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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This is a delicious recipe but beware it doesn’t keep for long. Best eaten in 2 days, which is no hardship in our house! It also freezes well. I like to keep slices of it handy for lunchboxes and snacks.
2medium potatoeschopped chunkily (no need to peel)
4 tbspGreek yoghurt
Saute the potatoes in a large frying pan with the oil, until they start to soften.
Add in the courgettes and continue to cook.
Beat the eggs, add in the herbs, black pepper and yoghurt
Pour the eggs over the vegetables so they are covered. You may have to swirl the pan or move some of the veggies around.
Cook on a medium heat until the top starts to set.
Transfer under the grill and continue to cook until the top is set.
Cut into wedges and serve with a salad to make this give you 2 of your vegetable portions.
A tasty way to snack on courgettes, you can serve these with a whole variety of dips, or just as part of dinner! My boy totally suprised me with this as he says “courgettes are yucky” and would normally refuse to eat a chunk of one but tried these and ate a whole pile of them!
Cut the courgettes into strips, dip into egg and roll in a mixture of cornmeal with paprika, dried herbs and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
1 medium courgette
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp mixed herbs
Bake in the oven at 220C/200 fan/Gas 7 for 20 minutes turning halfway through cooking.
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?
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
Smedicines (read the label!)
☕️ 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.
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.
Huge thanks to Sophie Richmond (find her on instagram @balancing_bambi) for this amazing series of posts on Recovery from an Eating Disorder. Sophie is not currently a nutritional professsional or therapist but is going to be studying an MSc in Clinical Nutrition and Eating Disorders at UCL from September. I am sharing these posts as inspiration and because I think it is important to show that recovery is possible and happens.
The first thing to understand about ‘recovery’ is that it is different for everybody. Your experience will be different to mine but neither is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Recovering from an eating disorder, in my case anorexia, is not an overnight decision that you make once – it is one that you have to make every single day (sometimes several times). You will probably view your eating disorder as a ‘comfort blanket’ that you cling to when you are frightened or afraid. But imagine if you found out that ‘comfort blanket’ was doing you more harm than good?
It is really important that you articulate your feelings. Eating disorders are not actually about food – they are a coping mechanism for something deeper. Talk to a trusted healthcare professional, friend or family member about your thoughts. Recovery requires determination, strength and support. Surround yourself with people who you feel able to confide in and don’t be afraid to be honest about what is helpful to you or what something sets you back (for example, if you are at a family gathering and a relative is talking about their 5:2 diet or calories – make sure you talk through your emotions with someone afterwards about how this made you feel and don’t let someone else’s decisions set you back).
I studied English at university which made me think about the idea of the ‘eating disorder voice.’ I never ‘heard voices’ but I did have a constant narrative of negativity regarding my self-worth and place in the world. I was my own ‘unreliable narrator’ – or rather anorexia was telling me a false narrative. In order to recover I needed to challenge the ‘authorial voice of anorexia’ by controlling my own thoughts in order to take charge of my own story. Consider William Shakespeare’s Othello… anorexia is very similar to Iago – a character who seized upon tokens of truth and manipulated them into a fantasy to destroy a man who believed the lies.
Reading the play left me with a resounding feeling of regret…of what if? What if you challenged your eating disorder thoughts by questioning the feelings of guilt, self-loathing, fear and failure? It is hard to comprehend the power of thoughts in relation to yourself – it is only through novels, plays and characters that we see the motives and misconceptions of others. Reading takes you outside of yourself, distracts you from your worries and asks you to contemplate and question. It allows you to see that everyone behaves in a certain way because they are battling their own issues – it is not always about you. Recovery is about finding the courage to deflect deeply ingrained ‘untruths’ and allow yourself to question the harmful opinions of others. I was always fascinated by young Jane Eyre’s strength in standing up to Aunt Reed saying she was the ‘bad child.’ This is exactly how you need to respond to the ‘voice’ of your eating disorder.
Although you might struggle with the ‘self’ part of ‘self-care’ – you probably will be well versed in the power of ‘self-talk.’ Often the eating disorder takes over the ‘self’ and feeds in negative thoughts. To combat this try using, what I call, a ‘puppy analogy’. Take all the terrible, degrading words your eating disorder tells you on a daily (sometimes hourly or minute-by-minute) basis and imagine hearing them spoken to a pet (or person) you really love (I use a puppy because I now have an adorable Frenchie). How would you feel standing in a room hearing someone a loved one being told to starve themselves or that they are a useless failure who doesn’t deserve to live? You would be really angry. You would march the bully out of the room, lock the door and shower your loved one with care. So why not apply that to yourself? Visualise the intrusive thoughts as this external bully who needs to be shown the door – and allow yourself to accept the support and love of others who value the real you.
Big thanks to Georgia Berry for her help with blog post. Georgia is a nutrition student and can be found on instagram as @berry_nutrition
Did you know it is estimated that 17% of the UK suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS is a condition affecting the digestive system (NHS). The exact cause is unknow despite it leaving millions of people feeling embarrassed due to their unpredictable bowel movements. Symptoms differ from person to person; however, the most common symptoms include:
Often sufferers learn what food triggers a bout of symptoms, however IBS is a complex disorder.
What causes IBS
Although the cause of IBS is not fully understood, there are a few theories behind how the condition develops. IBS is a mostly ‘western’ issue, meaning that populations that don’t live a typical western lifestyle have almost no instances of the condition. This has led researchers to believe that it may be due to lifestyle factors.
Many believe that IBS develops after the gut experiences stress, such as from antibiotics or food poisoning. This then causes the gut to be overly sensitive and causes the symptoms of IBS.
Another interesting theory behind the development of IBS is one based on the natural bacteria in the human gut. The human gut is filled with an incredibly diverse range of bacteria, however when the composition of these bacteria becomes unfavourable, it may lead to adverse side effects.
Scientists also believe that there is a huge link between mental health and IBS, with stress often being a huge trigger. In fact, there has been shown to be a placebo rate of 50% in IBS patients, showing the important of mental health in maintaining gut function. This doesn’t mean you are making things up however it just shows the massive link between your gut brain and your brain.
A common strategy to combat flare ups is to create a food diary to assess links between food and symptoms. This is a great place to start and good to do before seeing a dietitian for advice as you can take this to talk through.
Currently, many people are being sent straight to the low FODMAP diet and it is being suggested they start on this diet by themselves. As a dietitian Priya does not agree with this. There are simpler strategies to try first as the low FODMAP diet is very restrictive, can alter your gut flora and really needs 1-1 dietitian support to do it well.
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:
Certain fruit and vegetables
Lentils, beans and pulses
So cutting out all these foods leaves you with large gaps in your nutrition and the need to really have support planning your meals.
Simpler treatments can be used to manage IBS and these should be tried before the FODMAP diet. Here are 10 ideas for you to try.
Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day may be beneficial as it may be that the process of eating sets off symptoms as eating can stimulate the digestive tract.
Increasing chewing time can ease digestive symptoms. This is because as the mouth breaks down the food more thoroughly it prepares the stomach more for digestion.
Leading on from a theory mentioned above is the reduction of stress to reduce flare ups. Sufferers that report a big increase in symptoms when stressed or suffering with depression may benefit from therapy or relaxation techniques. In more severe cases anti-anxiety drugs may be appropriate.
Another treatment for IBS is based on the theory that a poor gut bacteria composition can lead to symptoms. Giving sufferers both a prebiotic and a probiotic has the ability to affect the gut’s microflora, potentially leading to less flare ups.
Linseeds can be a useful tool for some people suffering from constipation, try 1tbsp a day with plenty of fluid.
Reduce gas producing veggies if you suffer from bloating (cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts).
Fibre rich foods can help constipation but do increase these slowly and drink more fluid too.
Reduce caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks.
Cook more meals from scratch as ultra processed foods can cause some of the symptoms.
Be active daily – walking is great exercise and can help with your stress levels too.
IBS is a complex condition which is poorly understood, with symptoms differing hugely between patients. Therefore, successful treatments will vary patient to patient. It is key to get some support to help you work through things. A balanced diet is really important so when you make dietary changes do take care to replace nutrients to stop any deficiencies. It is also important to work with your medical team to test for other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease or coeliac disease to prevent further issues if undiagnosed. Most importantly, always consult a registered dietitian if you think you may be suffering from IBS. You can ask to be referred on the NHS or seek a freelance dietitian like Priya.
Sundays for us are the one chilled breakfast day of the week. No school run. I don’t teach any Pilates classes so it’s a day to take time over brekkie and have something different. This is one of my favs.
So here is a my super simple recipe for you. These pancakes are easy, quick to make and packed with nutrition too, plus filling due to the seeds.
These are also perfect if you weaning as the pancakes are soft and make great finger foods. My children are always very happy when I decide to cook these.
Drop a serving spoon portion onto the pan/griddle and allow to cook for a couple of minutes, look for the bubbles on the top then flip it. These need a little more TLC than normal pancakes when turning them over.
I served mine with greek yoghurt and fruit.
Enjoy and let me know if you make them, I’d love to see your pics!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Foods
Smooth peanut butter
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.
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.
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:
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.
50 dry oats/ ½ cup
2 wheat biscuits
1 slice of bread
1 naan bread
100g dry cous cous/ ¾ cup/approximately 2 hands full
75g dry pasta/ ¾ cup/approximately 2 hands full
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
Helps to control blood glucose levels
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
2 slices of wholegrain toast
Low fat spread
75g dried pasta
½ tin of chopped tomatoes
Medium sized jacket potato
½ tin of baked beans
30g cheddar cheese
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.
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.
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.
Yakult- Lactobacillus casei shirota
Codex- Saccharomyces Boulardii
Actimel- Lacobacillus Casei
Mutaflor- Escherichia Coil Nissle
Dicoflor- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
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.