Diet and Mental Health PART 1.

Huge thanks for this guest blog post by Bethany Francois. MSc Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Find her on Instagram: bethany_laura_

The 13th-19th May 2019 is Mental Health Awareness Week. In the UK, mental health problems affect 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children and up to 18% of NHS expenditure on treating and managing long-term conditions is associated with poor mental health and wellbeing1. Furthermore, depression is a major contributor to global overall disease burden and is the leading cause of disability worldwide2.

In the media, the term ‘health’ is often represented by an image of a thin person, with a low body fat percentage and visible muscles, but this definition couldn’t be further from the truth. Health is far more complicated than aesthetics and although often not visible, mental illness can have a serious impact on the overall health of an individual. The true definition of health is a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing-all of which can be impacted by our dietary choices. 

We’ve probably all heard the term ‘food and mood’, but what does this really mean? This article will take a look at current research and what we know about how our diet can impact our mental state.

What we Know about Food and Mood 

The best evidence we have currently, in terms of diet and mental health, is the impact of the Mediterranean Diet (MD). This diet is generally high in fruit and vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fat sources such as olive oil and lower in meat, saturated fats and added sugar. The first causal data showing improvements in depression whilst following the MD were seen with the publication of the SMILES trial3. This was a 12-week randomised control trial, where individuals with depression either implemented the MD or received social support (control) alongside their normal treatment programme (such as psychotherapy or medication). Results showed a significantly greater improvement in depressive symptoms in the dietary group compared to the control, with 1/3 reaching remission at 12 weeks. The specific mechanisms by which dietary patterns may impact depressive symptoms is unknown, however, hypotheses include via inflammatory and oxidative stress pathways as well as the gut microbiota and the gut-brain axis. What I think is important to note is, the improvements seen in the study were independent of weight change. Often weight is overly relied on as a measure of health and I think it’s worth making clear that improvements in mood were not a result of weight loss. 

Eating Well with Mental Illness 

Severe mental illness is associated with poorer health outcomes and a significantly reduced life expectancy4. Reasons for this may include decreased income due to an inability to work, self-neglect, poor diet, the effect of some psychotropic medications and the effect of stress and trauma on the immune system. As well as exclusion and stigma within healthcare services and a reduced likelihood of seeking medical help5. In other words, those suffering with mental illness face significant health inequalities.  

Research into diets that may improve mental health is incredibly important. However, for somebody in the depths of mental illness, being able to eat an adequate diet and look after themselves in general can feel impossible. Social media is inundated with art-worthy bowls of oats, influencers spending hours making the perfect ‘Buddha bowl’ and green smoothies containing 10+ ingredients. For individuals struggling with their mental health, getting out of bed and showered can be a difficult task, let alone recreating these meals. To be bombarded with images like this and the message that this is what it takes to be ‘healthy’ (not true by the way), can exacerbate feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy. Please know that if all you can manage to do is reach for a sachet of instant porridge or put a piece of toast in the toaster, then you are doing great. Do not let social media or the wellness movement make you feel guilty for this. 

Tips for Eating Well when Struggling

Don’t complicate things 

Meals do not need to be complicated and require lots of ingredients. Try to aim for a portion of carbohydrates (wholemeal if possible) e.g. bread, pasta, rice or potatoes, a portion of protein e.g. meat, fish or veggie sources (beans, tofu, soy, eggs), a portion of fruit or vegetables and a source of fat e.g. cheese, olive oil or nuts at each meal. It can also be a good idea to freeze meals so that on difficult days they can simply be re-heated. 

For example, a simple and balanced meal could be wholemeal pasta with tuna mayonnaise, sweetcorn and grated cheese. 

Fresh isn’t always best  

Convenience is often seen as a negative connotation when it comes to diet. However, contrary to what we are often told by wellness influencers, convenience doesn’t automatically mean food is unhealthy. For example, it can be really useful to use frozen or tinned vegetables rather than fresh. These are not only cheaper but require less preparation and also means you don’t have to worry about not managing to use something before it’s use by date. Jarred or packet sauces can also help to enhance a meals flavour without considerably adding to preparation time. 

Food, family and friends 

Often the thought of socialising can be difficult when struggling with mental illness, resulting in isolation and further adding to feelings of low mood.  Although it can be difficult to reach out to those around us, food can be a useful way to interact with others, whether that is seeing a friend for lunch or preparing and eating dinner with family members. Social eating is also a key concept of the MD discussed earlier. 

Comfort  

When we hear the term ‘comfort food’, we automatically associate this with an unhealthy habit. We are told that comfort eating is bad for us, that emotional eating is something that should be avoided. Using food as our only way of coping with our emotions is not ideal, however, eating or cooking your favourite meal in an attempt to boost your mood is not something that should be frowned upon. Nourishment is an act of self-care, something some people with mental health problems struggle with. Often individuals feel underserving of things that make them feel good. Spending time preparing a meal you enjoy or perhaps used to have as a child can be an important way to show yourself some compassion and kindness. 

Resources and Support 

Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/

Young Minds: https://youngminds.org.uk/

Mental Health Foundation: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Rethink Mental Illness: https://www.rethink.org/

Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org

Beat: www.b-eat.co.uk 

References 

1. The King’s Fund and Centre for Mental Health (2012). Long-Term Conditions and Mental Health. The Cost of Co-morbidities. London.

2. Who.int. (2018). Depression. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression [Accessed 12 May 2019].

3. Jacka, F., O’Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., Castle, D., Dash, S., Mihalopoulos, C., Chatterton, M., Brazionis, L., Dean, O., Hodge, A. and Berk, M. (2017). A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 15(1).

4. Chang, C., Hayes, R., Perera, G., Broadbent, M., Fernandes, A., Lee, W., Hotopf, M. and Stewart, R. (2011). Life Expectancy at Birth for People with Serious Mental Illness and Other Major Disorders from a Secondary Mental Health Care Case Register in London. PLoS ONE, 6(5), p.e19590.

5. Makurah, L. (2019). Health Matters: Reducing health inequalities in mental illness – Public health matters. [online] Publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk. Available at: https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2018/12/18/health-matters-reducing-health-inequalities-in-mental-illness/ [Accessed 12 May 2019].

6. Turner, P. and Lefevre, C. (2017). Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 22(2), pp.277-284.

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


Eggs and CHolesterol

Back in the news recently has been the humble egg. At first it may sound like we’ve gone full circle on this as years ago it was advised to reduce egg consumption due to cholesterol concerns. However nutrition is never that black and white. 


The latest research was an observational study which means it shows us some possible associations but no clear cut “change a and get b” affects. 

It showed eating eggs could increase cholesterol levels. Each egg was associated with a 2.2% risk of CV disease. Sounds negative but let’s crack the egg 🍳.

Cholesterol is a nutrient that our body needs. It is used to build the structure of cell membranes. make hormones, help your metabolism work efficiently and cholesterol is essential for your body to produce vitamin D.

Consuming an additional 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day was associated with a 3.2% higher risk of heart disease and a 4.4% higher risk of early death. Sounds scary in those terms but it’s all to be taken within context.

👉🏼This study was not an observational study rather than a randomised controlled trial which means it’s not gold standard evidence but there are interesting associations.

👉🏼We don’t have all the info on the diets/lifestyle of these people. It may be the eggs were being eaten in the context of a cooked breakfast or on top of a burger. Or it could be that it was an egg salad.

👉🏼The people who had the increase in cholesterol may have exercised less, been smokers or had a higher saturated fat diet. There are many variables that are not controlled for here.

👉🏼Genetics also play a role. Some people have a allele that makes them more sensitive to cholesterol. This could explain some of the studies results as well.


So should we all stop eating eggs? Hell, No. Eggs are nutritious and a good way to get protein, iron, zinc and even some vitamin D from (in some cases). Eating 3-4 eggs a week is still good advice to follow.
#

Saving my sanity by meal planning – simple family meals.

One of the things I am passionate about is making food simple. If you have time and can afford to be fancy with your meals then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Go for it. Normal life for my family in the week involves basic range ingredients, plenty of fresh and frozen veggies and quick meals.  So that is what I am sharing with you today.  Trust me, as a working single mum to 3 wonderfully active, inquisitive, helpful kids (you could read that as noisy, full of questions and chatter, like to stick their fingers where I don’t want them to) I need fast food. However I am wheat intolerant (the proper kind where eating wheat upsets my digestive system for several days) and my boy is lactose intolerance – which quite frankly sucks for him. So we have to cook from scratch. 

I aim to plan at the weekend. This sometimes involves a bit of “get ahead cooking” where I cook a few meals for Monday and Tuesday in advance, or it just comes down to a vague plan. Either way without a rough plan my head gets super stressed.

Family meal ideas for busy parents from a dietitian

“What am I cooking today? How will I fit it into my day? Do I have the ingredients?  Do I have time to get to the shop?”  These are questions that will float around my head taking up valuable time and energy. With a plan I’m part way there and will prep a bit throughout my day. That could mean I prep the veggies or even just get the ingredients out on the worktop so I can cook after the school run. It all helps.

So here is an example of our weeks meals and some of the recipes I cook. Simple things my children eat and that work with our dietary needs. I hope it gives you some inspiration.

 

One Pot Pepper Pasta:

This is one of those meals which I love to make as it is so easy, there is minimal washing up and my kids love it. WINNER.

It’s also a vegetarian, plant based and vegan recipe. So if you are looking for simple ways to increase your vegetable intake here you go. Of course you can totally make this your own and add in any veggies you like.

Print

One Pot Red Pepper Pasta

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 people

Ingredients

  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 large red peppers Thickly chopped
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium courgette grated
  • 1 tin sweetcorn
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • pinch paprika
  • pinch dried mixed herbs
  • 300g dried pasta
  • 750ml boiling water
  • 50g grated cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in the pan, add the garlic and gently cook.

  2. Add in the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes

  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, herbs and spices. Bring to a simmer. 

  4. Add the pasta and water, stir well and bring to a simmer.

  5. Lid on and simmer 12-15 minutes until the pasta is cooked.

  6. Season and serve with grated cheese. 

Fish Pesto Parcels:

These are so simple that I like to get my kids to make their own. That way they can’t moan about the veggies I’ve put in! 

Print

Fish Pesto Parcels

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 400 g white fish (can be frozen and defrosted)
  • 2 carrots, chunkily sliced
  • 1/2 broccoli cut into florets
  • 1 courgette, chunkily sliced
  • 1 red pepper, thick slices
  • 4 tsp pesto
  • 12 small potatoes (if they are too large they will not cook in time so slice up using large potato)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 7

  2. Lay out a square of foil big enough to pop everything in and seal up. About 1.5 times your dinner plate. 

  3. Place a selection of veggies and potatoes on the foil, top with the fish and spread 1 tsp pesto on top.

  4. Fold the foil parcel up so everything is covered and pop onto a baking tray.

  5. Bake for 20 minutes

Lentil Bolognaise:

A regular favourite for us and so versatile. You can use up your odds and ends of veggies, and make this into lasagne, cottage pie of as a bolognaise. It freezes super well too.

Recipe here.

Salmon and Broccoli Risotto:

Perfect weaning food and a great meal to get veggies into! I usually grate a courgette in to boost the veggies up.

Recipe here.

Pizza Wraps:

Literally the easiest thing on a Friday after school. I give the kids a wrap, squirt tomato puree on, they pile on toppings from a selection on a chopping board and we cook them for 10 minutes at Gas Mark 5. Do keep a close eye on them as they cook very quickly! 

Chicken Satay Stir Fry:

You can’t beat a stir fry for ease. My kids love peanut butter so satay is usually a winner. Totally use a frozen veg mix or a stir fry pack for ease if you want to. Serve with noodles or rice.

Recipe here

Sausages and wedges:

As much as I like to have some plant based meals in our week my kids are firm fans of sausages. I’ve been using some meat free variations out and they have been largely successful, plus easy to cook straight from frozen – so do think about the meat free range. No recipe as I literally cook the sausages in the oven, along with potatoes cut into wedges with olive oil and garlic on them. Serve with veggies! 

I hope these are helpful and give you some ideas on how to keep meals simple in your week. I’d love to hear your ideas too as I always need inspiration.

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

What is Orthorexia Nervosa and what can I do?

Orthorexia Nervosa is the newest eating disorder phrase on the block. It was devised by Steven Bratman in 1996, after he noticed a trend in his patients. Ortho means rich or correct.

Orthorexia = an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. It can have elements of anxiety disorders and OCD with it.

Orthorexia Nervosa

Whilst there is an overlap here with anorexia nervosa and people with orthorexia may end up developing anorexia, there is also a big difference. Orthorexia is taking healthy eating to the extreme, it has an aspirational, wellness culture ideal associated with it. This means it is less about weight and more about purity and an ideal lifestyle. Social media has certainly heightened this and fuelled it. With role models who life perfect pure lifestyles of food, exercise and spirituality, it can seem as if that ideal is achievable and realistic. Striving to achieve it leads to feelings of failure and guilt.

The Bratman Orthorexia Self-Test

This is a test devised by Steven Bratman to help identify if you are at risk of orthorexia. If you answer YES to ANY of these questions you may be at risk.  I think it is useful test to read through and think to how much you identify with the statements.

(1) I spend so much of my life thinking about, choosing and preparing healthy food that it interferes with other dimensions of my life, such as love, creativity, family, friendship, work and school.

(2) When I eat any food I regard to be unhealthy, I feel anxious, guilty, impure, unclean and/or defiled; even to be near such foods disturbs me, and I feel judgmental of others who eat such foods.

(3) My personal sense of peace, happiness, joy, safety and self-esteem is excessively dependent on the purity and rightness of what I eat.

(4) Sometimes I would like to relax my self-imposed “good food” rules for a special occasion, such as a wedding or a meal with family or friends, but I find that I cannot. (Note: If you have a medical condition in which it is unsafe for you to make ANY exception to your diet, then this item does not apply.)

(5) Over time, I have steadily eliminated more foods and expanded my list of food rules in an attempt to maintain or enhance health benefits; sometimes, I may take an existing food theory and add to it with beliefs of my own.

(6) Following my theory of healthy eating has caused me to lose more weight than most people would say is good for me, or has caused other signs of malnutrition such as hair loss, loss of menstruation or skin problems.

If you identify with anything in this post then I highly recommend that you reach out to your medical team, GP, a friend, a parent, a dietitian who works in this field like myself. You can also contact B-Eat.

Top tips for Orthorexia:

Here are some steps you can take to help combat Orthorexia, I suggest these are done with the support of a therapist and dietitian.

  1. Unfollow anyone on social media who fuels the thoughts of having to eat a pure diet/lifestyle. Or try a social media detox for a week.
  2. Focus on eating a variety diet. There are no wrong or right foods it is all about the balance and variety that you eat. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is wrong to eat. 
  3. Work with someone qualified in this area to redefine healthy for you. This may include food, movement, quiet space, social time, family time.
  4. Develop alternative coping skills. Can you see how food helps you feel in control and also makes you anxious? Using distraction after a meal and journalling your thoughts can be a good initial step.
  5. Write out a list of your food rules/beliefs. These need to be challenged.
  6. Only allow yourself to get your nutrition knowledge from someone with a minimum of a degree in nutrition    a registered nutritionist or dietitian.
  7. Stop tracking your nutrition. This may take time to do so start with doing it at one meal at a time. 

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.