Tag Archives: media dietitian

Should we label a food as good or bad?

The label of good and bad foods annoys me. It is one of those labels that I find hard to get away from when I am talking to people as it comes up constantly. I spend a lot of time trying to break that idea down in people’s minds. Google it and there are over 71,800,000 links talking about what foods are good/bad, what bad foods are really good, the best good foods to eat and so on. But do good and bad foods really exist?

Bad foods seem to be ones that are high in sugar, fats and calories. Foods that are “not healthy” and that exert a “bad” affect on the body. They can range from fast food, processed food and high fat/high calorie snack items to carbohydrates and dried fruit.

Dietitian UK: Should we label foods as good and bad?

We have a complex relationship with food. Trying to make it fit into just one camp is tricky. Look at the major food groups – carbohydrates, protein, fat, dairy, fruit and veggies. Then look at lentils. They are put in the protein group but they contain carbs and are a portion of veggies too. 

Let’s take it to a more philosophical level. Can a person be labelled as good or bad? Take an object like a razor blade. Is it good or bad? One the one hand it can be used to shave and on the other hand it could be used as a weapon. 

So by trying to label foods as good or bad we are over-simplifying it. Foods are really neutral. Labelling them automatically places them into one category. Let’s take chocolate as an example. On the one hand this is a high calorie, high fat food that is often laden with sugar, so could be classed as a “bad food”. However dark chocolate contains iron, magnesium and fibre. It has antioxidants including polyphenols, catchins and flavanols and may help lower blood pressure plus reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Some research suggests it may help with cognitive function too making it sound like a pretty amazing food to be eating. Even fruit and vegetables can have their negatives, too many carrots can turn the skin orange due to excessive beta carotene!

No single food is to my knowledge nutritionally complete. We need a combination of foods in order to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs. This includes the full range of essential fatty acids and some sugar too.

The old phrase “All things in moderation” is actually very true. Instead of looking at a food in isolation we need to think about how often we eat a food, how much or it we eat, combined with what else we are eating and adding to a food. Limiting or not allowing yourself to eat certain foods can actually lead to you craving them more and then over-eating them. Food is something to be enjoyed rather than denied, so a small amount of the things you like really can be good. 

So instead of labelling foods as good and bad, or healthy and not healthy, how about we change the way we view it. I let my children eat all foods, including cake, sweets and chocolate. However they know that some foods are best to eat in small amounts as they can lead to their bodies getting sick. A good example of this is a weekend recently where we had multiple parties, leading to a lot of party food being consumed. Both children had tummy aches and were slightly constipated! An excellent time to highlight that they had eaten more biscuits and cakes, less fruit and veggies and their bodies were complaining. We talked about how these foods are delicious (the words of my toddler boy) but if you eat too much of them they can make you feel unwell. 

How do you label food in your mind? 

Mediterranean Diet – the best diet to follow?

I love doing media work and this was especially fun as the radio crew came to me! We broadcast my part live from my lounge. Have a listen:

 

So normally I am not pro diets. However there is always an exception and this is it. The Mediterranean diet is the way I try to eat and drink. I prefer to call it an eating plan or a lifestyle rather than a diet. It is one of those diets that is good for your overall health and could have a great protective and preventative effect on chronic disease such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

There is some really good research on this way of eating. Large scale randomised trials conducted over a number of years with deent follow up. This is what we like. So the evidence shows that the Mediterranean diet definiately has good implicaitons for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For overall health it is a very good way to be eating.

The PREDIMED study followed 7447 people aged 55-80yrs  who were at high risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), for 5 years. They were randomised to:

  • Mediterranean diet with 1 litre of olive oil a week
  • Mediterranean diet with 30g/d nuts 
  • Low fat control group

The data has been analysed in a number of different studies. Here is my short summary.

Dietitian UK: Meditteranean diet olive-oil-1596417_1280

Cardiovascular Disease:

Estruch et al (2013) found the Mediterranean groups had a 

  • 30% reduction in the risk of death from CVD 
  • 39% reduction in stroke
  • These results were only significant in men and less than expected but still show the benefits of the Med diet for heart diease.

Metabolic Syndrome:

Salas-Salvado et al (2008) looked at the data from 1224 people after 1 year of the diet. 61.4% of people at the start had Metabolic syndrome (abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, raised blood sugar levels and blood lipid levels) and found:

  • 6.7% reduction in metabolic syndrome in the olive oil group
  • 13.7% reduction in the nuts group, which was statiscally significant. So a Med diet with nuts may have reveress metabolic syndrome.

Cholesterol:

Monteserrat et al (2007) looked at 372 of the subjects at the 3 month marker and found the levels of LDL cholesterol reduced in the Mediterranean diet groups. The high levels of antioxidants in the diet was concluded to the be cause of this. Olive oil, nuts, fruit, vegetables and legume intake was all increased in the Meditteranean diet groups and all these foods contain antioxidants.

Blood Sugars:

Blood sugars were looked at in 772 people at 3 months bu Estruch et al (2006). They found in the Med groups:

  • Blood sugars reduced
  • Systolic blood pressure reduced
  • Total:HDL cholesterol reduced
  • C reactive protein reduced (a marker of inflammation).

Looking at type 2 diabetes, Salas-Salvado (2011) found the risk was overall reduced by 52% in those on the Med diets. Only 10-11% of people on the Mediterrrean diets developed type 2 diabetes compared to 17.9% in the control group.

 

Lyon Heart Study:

The Lyon Heart Study is another good quality piece of research. 605 middle aged subjects who had already had a heart attack were followed for 4 years and were randomised to either:

  • Mediterranean diet with an omega-3 rich margarine
  • Western style diet

The results showed:

  • 72% reduction in death from heart disease
  • a reduced rate of recurrance of heart attacks

 

Weight Loss:

  • Esposito et al (2008) followed 180 patients with metabolic syndrome for 2.5 yrs. They were put on the Mediterranean diet or a low fat diet. At the end the Mediterranean group had lost more weight at 4.0kg compared to just 1.2kg in the low fat group. The Mediterranean diet group also had reduced the occurance of metabolic syndrome with only 44% of people still having it.
  • Shai et al (2008) looked at 322 obese people, putting them on a:
    • Low fat calorie controlled diet – weight loss of 2.9kg
    • Mediterranean calorie controlled diet – weight loss of 4.4kg
    • low carbohydrate diet that was not calorie controlled – weight loss of 4.7kg

So a Mediterranean diet may help with weight loss too. Here is a post on the Mediterranean diet explaining what it is and what foods to eat more of.

Taken with permission from: http://dietamediterranea.com/dietamed/piramide_INGLES.pdf
Taken with permission from: http://dietamediterranea.com/dietamed/piramide_INGLES.pdf

Other Sources:

Authority Nutrition: 5 studies on the Meditteranean Diet: Does it really work?

PENNutrition

Priya speaks out on the sugar in children’s drinks on Wave 105 radio

A Southampton dietitian has told Wave 105 how many parents are unaware of just how much sugar is in supposedly “healthy” fruit drinks for children.

Dietitian UK: Top 3 myths about sugar

Priya Tew is offering mums and dads advice on healthy alternatives to make sure their children are not exceeding their recommend daily intake (RDA) of sugar.

It comes as a new study shows many fruit drinks for children are “unacceptably high” in sugar.

The research, published in the journal BMJ Open 24th March 2016, found that 42% of fruit juices, juice drinks and smoothies surveyed contained at least 19g of sugars, 5 tsp, this is almost a child’s entire maximum recommended intake per day.

Action on Sugar is asking for a reformulation programme to reduce sugar in children’s drinks by 50% in 5 years and restrict them to 150ml serving sizes. Only 6 products surveyed were found in 150ml servings, meaning children are likely to be consuming more.

“The research doesn’t surprise me. Although it [fruit juice] is high is natural sugar, it’s a very accessible form of sugar.

“I do think parents are unaware of how much added sugar there is in fruit juice and smoothies, and they’re seen as a healthy option. I would beg to differ on that. I think a healthy option for a drink for a child is water or milk, perhaps some no added sugar squash.

“If you’re going to give your child fruit juice then my advice would be to water it down, make it half juice and half water, and only have that as an occassional treat rather than a daily option.”

When processed into fruit juice drinks, the sugars (fructose) in the fruit cell walls are released as ‘free sugars’ which damage your teeth and provide unnecessary calories; you take in more calories without feeling full (i.e. A 200ml glass of orange juice can contain 3 oranges).  

Co-author of the study Kawther Hashem, Registered Nutritionist and Researcher of Action on Sugar says: “It is highly concerning that many parents are still buying fruit juices and juice drinks for their children thinking they are choosing healthy products; children should be given as little juice as possible (maximum of 150ml/day).These juices rot children’s teeth and give children a ‘sweet tooth’ that will affect their general health in later life. 

“What is more concerning are the products with added sugar and glucose-fructose syrup. We call on all manufacturers to stop adding more sugars to already sweet juices, particularly in children’s products and to restrict children’s drinks to only 150ml bottles/cartons.

“Our advice is to eat the fruit, don’t drink the juice.  Juice should be an occasional treat, not an ‘everyday’ drink. These processed drinks are laden with sugars and calories and do not have the same nutritional benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables.” 

 

Priya stars on BBC1’s Food Truth or Scare.

So if you weren’t watching BBC1 on Thurs 25th Feb at 9.15am then where were you? 

Oh yes, probably at work or out living life 😉

Well you missed watching me talking about red meat with Chris Bavin on the TV…. but don’t worry because if you are in the UK you can watch it back for the next 28 days or so. So get on over to BBC iplayer and check it out.

Dietitian UK : Food truth or scare 2

 

Dietitian UK: Food truth or scare 1

I would love to know your thoughts so please do leave me a comment.

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Filming – it’s a wrap “Good Enough to Eat”

This weekend has been busies that usual as I was asked to take part in some filming for a BBC2 new show. So as a family we travelled up early Saturday morning to the Chicago Rib Shack in Twickenham. 

Dietitian UK: Filming for Good Enough to Eat

Filming for me is something I quite enjoy and when done in a relaxed manner is quite easy and natural to do. See my top tips below if you are getting involved in any filming work.

IMG_0941

1. Do your research before hand. Find out what they want you to talk about, in what style and are there are key messages they would like you to convey. From this you can draft out your ideas or come up with a rough script.

2. Take a few outfits with you in case your first choice is not suitable!

3. Don’t expect it to be all glitz and glamour. You will probably have to do your own hair and make up and there can be quite a bit of standing around and waiting.

4. TV work is not usually well paid 😉

I spent 30 minutes talking, pointing and gesticulating towards a pile of red meat. What was great about this work was the opportunity to get a message out about red meat in a positive light, after the bad press.

IMG_0940

My top points were:

1. Red meat is fine to eat as part of a healthy. balanced diet and I would encourage it. It is all about that word “moderation” once again. The guidance is we can eat 500g uncooked weight of red meat a week, so think about having it 2-3 times a week.

2. Protein, iron, zinc, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin D are all nutrients found in red meat.

3. Red meat can actually help with some health conditions such as anaemia. It contains haem iron which is easier for the body to absorb and use than non-haem iron in plant proteins.

(This show won’t be aired until Spring 2016).

Nutrition gone crazy?

Sugar. Saturated fat. Salt.

Dietitian UK: Sugar.Salt.SatFat

 

 

Eye catching nutrients that have been in the media spotlight recently. All of which has caused great confusion for pretty much everyone. 

I completely agree that people need to be educated about nutrition. Science needs to be shared. However what I’ve seen is a media frenzy and the wrong messages being shouted out, whilst the key message are swallowed up. 

It very much feels like we have started focusing more on single nutrients instead of looking at our diets and lifestyles as a whole. It doesn’t add up to me. If we focus on reducing sugar then will this lead to not eating yoghurt and calcium levels dropping? Personally I do not sit down and add up how much sugar I have in a day. At least not on a regular basis. What I do look at is the balance of my diet. How many portions of fruit and veggies I eat, oily fish, whole grains, high fibre foods. Then I focus on eating whole unprocessed foods when possible and cooking from scratch. I drink water, tea with no sugar or herbal tea. Sugary snack foods are a treat food. For me it works.

I have clients who have spreadsheets detailing all their nutritional intake for the day. Pretty time consuming and confusing as when you try to make one nutrient balance the books another one slips up. 

I’m not sure there is a perfect diet. I think it’s all about choosing sensible, achievable goals and working towards a sustainable healthier lifestyle. Small changes you can stick to. 

Such as :
Eat another 2 portions of veggies a day. 
Step away from the cereal bars and back to the fruit bowl with some nuts and seeds.
Swap sugary soft drinks for a sugar free version, homemade fruit water, herbal tea or no added sugar squash. 
Build activity into your day, everyday. 

Rant over. 
What are you doing to make achievable steps toward a healthier lifestyle? 

Fussy Eating and mental health?

This week a new research paper was published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal:

“Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers with selective eating” 

I was asked to comment on it for a local radio station – Wave 105, you can listen to a snippet here: 

 

The study ran from 2007-2010 and looked at over 900 picky eaters, aged 2-5 years of age. They found that children with severe fussy eating habits were more than twice as likely to have symptoms of depression or anxiety. Children with moderate fussy eating habits were more likely to suffer from ADHD and separation anxiety. Both groups of children were 1.7 times as likely to show symptoms of anxiety.

Now whilst this is an interesting study it is also one that could easily alarm parents. The key to note here is this study looked at children with moderate to severe fussy eating habits. All children go through fussy eating stages as part of their development. If you are concerned your child is not moving forward and is struggling long term with their eating patterns then think about approaching your health visitor, GP or seeing a dietitian.

 

Priya talks about heart health on Sky News.

The other week I had a lot of fun taking part in a media interview day for a fruit juice  called Sirco. These guys have made a drink that contains tomato extracts with a health claim of it helping aid blood circulation and so it could reduce the risk of heart disease.

I love media work. You have to be on your toes, ready to answer the unknown questions and able to adapt your thinking and words. I find it exciting, full of energy and a great way to get health messages out to a large audience.

So if you missed my moment of fame, here is the clip. I’m talking with TV presenter Anna Williamson (who is lovely). The 2 of us spent the day hanging out, chatting a lot and doing media interviews in a tag-team style.

Then I got to chill for an hour on the train and eat a yummy lunch…. in peace. What more could I want from a days work?

 

Disclaimer: this interview was part of paid work conducted for SIRCO, a fruit juice drink with an EFSA health claim for heart health.

Dietitians’ Week: A snapshot of my life as a dietitian.

This week 8th-12th June is officially DIETITIANS WEEK. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean a week off for us hard-working dietitian’s. Maybe I should suggest that! Instead many departments and dietitians around the UK are taking the opportunity to work even harder and put on special events to celebrate and highlight dietitians. There are also twitter chats happening and receptions at places like the House of Lords!

To celebrate I thought I would share a snapshot of how I work as a dietitian. I’m a freelance dietitian, so there is no big department for me, instead I work either on my own from the delights of my loft… or as part of a team of therapists and health professionals. A large amount of my work is supporting clients with eating disorders, either face to face or via Skype. I also enjoy getting involved with media work and project work. I love the variety my work brings me.

I work around my 2 small children, which means I can tend to work odd hours. Plus I also run a Pilates business with my husband. That’s currently 24 classes run from our studio. Life can get a bit hectic!

Dietitian UK: Dietitians Week 2015

My job role:

1. Eating Disorder Clients. I tend to have 6-8 clients a week. These are via Skype or I see people at Wings Counselling where I work as part of a team of therapists and a psychiatrist. These clients can take up quite a lot of me time as once I have chatted to them there can be meal plans to adjust, phone calls to liase with the GP and often I am in daily email contact with the client.

2. Chronic Fatigue Clients. This is a smaller part of my role and I have 1-2 clients on my books at present. Again here I work as part of a team that includes a physio, several Occupational Therapists and some nurses. This involves home visits and phone calls. I also advise the team on the rest of the client base.

3. Other issues. I also see a few clients each month for other conditions such as IBS, weaning and food intolerances. I have to be careful how much I take on so am quite specific about the areas I work in.

4. Media calls. These can vary but I usually do at least 2 a week. Sometimes I find I am doing these daily and then other weeks I only do a couple a week. I give quotes for the press, for websites and for magazines, chat to television producers, go on the radio and sometimes appear on the screen too.

5. Project Work is something I enjoy as it gives me the chance to get my teeth into something and run with it. Whether it is recipe analysis, writing text, advising a food company or making a video I tend to enjoy all the work I do. Maybe it is the chance to sit down and have a moments peace from the children 😉

6. Social Media. Now I’m no social media expert, it is something I’ve fallen into, but also something I’m now addicted to. I see the benefits to myself, to the profession and I enjoy it most of the time. Blogging, networking, tweeting, making videos, posting pictures and coming up with new ways to get messages across. I’ve taken part in Google Hangouts on nutrition and in live twitter chats. My latest venture is playing with Periscope. Go check it out.

So no hospitals and white coats for me. Being a dietitian is diverse. The world is your oyster. Go grab it.

 Dietitian UK: Trust a Dietitian

 

 

Priya Tew, Dietitian, Quoted in the Daily Mail on Vegan Diets

Tuesday, Sep 10 2013 
 

Could going vegan two days a week ease your creaky knees? The pros and cons of a meat-free diet

  • It’s suggested veganism can lower cholesterol and ease painful joints
  • But some experts argue there are nutrients we can only get from meat
  • Is the solution to become a ‘cheagan’ (vegan who occasionally eats meat)?

By PETA BEE

PUBLISHED: 22:18, 9 September 2013 | UPDATED: 22:19, 9 September 2013

Celebrity convert: Tennis ace Venus Williams says her overall health has improved dramatically since she stopped eating animal products Celebrity convert: Tennis ace Venus Williams says her overall health has improved dramatically since she stopped eating animal products

 

Many of us wouldn’t relish the idea of giving up meat and cheese – imagine living without that juicy steak, tasty roast or delicious piece of brie. 

Yet a growing number of sports stars are crediting a switch to veganism for enhancing their performance and helping them recover from joint injury or surgery. 

Tennis ace Venus Williams says her overall health has improved dramatically since she stopped eating animal products. 

She has Sjogren’s syndrome, an auto-immune illness that causes muscular pain and fatigue – and giving up meat, she says, has eradicated the worst symptoms, including joint pain and swelling. But she recently said: ‘I think it’s pretty well known that I’m a cheagan (a vegan who occasionally eats meat). I’m not perfect but I try.’ 

British singer Leona Lewis has also announced she’d become a vegan. 

And last week the Mail reported how U.S. journalist Mark Bittman shed 2½ st in a couple of months just by eating vegan food until 6pm each day. He ate meat in the evenings. His best-selling book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…For Good, documents how his cholesterol and blood sugar levels were reduced, too – probably due to his reduced intake of saturated fat.

Increasing evidence suggests a vegan diet has health benefits for us all – from easing painful creaky joints to lowering cholesterol and boosting heart health. 

But some experts argue there are many nutrients we can only get from meat – and that a vegan or vegetarian diet can have serious implications for our health.

 

 

Just last week, lifelong vegetarian Laura Dixon hit the headlines for giving birth to triplets after being told she couldn’t have children. She credited the births to shunning vegetarianism and eating three portions of meat a day.

So what should we do – eat meat, avoid it altogether, or go ‘cheagan’? We explore the pros and cons of a vegan diet…

EAT NUTS FOR JOINT HEALTH . . .

It seems many Britons are already shunning meat. The Vegan Society estimates around 150,000 of us are vegan, and nearly two million are strictly vegetarian. As a nation, we spend £780 million a year on meat-free products such as tofu.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, points out that several studies show people who eat a lot of red meat have a higher risk of developing inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which affects around 350,000 Britons and can cause severe pain and immobility. 

He says: ‘Vegetarian diets have been shown to be helpful in the long-term for some people with rheumatoid arthritis. Vegan diets may also be helpful, possibly because of the “good” polyunsaturated fatty acids in them, which help reduce inflammation.’

 
Go nuts: Fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and leafy greens have been shown to be helpful in the long-term for some with rheumatoid arthritis Go nuts: Fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and leafy greens have been shown to be helpful in the long-term for some with rheumatoid arthritis

 

 

 

These fatty acids are found in high amounts in nuts, seeds and leafy greens – key parts of vegan diets. (They are found in oily fish, too.)  And they may also help ease osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis caused by age-related wear and tear.

Elaine Mealey, a lecturer in sports nutrition at London Metropolitan University, says that vegans tend to have a high intake of vitamin C – from fruit and vegetables – and zinc – from whole grains, nuts and seeds – both of which can help with recovery from illness and injury.

. . . BUT WATCH YOUR ENERGY LEVELS

However, Elaine Mealey also thinks that a vegan diet can be too restrictive. She points to a 2010 review in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports, which claims that vegan and vegetarian athletes risk a deficiency in vitamin B12.

This is crucial for maintaining the  energy levels needed for any activity, even walking. Ms Mealey says: ‘The best sources of vitamin B12 are meat, especially red meat, and food from animal sources, such as eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt. 

‘Vitamin B12 is crucial for the production of red blood cells needed to ferry oxygen to working muscles, as well as the breakdown of fat and carbohydrate for fuel.’ Other studies, including one in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggest up to 80 per cent of long-term vegans are vitamin B12 deficient. 

Getting enough protein is also crucial, as it is essential for maintaining muscle health and strength – needed especially around joints to protect them from injury – and  for recovery from exercise. 

Vegan sources of protein include tofu, peas, pulses and soya products – but it’s not a case of making a direct swap from animal protein. 

 
What's best, doc? Increasing evidence suggests a vegan diet has health benefits for us all, but some argue there are many nutrients we can only get from meat What’s best, doc? Increasing evidence suggests a vegan diet has health benefits for us all, but some argue there are many nutrients we can only get from meat

 

‘Women need 60 to 90g of protein a day, with those who do exercise a couple of times a week on the high end of that,’ says Louise Sutton, a sports dietitian at the Carnegie Centre for Sports Performance, Leeds Metropolitan University. 

‘While there are good sources of vegan protein, it’s not as easily absorbed and used by the body as the protein from animal sources. So you need to have more to get the same benefit. For instance, skimmed cows’ milk has around 8g of protein per glass, while soya milk has 6g.’ 

Research by Professor Stuart Phillips of McMaster University, Canada, has shown dairy protein stimulates muscle recovery and growth after exercise more effectively than vegan protein. For vegans, this could mean slower progress towards fitness goals.

WHY VEGANS MAY BE LESS FERTILE . . .

There are other potential pitfalls. Researchers at King’s College London have showed a compound in soya called genistein can hinder access of sperm to the egg. This suggests eating large amounts of soya – popular with vegans and vegetarians as a source of protein, – can affect a woman’s fertility.

And opting for a strict veggie or vegan diet might not be great for our brains, either. A recent study in the journal Nutrition reveals that vegetarian and vegan athletes are more likely to have low levels of muscle creatine, a substance that provides quick energy to cells. It is produced naturally in the body but our major source is eating meat.

A low level of creatine not only means reduced energy, it can slow the speed at which the brain remembers things. Researchers from the University of Sydney tested the effects of creatine on memory by giving 45 young vegetarian volunteers a creatine pill or a dummy pill. 

After six weeks, they had to perform memory tasks. Those on the creatine supplement did better, possibly because the amount of energy to the brain was increased.

. . . BUT THEY COULD LIVE LONGER

Meaty problem: The solution may be to eat a mostly plant-based diet while occasionally eating meat Meaty problem: The solution may be to eat a mostly plant-based diet while occasionally eating meat

 

Yet cutting back on meat has been linked to a reduction in risk of several illnesses, including high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. And, earlier this year, researchers at Oxford University’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit reported that a vegetarian diet could cut the risk of heart disease by one third. 

‘Most of the difference in risk is probably caused by the effects on cholesterol and blood pressure,’ says Dr Francesca Cowe, lead author of the study. The benefit seems to come from the reduced amount of saturated fat – an artery-clogging substance found in high amounts in red meat and processed meat, such as sausages. 

This finding was echoed by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who put 38 arthritis sufferers on a vegan diet of nuts, sunflower seeds, fruit, vegetables and sesame milk. Another group followed a healthy, non-vegan diet. The vegans showed a decrease in cholesterol levels whereas the non-vegans had no change. The researchers suggested that a vegan diet could help protect against heart disease and strokes.

And the evidence grows: another study of more than 70,000 adults published in the Journal of the American Medical Association just two months ago suggested that vegetarian diets were linked to longevity – as meat- avoiders were less likely to die of chronic diseases.

SHOULD WE ALL BE ‘CHEAGANS’?

So what could be the answer? It may be to follow the example of Venus Williams and go ‘cheagan’ – having a mostly plant-based diet but occasionally eating meat. 

This is a ‘sensible option’ says Priya Tew, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association. ‘It sounds like a good idea to eat veggie or vegan a few days a week,’ she adds. ‘We encourage people not to eat meat every day because of the adverse health effects linked to its saturated fat content.

And the added fibre from the fruit and vegetables is great for health.’

But any significant change in diet warrants careful consideration, cautions Elaine Mealy. ‘You need to think a lot about food as a vegan or vegetarian. Don’t convert casually and hope for the best,’ she says.