foods is less readily absorbed by the body so you need more of it (1.8x). If you focus on eating iron rich foods daily and utilise some top tips you should be fine.

Iron Rich FoodsIron/mg
Baked beans1.4
Butter beans1.5
Chickpeas2
Kidney beans2
Tofu1.2
Dried Figs3.9
Dried Apricots3.4
Almonds3
Brazil Nuts2.5
Smooth peanut butter2.1
Hazelnuts3.2
Sesame seeds10.4
Sunflower seeds6.4
Broccoli1
Spinach1.6

Including vitamin C with a meal helps with absorption. So having a glass of fruit juice or a smoothie with an iron rich meal will help. Keep your tea and coffee away from meal times as these contain phytates which prevent the iron absorption. Cooking, soaking and sprouting your nuts, seeds and beans can help with absorption too.

For more on iron check out the British Dietetic Association Factsheet.

VITAMIN B12

Mainly found in animal products with a few exceptions of fortified foods (fortified milks, nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals) this is one that you are going to need to take a supplement of if you stop eating animal products.

B12 is needed for nerves, for DNA production and for brain function as well as healthy red blood cell production. A pretty key nutrient. If you aren’t eating many fortified foods then you likely need a supplement which you can buy as part of a multivitamin and mineral over the counter. Chat to your medical team if you have any further concerns as there are also B12 injections.

So can you meet your nutritional requirements on a plant based diet? Yes with some careful planning and a couple of supplements. Remember you do not have to go fully vegan, eating a few days a week in this way has benefits.

The misconception of sugar.

By Rosie Jasper, student dietitian.

Many thanks to Rosie for this blog post. Carbs are a huge topic that I myth bust on and talk to clients about every week… so I know you will find this helpful.

 I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of seeing celebrities, Instagram influencers and articles in the media encouraging us to cut out key components of our diets, for example carbohydrates!
Apparently cutting out sugar and therefore carbohydrate sources is the key to losing weight according to some top celebrity influencers such as Jennifer Lopez, who was promoting a 10 day no sugar, no carbohydrate challenge!

Sugars are carbohydrates; when we consume foods containing carbohydrates (such as those previously mentioned), our bodies break these down into simple sugars called glucose. Glucose is an essential part of our diet as it provides our body, including our brain with the energy it requires to function on a daily basis.

Carbohydrate containing foods also contain essential vitamins and minerals that are required to keep our bodies working as effectively as it should; a lack of nutrients could cause lead to a decrease in energy, mood and brain function. A decrease in mood may mean that we’re more likely to opt for ‘comfort foods’, that are often high in fat, salt and refined sugar, which defeats the object of the aimed weight loss and the vicious cycle begins. Therefore, by cutting out all carbohydrates in the diet, it’s subsequently removing important nutrients our bodies need.

As suggested by the Eatwell Guide, a third of the food we consume should be starchy foods and carbohydrates should form 50% of our energy intake daily. It is recommended that when choosing starchy foods, we should opt for wholegrain varieties where possible instead of their white/refined varieties. 

Examples of wholegrains:

  • Wholegrain bread
  • Wholegrain pasta 
  • Brown rice 
  • Quinoa 
  • Bulgur 
  • Wheat based cereals e.g. – Wheat biscuits, Bran Flakes, muesli (opt for the no added sugar or salt variety) 

White/refined products have been processed and includes foods like white bread, white pasta and white rice. During processing many of their nutrients including B vitamins, vitamin E, fibre and minerals are removed; however, we need all of these nutrients as they provide many health benefits such as providing energy, having antioxidant effects, keeping our digestive system healthy and for maintenance of bone, teeth, nerves, hair etc. Wholegrain carbohydrates include the whole grain and therefore maintain its nutrients. 

Carbohydrates do not naturally lead to weight gain if eaten in moderation, however it is true that eating carbohydrates excessively can lead to an increase in weight. Carbohydrates have many important roles in the body and shouldn’t be avoided due to the fear of weight gain.

The important role of carbohydrates in the body:

  • Our main source of energy – starchy foods are broken down more slowly than free sugar products and therefore provides us with a steady release of energy during the day 
  • Brain function – the brain requires a steady glucose supply in order to function properly 
  • Wholegrain starchy products contain B vitamins, vitamin E, fibre and minerals 
  • Fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring sugar and are packed with essential vitamins and minerals to help keep our bodies healthy 
  • Fibre is a type of carbohydrate and helps to keep our digestive system healthy, reduce likelihood of constipation, reduce cholesterol and a diet high in fibre has also been associated with a lower risk of bowel cancer 
  • A diet low in carbohydrates is associated with low energy levels, a decreased brain function and low mood 

It is recommended that we aim for 5 portions of starchy foods per day (260g).  To put it in to perspective this is what 1 portion of a starchy carbohydrate looks like. An easy portion guide is for your cooked carb to fill your cupped hand. There is no need to weigh foods out each time you cook then, just weigh it once and find something it fits in like a tea cup to use as a household measure.

  1. 50 dry oats/ ½ cup
  2. 2 wheat biscuits 
  3. 1 slice of bread
  4. 1 bagel 
  5. 1 naan bread
  6. 100g dry cous cous/ ¾ cup/approximately 2 hands full
  7. 75g dry pasta/ ¾ cup/approximately 2 hands full
  8. 75g spaghetti (when bunched together should be the same width as a £1 coin)

The portions of pasta, cous cous and oats may look small when uncooked but when water is added to them and they are cooked, they increase in size and weight. Then when vegetables and/or lean meat is added the portions will bulk out more to create a balanced dish. Meals should be based around starchy foods and adding extra ingredients will contribute to a healthy, balanced diet and increase the nutrient content. 

Fibre is also a type of carbohydrate that is found in plant-based foods, however it’s not absorbed or digested and therefore doesn’t impact our blood sugar levels, so doesn’t need to be classed as part of your daily CHO. 

Benefits of fibre:

  • Promote regular bowel movements 
  • Prevents constipation 
  • Helps to control blood glucose levels 
  • Reduces cholesterol 

Wholegrain varieties of starchy foods, fruit and vegetables especially when eaten with their skin on, e.g. – potatoes, apples and pears are all excellent sources of fibre. 

Meal ideas including their carbohydrate and fibre content

Meal Carbohydrate content (g) Fibre content (g)
50g oats made and water 80g berries 37 6
2 wheat biscuits 135ml semi skimmed milk  Sliced banana 53 5
Wholegrain bagel Low fat spread Salmon Cottage cheese  42 7
2 slices of wholegrain toast  Low fat spread  Peanut butter  31 7
75g dried pasta ½ tin of chopped tomatoes 80g peas 80g broccoli 20g spinach  64 16
Medium sized jacket potato  ½ tin of baked beans  30g cheddar cheese 63 15

T

Endorsement of faddy diets in the media should be taken with a pinch of salt (or sugar in this case!), remember a lot of these people have personal dietitians, chefs, personal trainers, photoshop and surgery to achieve their ‘dream bodies’ that you see online. Removing main food groups, even for a short period of time is not healthy or sustainable and shouldn’t be encouraged.

Eating for a healthy gut

PRE/PROBIOTICS – EATING FOR A HEALTHY GUT

Huge thanks to Melissa Kuman for this guest blog. Melissa is a Registered Associate Nutritionist. She can be found on instagram or check out her blog.

TOP FACT! Can you believe that the bacteria inside us can weigh up to 2kg and around 10% of what we eat feeds them?

In a nutshell, you can improve your gut by eating certain prebiotic foods and/or take probiotics. This is important as a lot of our immunity is dependent upon our gut (70% of the immune cells are located in the gut) and the microbes that live in it. Plus, 90% of serotonin, the happy hormone is produced in the gut. So basically good nutrition = healthy gut= serotonin and immune system= happy mind and body! Now lets get into this in a bit more detail… 

What is the difference between pro and prebiotics?

Great question! Well probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host FAO/WHO (2002). Where as prebiotics are certain fibrous foods (like banana, onions and oats) that help feed the bacteria.

What do probiotics do?

Probiotics rarely colonize in the gut, but rather intermingle with microbes there. As they go through the gut, they interact with gut cells, immune cells and food, giving their benefits. There’s so much research talking about the benefits of probiotics! Studies show that probiotics can improve digestive health and our immunity, including: decreasing antibiotic‐linked diarrhoea; improving resilience to infections; and improving digestion of lactose. There is even some early evidence of benefits in weight management and glycaemic control, depression and anxiety (Jacka 2017).

There’s no harm in taking probiotics but they’re quite expensive, so you could go for prebiotic foods that help feed the good bacteria like oats, bananas, onions, greek yoghurt and Kombucha.

It is important that the probiotics you are taking have research on the certain bacteria they include and that a health benefit has been proven. 

Prebiotics

Prebiotic foods are fibrous foods but not all fibrous foods are prebiotic, see table below. Overall, we need 30g of fibre a day and on average, in the UK, we are consuming just 18g. Both observational and interventional studies show that fibre influences gut health. As Burkitt, 1972 said ‘Dietary fibre has a role in the prevention of certain large bowel and other diseases present in Western countries’. Prospective studies also show it can decrease the risk of bowel cancer and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes.

So how can we increase our fibre? Why not try eating more nuts and seeds and whole fruit and vegetables. For example you could add banana onto your morning cereal and make a big pot of vegetable curry with whole grain rice.

Interestingly Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London followed his son’s ‘Fast Food Diet’ to investigate the changes in the microbiota over the 10 day period. Tim ate 2 x Large McDonalds Meal [Big Mac/chicken nuggets, fries & Cola], 1 packet crisps & 2 beers for 10 days. After the 10 days, he lost nearly 40% of bacterial species with the good bacteria diminishing. Tim felt constipated, tired and grumpy. Not surprising really.

Other factors influencing the gut

‘Exposure to stress, both physical and psychological can modify the composition of the microbiota, due to increased permeability of the gut, allowing opportunistic bacteria to grow and potentially cause damage.’ Rhee et al. (2009).

It is important to put a bit of self-care into your day to reduce stress like running a bath and to be mindful when eating. Both these can help you have a happy gut.

Prebiotics Probiotic 
banana Yakult- Lactobacillus casei shirota
chicory Codex- Saccharomyces Boulardii
onion Actimel- Lacobacillus Casei
asparagus Mutaflor- Escherichia Coil Nissle
garlic Dicoflor- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
leeks Tempeh
Cocoa Kimchi
Flaxseeds Miso
Artichoke  Kombucha
Barley Live yoghurt
Oats Kefir
Apples Sauerkraut
References

Heiman ML, Greenway FL. A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity. Mol. Metab. 2016;5(5):317-320. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2016.02.005. 

Rhee et al. (2009) Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol; 6: 306-314. 14.

Hooper B, Spiro A, Stanner S. 30g of fibre a day: An achievable recommendation? Nutr. Bull. 2015;40(2):118-129. doi:10.1111/nbu.12141. 

https://theconversation.com/your-gut-bacteria-dont-like-junk-food-even-if-you-do-41564

Jacka BMC Med 2017 ‘A randomized controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression’ 

FAO/WHO (2002) updated Hill et al (2014) Nature Rev Gastro Hepatol 

https://theconversation.com/your-gut-bacteria-dont-like-junk-food-even-if-you-do-41564


How much salt should I eat?

Salt Awareness Week is the  4th-10th March making there no better time to discuss salt! Why do we need salt, why are we consuming too much, what are the dangers of this, and how can we go about reducing our intake?  Huge thanks to Hannah Collins AfN for this guest post. 

Top tips on salt and how to eat lesss

What is salt, how much do we need & why?

Salt is another name for sodium and you may see either term used on food packaging.  We need a certain amount of salt in our diet to regulate the amount of water in our bodies – when this water balance is disrupted by too much salt it can have negative consequences on our bodies.  It is recommended that we consume maximum daily salt intakes of:

  • 6g for adults and children aged 11+ years which is about 1 teaspoon (2.4g sodium) 
  • 5g for children aged 7-10 years  (2g sodium)                         
  • 3g for children aged 4-6 years  (1.2g sodium)
  • 2g for children aged 1-3 years  (0.8g sodium)

We need to be careful when reading food packaging to check whether the salt is labelled as salt or sodium to avoid confusion. It is very hard in a western diet to consume insufficient salt for our needs.

How much are we actually consuming?

The average adult in the UK consumes about 8g of salt per day.  This is much reduced vs 10 years ago but this 8g is still about one third more than we need.

Why does too much salt cause us problems?

  1. High Blood Pressure

Consuming more than 6g of salt per day can cause many health problems, the greatest of which is high blood pressure, also known as ‘hypertension’.  When we eat too much salt, this salt holds on to water in our bodies and disrupts the all-important water balance I mentioned earlier.  As blood is mainly water, this extra water in our blood puts greater pressure on our blood vessels to open up and let the blood through – resulting in high blood pressure!  

High blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease – it puts extra strain on your heart to pump your blood around the body and may result in a heart attack or stroke if the pressure is very high.

The government states that if we were to reduce our salt intake to the recommended 6g per day, there could be up to 20,000 fewer deaths from heart attack and stroke each year! 

Salt reduction combined with a diet:

  • High in fruit & veg, wholegrains, low fat dairy and pulses
  • With small daily amounts of lean poultry & fish

has been proven to be the best way to reduce high blood pressure. This diet is known as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

  1. Kidney Problems

If salt holds on to water in your body, the kidneys do the opposite job – they have to try and get rid of this excess water to keep a nice water balance for us.  

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More salt in the blood means the kidneys have to work a lot harder to try and remove the water, as the water likes to stay with the salt!  Over time this can put a lot of strain on our kidneys and can lead to kidney failure where the kidneys slowly stop working properly.

Once kidney failure is established it cannot be reversed and patients must consume even less salt at this stage to avoid total failure or dialysis.

Too much salt can also make us dehydrated and affect our day to day performance.  It can also cause painful kidney stones and stomach ulcers.

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Tips to consume less salt

Most of us won’t have the time or the inclination to calculate how much salt we are eating every day!  To keep it simple:

  • Don’t add salt to food when cooking; replace with herbs & spices (dry or fresh), lemon, lime or garlic
  • 75% of the salt we eat comes from ready meals/soups/sauces/breads – i.e. processed foods.  Quickly scan the packaging of processed foods when buying and opt for foods that have the ‘green’ traffic light for salt. Foods that carry the red light should be consumed sparingly.
  • For foods that have no traffic lights, you can use the FoodSwitch app which is free to download.  By scanning the barcode it will tell you if the food is high or low in salt!
  • For those who do have more time, be careful when reading food labels and check the amount of salt ‘per serving’ not per 100g as some may be displayed
  • Don’t be fooled by ‘special’ salts which claim to be better for us such as Himalayan salt – salt is salt!

Guest post by Hannah Collins AfN:

Twitter @AllotNutrition

Instagram Theallotmentnutritionist

Webpage www.theallotmentnutritionist.com

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.