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Can you cure a hangover?

Can you cure a hangover?

Can you cure a hangover?

So, it’s that time of year again when all good intentions go to pot as we succumb to the excitement of the festive season and even the most ardent ambassadors of sobriety get swept up in the moment.  This time of year is synonymous with overindulgence and to be honest, why not enjoy yourself.  However, the fun times can come at a cost as we are left nursing the effects of a hangover the following day. For those with a more engaging social diary the whirlwind of events can start to take their toll as the festive season unfolds and heavy drinking over a long period can cause problems further down the line.

Research shows that we tend to drink more during the festive season and according to a survey commissioned by Cancer Research UK, young adults consume an average of 63 units in the run up to Christmas, which is the equivalent of 30 glasses of wine or 22 pints of beer.  As well as causing hangovers, this excess of booze can also affect our waistlines as these units contribute an extra 4000 calories (1).

What is a hangover?

The effects of drinking too much include headaches, dehydration, nausea and stomach ache as well as that non-descript feeling of anxiety experienced by some people and the lack of good quality sleep.  Alcohol is broken down in the liver and produces a compound called acetaldehyde, which is responsible for the unwanted side-effects of alcohol consumption. These effects become worse as you drink more, which leads to greater the build-up of acetaldehyde.

Whats the cure?

Everyone has their own take on the ultimate hangover cure but according to a large systematic review published by the British Medical Journal, researchers concluded that there was no convincing evidence for any conventional or complimentary interventions to prevent or treat them (2).  However, getting the basics right such as keeping hydrated, eating before drinking and choosing or avoiding certain foods and drinks may go some way to ease your pain.

Never drink on an empty stomach

Drinking on an empty stomach can be a recipe for disaster as this allows alcohol to be absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly.  According to the survey carried out by Cancer Research UK, a third of Brits aged 25-34-year olds said they skipped a meal to account for the extra calories (1).   The approach of avoiding food is seriously misguided as it not only increases the effect of alcohol but makes you more likely to nibble on bar snacks, buffets or visit the kebab house on the way home by stimulating the appetite.

Try to eat something before you go out even if it’s a sandwich on the way to the pub and choose something substantial with a good source of protein and healthy fats such as tuna sandwich, which will have more impact than a light salad.

Avoid dark coloured drinks

Dark coloured drinks such as brown spirits and red wine are rich in compounds called congeners.  These are impurities produced during the fermentation process, which add to the taste, aroma and appearance of dark coloured drinks.  The higher the concentration of congeners the more intense the hangover is likely to be the following day.

Hydrate!!!!

Few of us appreciate the impact of dehydration on the body, which can leave you feeling lightheaded, tired, confused and irritable. The body can survive for some time without food but not without water, which is why the effects of dehydration are felt more quickly.  Dehydration is a key driver for hangovers, especially as alcohol inhibits the production of anti-diuretic hormone, which is used by the body to re-absorb water.  Falling ill from drinking and vomiting only adds to the impact of dehydration.

To keep hydrated throughout the evening, alternate your alcoholic drinks with water and increase the length of your drinks with soda water or low-calorie mixers.  Drink plenty of fluids before bed and the following day and adding in electrolyte sachets can help to rebalance your system and replace nutrients commonly depleted by alcohol such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and B vitamins.

Avoid the greasy fry-up

The greasy fry-up is ubiquitous with hangovers but can actually leave you feeling much worse.   Fatty foods such as fried eggs, fried bread, sausages and bacon can put a strain on your digestive system as they take longer to break down and may encourage indigestion as well as leaving you feeling sluggish during the day.

Try something lighter such as boiled, poached or scrambled eggs on toast.  Eggs are nutritional powerhouses and contain a good source of the amino acid cysteine, which helps the liver to breakdown acetaldehyde.  Low blood sugar also contributes to the hungover feeling so team your breakfast with a glass of fresh fruit juice as a natural source of sugar as well as vitamin  C.

Think twice before reaching for the coffee

Coffee is a great pick-me-up but caffeine can leave you feeling jittery and upset sensitive tummies. Not everyone is as sensitive to the effects of caffeine so it’s a matter of personal choice.  Herbal teas are a good way to hydrate and ingredients such as ginger can help with nausea as well as providing an invigorating zingy flavour.  Ginger can be enjoyed as a tea by adding 1-2 tsp of ginger powder, ½ a lemon and 2 tsp of honey to a teapot, topping with hot water and leaving to brew for five minutes before serving.  The addition of a little honey can provide a gentle way to rebalance blood sugar levels.

Avoid energy drinks

Don’t be tempted by energy drinks as they are often high in sugar.  Some brands contain as much as 45g or 9 tsp of sugar per 500ml can, which will cause a serious sugar rush followed by a major crash, especially if drunk on an empty stomach.  These drinks, even if sugar- free are also loaded with high amounts of caffeine and other stimulants that can leave you feeling jittery and increase bowel spasms, especially in sensitive hungover guts.

Artichoke supplements may help

This supplement stimulates bile production and can help to relieve bloating and other symptoms of indigestion associated with alcohol consumption.  If you know you have a hectic month of over-indulgence ahead of you then try taking this supplement daily.

Foods that may help to promote good liver function

Certain foods may encourage greater bile flow through the liver, which helps to remove toxins more efficiently.   These include bitter and dark green vegetables (rocket, cabbage, kale and cabbage) and  globe artichokes.  Beetroot has also been traditionally associated with liver health by way of a plant compound called betaine.  All vegetables are hugely beneficial to health so the message here is just to eat more of them in general!!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the reality is that there is no miracle cure when it comes to hangovers and how rough you feel is largely dependent on how much you have drunk.  Whilst there are plenty of useful tips such as those above to help you feel a little less shabby the following day, it’s important to always drink sensibly.

 

References 

  1. Cancer Research UK Dryathlon 
  2. https://www.bmj.com/content/331/7531/1515

 

Time saving mealtime tips for carers

Time saving mealtime tips for carers

Time saving mealtime tips for carers 

I’m hugely passionate about the health and welfare of older people and continue to provide training to care homes and carers about the importance of nutrition.  This passion extends to the heath of carers and whilst I know there’s always so much going on when it comes to caring for older people, you should never overlook the importance of diet and nutrition.  This applies to yourself as well as those you care for.

Food has the power to do so much more than just nourish the body

Aside from the physical benefits of eating well, mealtimes are often the only opportunity many older people get to interact with someone and is a way for those with dementia to navigate their day. Food has a unique way of stimulating thoughts of the past and certain dishes/foods have the wonderful ability of conjuring up an association with occasions during the year such as strawberries for Wimbledon, pumpkins for Halloween, mithai for Diwali and sprouts for Christmas.  Amidst the current wellness landscape, I hope we never lose these associations between culture and food as they’re so much more important than the latest protein powder or green juice!

Carers in the UK

My hat goes off to carers in the UK and so should yours.  Aside from the huge commitment and impact it has on their health and wellbeing the economic contribution is estimated at £132 billion each year according to research carried out by the charity organisation Carers UK.

There’s no carer stereotype, but it can be defined as anyone (child or adult) who looks after a family member, partner or friend because they need help as a result of illness, frailty, disability, mental health problem or an addiction, and is not paid for their work.  There are around 7 million carers in the UK equating to one in ten people and this figure is predicted to rise by 3.4 million people over the next 15 years (1).

I’m focusing on those that care for older people and the majority of these carers in the UK are women, many of whom are considered to be part of the ‘sandwich generation’ caring for children and older parents at the same time (2).

I will write another blog on the impact of caring on health and the little attention they pay to their own self-care, which puts them at risk of both physical and mental health issues.

Financing the cost of care

The impact of caring can take its toll on those that still have to work at the same time, which is estimated to be one in eight carers.  Many carers have to sacrifice employment to fulfil their caring responsibilities, which can add to stress and financial commitments with surveys showing that 53% of carers have had to borrow money as a result of their caring role with 61% borrowing from friends or relatives and 41% having to use overdrafts.  It’s also been shown that 60% of carers have had to use all of their savings, whilst 23% have had to re-mortgage their homes or downsize to smaller properties to cover the costs (3).

The older carer

Another group of carers often not considered by those with little knowledge of this environment are those who are older themselves.  Research shows that 65% of carers aged 60-94 years themselves have long-term health problems and that 68% of such carers say that their caring role has had an adverse effect on their health with a third saying they have cancelled treatment or an operation because of their responsibilities (4).

Why is diet so important for older people being cared for?

The food we eat provides the energy and nutrients that the body needs to maintain good health.  Good nutrition is particularly important as we get older as it helps to support the immune system (which protects against infection) and offers nutrients that help with many other areas of health.

Nutrient deficiencies are not common in the general population but can occur in this age group and can lead to fatigue and low mood, and many other symptoms that can impact on day-to-day wellness.  Malnutrition is common in older people, especially those with dementia and this can not only make life more difficult for those that you care for but also for carers that have the added burden of dealing with the symptoms as a result.

We absorb nutrients less efficiently as we age and medication as well as lifestyle can also impact on this. There are also many other things that carers may have to consider when helping older people to eat well such as dentition or the changes brought about by dementia that affect all of the senses and the desire to eat.

Mealtimes are just one of the responsibilities of carers and aside from cooking food can be a lengthy process if they have to put time into helping someone to eat.  For those also supporting a family, it doesn’t take a maths genius to see how much time needs to be committed to mealtimes, especially if the person your caring for needs a lot of support.

Time management is essential and even more so to insure carers are taking time out for themselves, which many fails to do.  Mealtimes don’t have to feel like a burden and there are shortcuts that you can take to reduce the time spent in the kitchen without having to sacrifice good nutrition.

Get the basics right first

To insure every meal counts nutritionally you just need to get the basics right.  Meals should include a good source of protein (meat, fish, Quorn, tofu, beans, pulses, cheese), source of carbohydrates (pasta, bread, potatoes, rice or other grain) and plenty of vegetables, whilst bursting with flavour to encourage appetite.  This doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated as you can create some very simple meals using this principle, whilst making the most of time-saving preparation techniques and quick-fix foods.

Useful tips

I have put together this list of tips but there are probably many more that you already use and I would love to hear from you to share these ideas.

Breakfast smoothies 

Smoothies are a great way to provide a very quick breakfast or snack if you’re feeling rushed for time.  Use any milk as a base and throw in fruits (frozen or fresh), spinach and oats then sweeten with a little honey.  You can also prepare single smoothie packs in individual sandwich bags and keep them in the freezer to save a little more time. This is a great option if you’re trying to deal with malnutrition as you can easily whack up the calories by adding other ingredients such as oils, tofu or protein powders.

Batch cooking 

Cooking in batches once or twice a week is a great time saver.  Dishes such as stews, curries, casseroles, hearty soups and other one-pot dishes are perfectly suited to this and can be packaged individually and stored in the freezer.  Try adding in plenty of veggies to your dishes (frozen is fine) or pulses (canned) to maximise the nutritional content.  You can also add foods such as chicken livers to batch cooked meals to boost their nutritional content.  You can buy ready cooked grains in ambient pouches that can be microwaved to save time boiling grains.

Lunch platters

Mealtimes can be made up of lots of small food items, which can be taken straight from the fridge to create a lunch or supper platter.  Dips, vegetable sticks, chopped fruits, pitta breads, cooked meats, samosas, dim sum, sushi, scotch eggs, hard boiled eggs, cheese and biscuits are just a few examples and if stocked up can offer a meal in minutes.

Healthy ready meals 

You don’t have to be a slave to the stove when preparing meals and there are plenty of healthy ready-meals available that can be microwaved in minutes to provide a quick meal option. Foods such as fish pie, cottage pie or beef stew always go down well and can be teamed with a serving or two of frozen veggies such as carrots or peas to help boost the nutritional content of the meal.

Learn a repertoire of simple five-minute-meals 

Creating a quick repertoire of nutritious quick meals can be a great standby when you’re struggling with what to cook.  Eggs are perfect (omelettes or scrambled) as is wholemeal toast topped with canned fish or baked beans, pasta with canned tuna tomato sauce, soup with wholemeal toast and grilled salmon fillet with ready-made mashed potato.  Try teaming each dish with vegetables by either serving them as a side or adding them into the dish.

Nourishing soups 

Soups are a great way to cook up a meal in a flash and when served with wholemeal bread provide a good balanced meal.  Try and boost their nutrition potential by adding in canned pulses, lentils or other frozen vegetables before cooking.  Soups can be low in calories so try drizzling with a little olive oil after cooking or topping with parmesan shavings.

Make use of canned and jarred foods 

There’s nothing wrong with canned and jarred foods as they can be hugely nutritious and essential time-savers.  Canned tuna is a great protein booster and jarred sauces can be a life saver and reduce the time required to batch cook.  You can add fresh or frozen vegetables to these foods to boost their nutritional content.  A simple Bolognese sauce takes little more than mince, tomato sauce and some chopped vegetables to create a nutritionally balanced meal.

Create a list of weekly essentials

Take some time to get a grip on the foods that you use on a weekly basis to create healthy meals. If you have the essentials in stock, then you will never get caught short.

Keep snacks in stock

There will be times when you need snacks, which may be needed to help someone in your care to gain weight or for those moments when someone’s appetite is not strong enough to face a whole meal.  Foods such as cold meats, yoghurts and cheese are useful to keep in the fridge as are sweeter foods such as custard and fruits like bananas.

Don’t waste the left-overs

It’s amazing what you can create from leftovers and these can save a lot of time the following day when preparing meals.  Sunday roast leftovers can easily be whipped up into a nutritious hash the following day and spaghetti bolognese tastes great when re-fried.

Find ways to make sweet foods more healthy

In some instances the person your caring for may develop a sweet tooth, which is common in those with dementia.  If something sweet is the only way to get someone to eat then think of ways to add a little extra nutrition to the food your preparing.  Chopped fruit is good on custard and ice-cream, whilst fruit-based puddings made using fresh fruit such as pies and crumbles contain the benefits of the fruit and switching traditional crumble for something oat-based is good.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to helping an older person in your care to eat well.  Providing those in your care with a healthy nutritious diet is important but you also have to do the best you can within the moment in time.  Don’t make mealtimes stressful and try to use the tips above to take the strain off this area of your responsibilities. It goes without saying to figure out the foods that the person your caring for likes to eat as this can be a game-changer when their appetite is compromised.

My only final note is that carers don’t forget the importance of self-care and this means taking time out for yourself to eat and live well.  It can be difficult to see the woods for the trees with such responsibility but I for one think you are all amazing.

x

References

  1. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160109213406/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_300039.pdf
  2. https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/expert-comment/4604-sandwich-generation-concern-is-growing
  3. https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/caring-family-finances-inquiry
  4. https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/in-sickness-and-in-health

 

A dietary approach to prostate health

A dietary approach to prostate health

A dietary approach to prostate health

The awareness of men’s health has become more visible in recent years with the help and awareness driven by organisations such as the Movember Foundation, which have made the topic more accessible with their brilliant approach that resonates perfectly with men of all ages.

Prostate health

There are numerous health issues related to men, which encompass both mental and physical health and include conditions such as infertility, impotence, depression, overweight and those related to the prostate. Despite the raised awareness, many men still find it difficult or embarrassing to seek help and this is heavily influenced by social stigma, which is a key consideration in the promotion of men’s heath as it creates a barrier to men seeking help and advice.

Prostate health is unique to men and is typically correlated with age given that conditions associated with it mostly affect male baby boomers (aged 54-74 years) and Gen X (aged 39-53 years).  Diet and lifestyle have a key role to play in prostate and many other areas of health and establishing good habits from an earlier age will pave the way to better health in the long-term.

What is the prostate?

The prostate is a small gland about the size of a walnut, which surrounds the tube (urethra) responsible for carrying urine out of the body and also secretes fluid that nourishes and protects sperm.

Common prostate health complaints include benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or enlarged prostate.  The prostate gland naturally continues to grow with age but can cause troublesome symptoms in men with BPH, which make it difficult to urinate and empty the bladder.  Other prostate heath conditions include prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate, which can occur from the age of 30) and prostate cancer, which incurs more than 40,000 newly diagnosed cases every year in the UK making it the most common form of cancer amongst men.

Symptoms of both BPH and prostate cancer are similar given they are both related to an enlarged prostate and include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Weak or interrupted urine flow or the need to strain to empty the bladder
  • The urge to urinate frequently at night
  • Blood in the urine
  • Blood in the seminal fluid

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is a big health issue amongst men but is slow to develop meaning symptoms may not occur for many years until the prostate is large enough to affect urination.  An enlarged prostate does not mean you have cancer, but the symptoms shouldn’t be ignored.  The causes of prostate cancer are largely unknown, but the risk is increased beyond the age of fifty and for reasons as yet unclear the disease appears to be more common in men of African-Caribbean or African descent.  There also seems to be a slight increased risk in men with a family history of prostate cancer.

A reliable method of screening for prostate cancer is yet unavailable and early detection relies on vigilance about symptoms and regular check-ups with your GP.  A blood test called prostatic-specific antigen (PSA) test is available but is not specific to prostate cancer and PSA levels can be raised as a result of other non-cancerous conditions.  If you have raised PSA levels, then you may be offered an MRI scan to help further diagnose the risk of cancer.

Men’s attitudes to health

Research has shown how men are less likely to engage and react to healthcare information or recall the warning signs of cancer when compared to women (1,2). The cultural script of men has imprinted a definition of masculinity characterised by a need to be tough, brave, strong and self-reliant, which can influence their attitudes towards seeking help and overall self-care. Phrases such as ‘man up’ are now common place in our lingo used by men and women alike and are a good example of how this characterisation of men continues to be enforced.

Boys from an early age are often led to believe that if they don’t exhibit these characteristics of the ‘traditional’ male then they will in some way lose their status and respect as men, which contributes to many of the issues surrounding men’s health.  Kids story books and animated movies are riddled with such characterisations of princes and superheroes relied upon to save the day, which is often (rightly) fiercely protested against by women seeking equality but is less considered as to the impact on young men and the contribution to social stigma putting pressure on men to behave in a certain way.

The importance of diet on health

Research convincingly shows that people who eat a healthy diet are more likely to live longer and have a reduced risk of disease, but the link between diet, food and specific health conditions is often less clear.  It’s the overall diet that has the greatest impact on health but in the case of prostate health there are some studies to suggest that certain foods and nutrients may be particularly beneficial.  Most of these benefits can be achieved by eating a healthy balanced diet but introducing certain foods may be worth paying some consideration to.

How can diet help with prostate health?

I don’t want to sound boring, but you have to get the basics right first.  The modern dialogue around nutrition is overly focused on individual nutrients and foods, whilst the nature of the current wellness landscape gives more credence to the latest fads and diet trends over the basic principles of healthy eating.  Focusing on eating a balanced diet can help insure micronutrient intake and also help you to maintaining a healthy body weight, which is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of ill health.  This is particularly relevant to prostate cancer as findings from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) have shown a strong association between being overweight or obese and the risk of developing the disease (3).

Start with the basics

Start by eating three meals daily and cutting out snacks unless you really need to include them.  Pile the veggies high, limit your intake of red meat, switch to ‘brown’ carbs and wholegrains, choose healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds), cut back on sugar, watch your salt intake and serve small portions of food to help manage your weight.

Eat more salmon

Oily fish such as salmon are the richest source of omega 3 fatty acids, which we need to obtain from the diet.  Intake of oily fish in the UK is low with very few people including this food in their diet.  Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body, which may help to relieve the symptoms of BPH.  Salmon fillets can be marinated to make them more interesting or added to dishes such as fish pie, curry and salads.

Get more fibre in your diet

High-fibre foods include fruits (fresh and dried), vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and lentils. According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey only 13% of men meet the recommended dietary guidance of 30g per day and this is most likely due to choosing refined carbohydrates, not eating enough vegetables and ignoring foods such as beans and pulses (4).  Dietary fibre can help to reduce the risk of constipation, which can put pressure on the bladder and worsen symptoms of BPH.  Eating more fruits and vegetables is probably the easiest and most effective change you can make to your diet to significantly improve your health.  Many foods in this group contain a good source of vitamin C, which is also thought to help relieve the symptoms associated with BPH (5). Most of us get more than enough vitamin C in our diet but foods such as berries, peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli and cauliflower are good sources.

Cut down on fizzy drinks, alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners

You should try and avoid drinking anything up to two hours before bedtime to lessen the need to use the bathroom during the night. Fizzy drinks, alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners can all irritate the bladder and worsen the symptoms of BPH so you should try limiting your intake of these types of drinks.

Eat foods rich in beta-sitosterol

Foods rich in a plant substance called beta-sitosterol have been shown to reduce the symptoms of BPH including urinary flow and volume and may help to lessen the effects of inflammation and prostate growth. Foods rich in beta-sitosterol include seeds, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, raw cacao and fresh coriander.

Include soy foods as part of your diet

There’s a little research to suggest that phytoestrogens (plant compounds that mimic the effect of the hormone oestrogen) found in soy called isoflavones may help to relive the symptoms of BPH.  Soy isoflavones can be found in foods such as tofu, soya milk, soya yoghurt, miso, tamari, edamame beans and tempeh.  These foods have also been shown to help reduce cholesterol, making them a healthy addition to the diet and are a great alternative to animal protein for those looking to go meat-free. Swapping dairy products for soy is the simplest way to start including it in your diet.

Soy is one of the most controversial foods and you may have heard of the research linking it to the growth of ‘man boobs’.  Firstly, the effect of plant oestrogens on hormonal balance is weak and secondly, the research involved the consumption of unrealistically huge amounts of soy milk every day.

Eat plenty of foods rich in zinc

This mineral is very important for men, who have a higher daily requirement than women.  Zinc is essential for male reproductive health, which includes proper prostate function.  Research has suggested that men suffering with BPH and prostate cancer may have lower levels of zinc, but this is not considered a risk factor for either condition.  You can get plenty of zinc in your diet by eating foods such as shellfish, meat, pulses, beans, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and eggs.

Red fruits and vegetables

Red fruits and vegetables are rich in the antioxidant phytonutrient lycopene.  Tomatoes are the richest source, especially when cooked or processed but other foods include red peppers, pink grapefruit and watermelon.  Lycopene has long been associated with reducing the risk of prostate cancer but updated findings from the WCRF have downgraded the evidence to support this link from ‘strong’ to ‘no conclusion possible’ in light of the current available research (3).  Lycopene may still be beneficial for prostate health and these new findings don’t mean that it’s suddenly redundant, but only that the new research has made it more difficult to establish a link to prostate cancer.

A healthy balanced diet is important for all areas of health, which includes that of the prostate.  Focusing on food and managing your weight are significant ways to help promote good prostate health and the sooner you adopt healthy eating habits the better.  All men over fifty should be vigilant about recognising the signs of prostate cancer and seek regular check-ups with their GP as a habitual part of their lifestyle.

For more advice on prostate cancer visit the NHS website here.

For more information on mens health and diet try reading these blogs

An in-depth look at the current state of men’s health in the UK 

The blokes guide to going vegan 

Cooking for prostate health

How easy is it to get your 10-a-day?

Quorn, cauliflower and sultana curry recipe 

Super green stir-fry with smoked tofu recipe 

 

References 

  1. https://jech.bmj.com/content/61/12/1086
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790705/
  3. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/prostate-cancer
  4. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19716283
What’s the best way to lose weight?

What’s the best way to lose weight?

What’s the best way to diet and lose weight?

During my many years working as a nutritionist I’ve always shied away from the topic of weight loss mostly because I think it’s a hugely complex topic, which requires input from many disciplines and a unique skill set held by dietitians and nutritionists who specialise in this area.

I can tell someone what and how much to eat and devise menu plans and shopping lists to fit in with their lifestyle and food budget, which in some cases has been successful. However, on the whole my experience of helping people to lose weight has been frustrating and enlightened me to the realisation that, ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’.  I know that if a client has me at their disposal to follow them around each day and cook every meal then i’ll get great results, but the reality is that when they leave, the onus is on them to make healthy food choices.

Motivation 

Losing weight takes a huge amount of motivation and commitment and the factors influencing food choice are hugely complex.  It drives me absolutely bloody bonkers when I hear people say that losing weight is simple and just a case of eating less and moving more.  This ignorance comes from a complete lack of understanding amongst those that have never had an issue with their weight.  The problem is that being overweight is very visible and conjures up an unfair image of indulgence or greed as well as being associated with many other social stigmas and unfortunately society often has very little appreciation for the wider issues involved.

Mindset

Mindset is a major component of losing weight and the psychological issues involved are becoming more apparent as being a key factor in compliance and long-term weight maintenance.  One very relevant factor in the aetiology of weight loss is the link between food and mood, which often manifests as an emotional crutch, hampering efforts to lose weight.  Some people put all their faith and commitment into diet plans to the point at which falling off the wagon represents a huge failure impacting on their ability to stick to the programme and sometimes results in binge eating and reverting back to old ways of eating.  Tackling the psychological effects of food is something that needs to be addressed if this is getting in your way of losing weight.

Decision to lose weight 

When it comes to losing weight, there are those that just want to shift a few pounds and others with a much greater amount of weight to lose to improve their health.  In my experience it can be more challenging to shift the last few pounds and those with less weight to lose tend to get drawn to the abundance of diet fads. Unfortunately, for many people, the decision to lose weight is often made as a result of a health diagnosis that puts things into perspective but the positive here is that it’s never too late to reap the benefits. Many of the risks associated with being overweight can have a major impact on someone’s lifespan but just as damaging is the effect on long-term wellness and the number of years living with poor health.  Being overweight or obese can mean living with joint pain, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, breathlessness and psychosocial issues such as depression, low self-esteem and feeling isolated, all of which make it more difficult to drum up the motivation to lose weight.  On top of this, many of the conditions that often accompany being overweight or obese involve medication, which can have unwanted side-effects and become a day-to-day burden.

No hard and fast rule 

There’s no hard and fast rule to losing weight and one size certainly doesn’t fit all.  The key to long-term success has little to do with the speed at which you lose weight, but the habit changes made along the way, which often dictate the chances of keeping the weight off.

Weight loss is a minefield and there are some brilliant nutritionists and dietitians out there that can offer support and guidance.  The support provided by weight loss groups such as Weight Watchers has also been shown to be a key factor in success, but if this isn’t your thing then approaching weight loss with a friend or work colleagues can have a similar impact.  You can of course embark on a weight loss regime on your own but it’s important to do this in the right way and not get sucked into the hype around new diet fads.

Media confusion 

Ignore what you read in the media as this can often cause confusion.  Advice such as that telling you to cut out carbs, shun counting calories, eat loads of protein or avoid eating at certain times is fine in the context of certain methods of weight loss but these messages are good examples of our current obsession of defining diet and health by individual foods and nutrients.  The negative impact of such messaging is that it has the potential to cause false ideas around healthy eating and labelling foods as somehow being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can detract away from the basic principles of eating well. Focusing on certain nutrients and positioning them as a key driver for weight gain also causes confusion, blurring the basics of healthy eating and making it seem more complicated.

Carbohydrates 

Carbohydrates are one of the best examples of how we have become overly focused on individual nutrients and foods groups.  The messaging around carbohydrates and health has become very negative and for some are viewed as being at the root of weight gain and disease.  A diet high in carbohydrates can cause weight gain, diabetes and inflammation but it needs to be put into context to be fully understood.  Whilst people attribute a diet high in carbohydrates to poor health, few actually define what this looks like, which has led to people taking the issue out of context.

If your daily diet includes over-sized portions of sugary cereals and muffins for breakfast, huge white baguette filled with something high in sat fat for lunch and an extra-large pizza for dinner, all of which are accompanied by sugary snacks, soft drinks and hot beverages doused with sugar, then this is clearly not a healthy way to eat and goes against the basic principles of healthy eating.  If you eat like this, then there’s also a very good chance that you’re unhealthy in many other ways such as lacking in exercise. However, this cannot be compared to a diet that includes a sensible portion of porridge oats for breakfast, quinoa and chicken salad for lunch and then a tofu stir-fry with brown rice for dinner, whilst also avoiding snacks and sugary drinks.  These two diet examples both include carbohydrates and one is clearly healthier that the other but without putting this nutrient in the right context, people develop false ideas and the confusion around what foods they should be eating continues to grow.

Small changes 

Taking a small changes approach is a good way to start.  Rather than becoming overwhelmed and trying to make dramatic changes to the way you eat, start by looking at your current diet and thinking about how you can adapt this to make it healthier.  The basics of healthy eating still apply to weight loss in that you need to cut down on the number of calories you eat and insure that these calories come from nutritious foods that will help to keep you feeling full and reduce your risk of disease (lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables and fibre-rich wholegrains).

These are just a few ideas of some of the changes you might think about making:

  • Switch to low fat milk and dairy products
  • Choose lower fat meats
  • Avoid snacking or choose healthy snacks
  • Use a smaller plate to control your portion size
  • Make take-away food a treat and reserve to one night of the week (try making healthy choices)
  • Reduce your alcohol intake and avoid binge drinking
  • Gradually reduce your sugar intake in hot beverages and switch to low sugar food products and diet soda
  • Limit fruit juice and smoothies to one-a-day
  • Increase your intake of vegetables
  • Switch to ‘brown carbs’ such as wholemeal pasta and bread, and wholegrain rice
  • Work out your meal combinations in handfuls i.e. one handful of protein, one handful of ‘brown’ carb and unlimited veggies
  • Check food labels; the reality is that many people don’t cook from scratch so choose foods that are labelled as green or amber on the front-of-pack

The accumulation of many small changes can have a big impact on your food intake and weight loss. Every small change also represents a change in eating behaviour that can have a greater impact in the long-term.

Diets

Diets are another approach and can provide a kick-start that some people need to achieve their weight loss goals.  Diets are appealing because they offer a starting point and end goal as well as providing a set of rules to follow. The fact that you are told what, how much and when to eat also adds to their charm. Embarking on a diet can provide motivation, which is amplified by the availability of apps that can help to monitor and track your progress.

Putting very extreme diets aside, there is no single diet that can be said to be superior over another no matter what their marketing says.  The most successful diet is only going to be the one that you stick with and this is influenced by the way you live your life.  There are a multitude of diets out there, which will all tell you they are the best but just because your best friend or a certain celebrity lost lots of weight doesn’t mean you will.  Do your research and figure out what diet will work best for you.  If you know you can’t live without carbs then don’t try following a ketogenic diet (low carb).  If you struggle with energy levels across the day because of a very busy work schedule, then fasting two days of the week may not be realistic.  If your job involves long working hours and late nights entertaining clients then fasting for 16 hours could mean eating your first meal at 3pm, which is clearly not going to work.  If the diet becomes a chore then your chances of sticking to it are less likely.

Weight maintenance 

Whatever the outcome of your diet, you need to consider how you are going to take things forward once you have managed to lose weight.  It’s not uncommon for the end of a diet to signify an opportunity to revert back to old eating habits but what’s the point in dieting if this is the case. This all goes back to the benefits of developing new eating habits that will help you to maintain a healthy weight. A diet worth its weight in gold is the one that teaches you ways to eat that encourage healthy eating habits.

Many diets talk about other health benefits such as increased energy levels, reduction in certain diseases or glowing skin, but you should keep your eye on the prize and these are all potential benefits of losing weight and not specific to that diet per se.

I have no answer to the question of what the best way is to lose weight as it is dependent on the individual.  Losing weight is not simple and there are many factors that can impact on someone’s ability to do so and keep the weight off.  What I can tell you is that finding a method that fits in with your lifestyle and encourages you to develop new habits around food choice is more likely to result in long-term success and that tackling the wider issues such as the psychologically around food may be hugely beneficial in some cases.

National curry week 2018 – health benefits of curry

National curry week 2018 – health benefits of curry

National curry week 2018

Curry is a word that typically conjures up an image of late-night dining following one too many beers after work on a Friday night or an unhealthy take-away food, but I’m going to put myself out there as saying this reputation is poorly misplaced.

Any food within a particular context could be deemed as being unhealthy but if you break down the components of curry and remove the beers and comfort eating aspect then what you’re left with is actually very healthy.

The origins of curry

The UK has adopted curry as a ‘national dish’ with thousands of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants creating British-Asian meals we’ve all become familiar with such as chicken tikka masala, Balti and vindaloo.  The word ‘curry’ was invented by the British when they ruled India and adapted from the Tamil word ‘kari’, meaning sauce.  This word has now become an umbrella term to describe dishes that have originated from the Indian subcontinent, but is a definition reserved for the British.

India consists of 28 states with most of these having their own regional cuisines, few of which include the word ‘curry’.  The curry powder we have been accustomed to wouldn’t feature in your typical Indian kitchen and is a British creation, which was developed by Indian spice merchants.  The closest Indian comparison is a blend called garam masala that tends to be used towards the end of cooking.

Traditional dishes originating or inspired by Indian cuisine are characterised by the extensive use of spices, which define the unique flavour of this cuisine.  Indian cooking also includes many plant foods such as vegetables, pulses and lentils that are also thought to have a multitude of positive health benefits.

Variety is key

India is one of many countries whose mealtimes are a sharing affair, which involves a number of different dishes mostly cooked from scratch. This way of eating not only illustrates the positive impact of eating together and sharing mealtimes but also includes eating a wide variety of foods offering a broad spectrum of nutrients.  It’s a fair argument that such cultures dedicate a lot of time to preparing meals and often have an inherited knowledge of recipes and cooking, which is very different to our time-stretched culture that has become over reliant on quick-fix meals and snacking.  However, drawing inspiration from such cultural dining practices may help to improve the way we tend to eat in the Western world.

The health benefits of spices

Many spices are used in Indian cuisine and also feature as a key component of Ayurvedic medicine, which is one of the oldest of traditional medicine systems originating from India thousands of years ago.  Spices are commonly defined as an aromatic part of a tropical plant, which includes roots, barks, flowers and seeds, most of which are Asian in origin. Advances in scientific research has helped to identify and explain some of the benefits associated with spices and how they may contribute to health and the reduction of disease risk.

Spices fight Inflammation

Inflammation is essential to life and is the body’s natural response to injury or infection.  The flip side is that inflammation can have a harmful effect and research has shown that factors such as obesity, smoking, stress and a sedentary lifestyle can promote inflammation to the point at which is contributes to a variety of diseases (1)

Acute inflammation is characterised by redness, swelling, pain and heat, which is a protective response designed to heal the body and restore normal tissue function.  Chronic inflammation can begin in the same way but morph into a state that lingers over a long period of time, failing to respond to the immune systems attempts to eliminate the problem. This low-level inflammation can also occur even when there is no injury or disease.  When the immune system becomes uncontrolled in this way, white blood cells can attack healthy tissues and organs, setting up chronic inflammatory processes that are thought to play a key part in many diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even Alzheimer’s.

Alongside maintaining a healthy body weight and making healthy lifestyle choices, diet is thought to have a role to play in helping to reduce inflammation.  Research has shown that spices possess anti-inflammatory properties and whilst the findings are mixed, they’re still promising and suggest a benefit to including these foods in your diet.

Spices act as antioxidants 

Spices along with fruits and vegetables are a key source of natural antioxidants in the diet.  These antioxidants help to reduce oxidative stress in the body, which is caused by a high concentration of free radicals in cells and tissues induced by a number of factors such as excess exposure to UV, stress, polluted food, smoking and adverse environmental conditions. If the body becomes overwhelmed with free radicals and is unable to regulate them it can alter lipids, proteins and DNA, potentially triggering disease.

It’s worth pointing out here that free radicals are a natural by-product of metabolism, which is defined as the chemical processes that occur within the body such as those involved in converting food into energy.  Free radicals are essential to life as the body’s ability to turn food into chemical energy relies on a chain reaction of free radicals, which are also a crucial part of the immune system, which help to attack pathogens (foreign invaders).

The term ‘antioxidant’ is somewhat overused in the health arena and whilst achieving a balance between free radicals and antioxidant intake is key, they shouldn’t be be viewed as a panacea to good health.  Many foods contain nutrients that act as antioxidants and whilst eating plenty of these foods such as spices may help to protect against the damage caused by excess free radicals that can build up in the body, it’s important to make lifestyle changes such as losing weight, stopping smoking, drinking less, managing stress and spending less time in the sun rather than relying solely on such foods and supplements to counteract the impact of these lifestyle habits.

The antioxidant activity of spices is related to their chemical composition, mostly the presence of polyphenolic and other biologically active compounds.  The primary antioxidants and biologically active compounds in spices include flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, essential oils and alkaloids (2, 3).  These all behave in different ways such as flavonoids have the ability to scavenge free radicals and form complexes with catalytic metal ions that render them inactive (4).

A source of minerals

All spices are a source of minerals such as potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc.  Amongst all the minerals in spices, iron exists in the greatest concentration.  This mineral is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide.  Food surveys have shown that more than 27% of women in the UK have inadequate intakes of iron in their diet and low levels are compounded by monthly menstrual blood losses (5).  Including spices in your diet can be a really useful way to boost your intake of minerals such as iron.

Reducing salt in your diet

Spices enhance the flavour of food and can help to reduce the amount of salt used in cooking, which is good for people with high blood pressure.  Adding spices to food is also a good way to ‘tantalise the taste buds’ and there are many ways to include these in our cooking in the place of salt.

Interesting ways to include more Indian spices into your diet

  • Add turmeric to scrambled egg
  • Add curry powder to boiled rice
  • Use spices to create rubs and marinades for meats
  • Spices such as cumin and ground coriander work well in salad dressings
  • Try adding curry powder or garam masala to traditional homecooked dishes such as shepherd’s pie for an Indian twist
  • Spice up a jar of tomato cook-in-sauce with Indian spices that could include garam masala, curry powder, mustard seeds, turmeric or fresh curry leaves.
  • Try making homemade cashew nut milk with turmeric (great served hot or cold). Add 100g of raw cashew nuts, 1 tsp of turmeric powder, 1 tsp of ground cinnamon and 2 tsp of honey to a high-powered blender with 500ml of water then blitz until smooth.  You can loosen the consistency by adding more water if you like.
  • Add curry powder or garam masala to basic vegetable soup recipe or even shop-bought fresh soups for an Indian twist.

Plant-based eating

There are many benefits associated with eating more plant-based foods.  As a nation we do not eat enough fruits and vegetables with only a third of people managing to meet the five-a-day guidance (5).  Plant foods also provide a rich source of fibre that has been shown to help with good digestion and reduce the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes and help with weight loss.  In the UK it has been shown that less than 10% of adults achieve the recommended daily intake of 30g per day (5).

Anecdotally, many people find vegetables boring to eat and often say that they don’t enjoy the flavour.  In my experience of cooking with people, I have found that with a little inspiration, even the most disliked vegetables can be reinvented with the use of spices and become something completely different.  Spices can also be used to add an Indian twist to vegetarian dishes.

Indian spices are always a great way to spice food and these are just a few ways to turn a plain old vegetable or vegetarian dish into something that’s irresistibly delicious:

  • Rub cauliflower with curry paste and roast in the oven.
  • Combine a 400g can of chickpeas (drained) with 1 tbsp of garam masala or curry powder and roast in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes.
  • Stir-fry okra with chopped red onion, ginger and cherry tomatoes, and fresh curry leaves.
  • Fry mustard seeds and crushed coriander seeds in a pan with a little oil until they begin to pop. Take them off the heat and stir through blanched green beans with a little oil.
  • I’m always looking for ways to make cooking tofu more enjoyable and found that it lends itself well to Indian cuisine and is a great alternative to paneer. I also discovered recently that you can bake tofu, which gives it a firm meaty texture.  You need to choose extra firm varieties and it can be marinated before or after cooking.
  • Learn to make a basic dhal recipe such as this one from mine and Lily’s cookbook

Healthy curry food swaps

There’s no doubt that many of us choose to eat curry on a night out or as take-away on a night in, but it doesn’t need to be a calorie laden affair.

  • Rather than ordering a meal solely for yourself, opt for sharing and choose plenty of plant-based options such as lentils and vegetables
  • Try choosing tomato-based curries over those laden with cream or coconut milk, which can be high in saturated fat
  • Try choosing oven cooked (tandoor) meats such as chicken and teaming them with vegetable dishes
  • Ditch the breads such as chapatti and naan

The true health benefits of curry are often overshadowed by the reputation this type of food has acquired.  The use of spices and plant-based foods are at the root of the health benefits associated with this the of cuisine.

Try this healthy vegetarian curry recipe, which not only provides many of the health benefits associated with South Asian cuisine but tastes bloody great!

 

Butternut, lentil and coconut curry

Serves 4 (very generously)

Ingredients

1 butternut squash

2 low-sodium vegetable stock cubes

1 tbsp coconut or groundnut oil

2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Large thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1 red chilli, finely chopped

400g can coconut milk

1/2 tsp of sea salt

250g red lentils

2 tsp turmeric

Pinch of black pepper

2 large handfuls of spinach

1 large lime, juiced

2 large handfuls of coriander, finely chopped

 

Method

  1. Peel the squash, halve and remove the seeds then cut into 1 inch chunks.
  2. Dissolve the stock cubes in 1000ml of boiling water.
  3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over a medium heat.
  4. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli then fry gently for about 5 minutes until the ingredients are soft.
  5. Turn up the heat and add the squash, stock and coconut milk to the pan and bring to the boil. Check the curry for seasoning and add salt. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and place the lid on the pan then cook for 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the lid and add the lentils, turmeric and black pepper then simmer for a further 15-20 minutes over a medium heat until the squash and lentils are tender. Add a little more water of the curry starts to dry out.
  7. Take the curry off the heat and stir through the spinach, lime juice and coriander. The curry should be a thick consistency but add more water if needed.
  8. Serve in large bowls.

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22226987
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27881064
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411016302024
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618098/
  5. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
Does veganism fully live up to its reputation as a healthier and more environmentally friendly way of eating?

Does veganism fully live up to its reputation as a healthier and more environmentally friendly way of eating?

Does veganism fully live up to its reputation as a healthier and more environmentally friendly way of eating?

Even though I’m not a vegan, I try to adopt this way of eating a few days of the week.  Just to be clear, I’m pro-vegan and have always supported and recognised the health benefits of eating this way.  This blog is in no way about slating the vegan diet but an objective way for me to raise my concerns about the direction in which this way of eating seems to be heading.  I also want to talk about the topic of environment; whilst this is a key driver for many people adopting this way of eating the issues involved may not be that clear cut and there may be factors that some people have not considered. This is an opinion piece so feel free to get in touch with your views on the topic.

The benefits of plant-based eating

The common perceived persona of someone following a vegan diet is that they’re health conscious and dedicated to eating well, whilst being concerned about animal welfare and environmental issues.  Once stereotyped as sandal wearing hippies, the image of modern vegans has been redefined, which has been helped along by celebrities and sports people alike.

Research shows that a well-balanced vegan diet is more likely to contain a higher concentration of key nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients.  It has also been shown that plant-based diets may reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and digestive issues such as constipation. People who follow a plant-based diet also tend to adopt healthier lifestyle choices by exercising more, drinking less and not smoking.

One of the well versed concerns over veganism that drives me mad is that you cannot glean all the essential nutrients required for good health by cutting out meat, dairy and other animal products.  This concern is misplaced as it’s not the vegan diet that’s at fault here but how an individual’s diet is constructed.

Going vegan doesn’t necessarily equate to healthy eating

The lack of access to prepared vegan foods can be a barrier for people trying to stick with this diet, which has historically required a little more thought and preparation.  Whilst the common perception of veganism is that it’s a very healthy way of eating reserved for those dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle, this diet doesn’t exclude sugar, refined carbohydrates and fried foods, which have the potential to cause weight gain and increase the risk of disease.

Vegans are a healthier bunch all-round and typically make healthier food choices as well as leading healthier lifestyles but could the rise in popularity of this diet become it’s Achilles heel?

As veganism becomes more popular so has access to foods appropriate for this diet.  The positive here is that vegans have more access to ready-prepared foods that help to take the pressure off meal planning.  The downside is that innovation has given rise to the vegan junk-food revolution.  Trend reports over the recent years have predicted a rise in vegan junk food, which has the potential to even the playing field with respect to unhealthy eating between plant-based and omnivore diets.

Meat alternatives such as seitan and jack fruit (has a similar texture to pulled pork) are now being used to create kebabs, burgers, pies, tacos and even ‘fish and chips’, which are potentially no less healthy than their meat counterparts.  The food industry has also reacted to the popularity of veganism by producing a wealth of snacks, which are often high in sugar, salt and saturated fats.  Whilst these foods may make veganism more accessible, it does little to retain the reputation of this diet as being superiorly healthy.

Veganism and the environment

Concerns over the environment have always been a valid reason for many people to go vegan.  I have always used this as one of the key reasons to go vegan or eat this way a few days of the week when I write about this diet but reading around the topic recently got me thinking more deeply.

Seasonality can cause challenges to vegan eating as foods may become more limited during certain months. It’s all well and good eating a plant-based diet but if you’re eating tomatoes and other summer vegetables all year round then this will ramp up the carbon footprint of your shopping basket.

Meat production is undoubtedly one of the most damaging environmental factors given the release of methane gases and use of water involved in farming, but the production of plant foods also needs some consideration.  Like omnivores, many of us now expect to be able to access certain foods all year round, but the foods we choose to put in our weekly shopping baskets can take their toll on food mileage.  Vegan foods high in protein such as beans, pulses and lentils are mostly imported from Brazil, Canada and the US, whilst other popular vegetables used extensively in vegan cuisine such as avocados are flown in from Kenya and Mexico.

According to the Vegan Society, the UK has growing conditions that are suitable to producing plant proteins such as beans and pulses for direct human consumption, but it currently assigns only 16 per cent of its agricultural land to growingsuch crops, most of which are used to feed farmed animals.

The demand for on-trend vegan foods also impacts on the country from which they’re sourced.  The popularity of foods such as quinoa has driven their price so high that they’ve become unaffordable to those relying on them in their country of origin.  Social media has helped to drive the popularity of vegan eating and you will struggle to find a single vegan Instagram profile that doesn’t include an avocado.  I use this fruit as an example because they take their toll on the environment by requiring more water to cultivate than any other crop and the demand for this food has even led to extensive deforestation to farm more of them in countries such as Mexico.  The issue of plastic also exists no matter what diet you follow given its excess use in food packaging.

Finding a balance between locally sourced and imported foods

Whilst veganism is at its core healthy, it’s not exempt from many of the environmental concerns of any other diet. Sourcing local food and following the seasons harvest is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint but there also needs to be a balance to insure the welfare of the farmers, whose livelihood relies on exports of their food.  UK producers of foods such as quinoa, lentils and pulses are on the rise but including some imported foods as well as locally sourced can help to support all food producers globally.

I think what I’m getting at here in this blog is that whilst veganism may have a reputation for being healthy and helping to protect the environment, it’s not that clear cut.  The evolution of vegan junk food is set to continue and has the potential to threaten the health of vegans, although the impact may not be that great given the attitudes of most vegans towards health. It may be that the effect of these foods sees a rise in new vegans that find it easier to follow this type of diet with the availability of such convenience foods.  This new breed of vegan may also be defined by a very different health profile to their predecessors.  Putting meat to one side, there are also many other environmental considerations vegans share with omnivores, which need to be equally taken account of.

Whether you’re vegan or omnivore the basic principles of healthy eating still apply and the quality of your diet relies on the food choices you make whilst the responsibility to protect the environment is an issue that should be considered by everyone and not taken for granted just because you choose to follow a plant-based diet.

 

If you liked this blog and are interested in the topic of veganism then have a read of these:

Thinking of going dairy free?

The blokes guide to going vegan

Are you and your daughters lacking iron in the diet?

Foods high in zinc

Quorn, cauliflower and sultana curry recipe 

Supergreen stir-fry with smoked tofu recipe

Raw salad with black garlic dressing recipe

Nutty couscous and veggie salad recipe 

Edamame bean salad recipe 

 

Chocolate can be good for you

Chocolate can be good for you

Chocolate can be good for you

This week is Chocolate Week!!!!

The History of chocolate 

The history of chocolate dates back over 3000 years to the Olmec civilization.  Cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are harvested from a tree called Theobroma Cacao, meaning ‘food of the Gods’.  Aztecs are thought to have enjoyed cacao beans by making a ‘drink’ called Chicolati, which was believed to increase wisdom, boost energy and act as an aphrodisiac. This brew was seasoned with vanilla, chilli, honey or fruit and whipped into a froth using little sticks.  I love their choice of flavours, which have now become commonplace amongst chocolate bars and puddings.

Since its discovery by Europeans and the vast time through to modern day, millions of people have helped to drive the popularity of this ultimate sweet treat.  The reputation of chocolate has evolved over time from a luxury food synonymous with wealth, to an easily affordable comfort food whilst the association with romantic gesture (food of love) and mood has remained since first discovered.

Global retail sales of chocolate are staggering with estimates of over £75 billion per year and in the UK alone, we spend over £3 billion annually.

Types of chocolate

Chocolate comes in many forms nowadays and is defined by the percentage of cocoa it contains.  Milk chocolate contains a low percentage of cocoa (23% cocoa solids) and is high in sugar and saturated fat.  Darker varieties have a greater percentage of cocoa (anything from 70-90% cocoa solids) and slightly less sugar and saturated fat (although still high).  Cocoa powder contains hardly any sugar, low amounts of saturated fat and is rich in minerals and other compounds that may benefit health.

Nutritional content of cocoa

Cocoa in its raw form is a good source of minerals including iron (helps to maintain healthy red blood cell production), magnesium (helps to maintain healthy bones, promotes muscle relaxation and converts food into energy), phosphorus (healthy bones and converts food into energy), potassium (helps maintain fluid balance and helps the heart to work properly),  zinc (helps to make new cells and enzymes in the body and wound healing) and copper (helps to produce red and white blood cells and with iron usage in the body).

Nutritional breakdown of unsweetened cocoa powder per 2 heaped tsp

Calories         44

Fat                  1.9g

Sat fat             1.8g

Carb                 1.6g

Sugar              0g

Fibre               2.3g

Protein           2.6g

Also contains….

Iron                 1.57mg (11% RDA)

Magnesium    73mg   (19% RDA)

Phosphorus    92mg (13% RDA)

Potassium       210mg (10.5% RDA)

Zinc                 0.97mg (9.7% RDA)

Copper           0.55mg (55% RDA)

Other compounds found in cocoa

Cocoa is richer in antioxidants that almost any other food on the planet.  These antioxidant compounds are called flavanol polyphenols and have been shown to help reduce the risk of disease. Cocoa also contains a compound called theobromine, which acts as a stimulant similar to caffeine but without the jittery side-effects. You will also find phenethylamine (PEA) in cocoa, which is a compound that stimulates the central nervous system to amplify the action of brain chemicals including the ‘feel’ good hormones serotonin and dopamine.  Phenethylamine is also thought to mimic the brain chemistry of someone in love, which is why it’s often thought of as an aphrodisiac.

What are the potential health benefits of cocoa?

In moderation there’s nothing wrong with eating chocolate within the context of a healthy diet, but too much of anything can have its downsides and our reliance on high sugar snacks has been instrumental in the rise of diet related diseases including obesity.

Whilst overindulging on chocolate snack bars and puddings is clearly not great for your health, research has shown that there may be health benefits associated with cocoa, which is the raw ingredient.

Just to be clear, there are no benefits associated with tucking into a few packets of Minstrels and any positive impact on health is linked to cocoa in its raw form of cocoa powder or raw cacao.  The closest chocolate comes to having any health benefits is the dark variety with a high percentage of cocoa solids (70% and above), but this still needs to be eaten in moderation given its high sugar and sat fat content.

Heart disease

The polyphenols in cocoa are thought to dilate the arteries, which improves elasticity and may reduce the risk of heart attack. The effect of these antioxidants is also thought to be similar to aspirin in that they help to thin the blood and prevent unwanted clots with research showing that the effect after drinking a cup of cocoa lasting more than 6 hours (1).  Findings from a large analysis of seven studies carried out by researchers at Cambridge University found that both men and women with the highest intake of cocao were 37% less likely to suffer with coronary heart disease and 29% less likely to experience a stroke compared to those with the lowest intakes (2).

Cholesterol

Studies have shown that cocoa may have a positive impact on cholesterol, raised levels of which are considered to be a risk factor for heart disease.  Findings from a clinical trial published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that the polyphenols found in cocoa powder contributed to a reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol, elevation in HDL (good) cholesterol and suppressed the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is thought to be particularly damaging to tissues such as those lining the arteries of the heart (3).   The effect on oxidation may be explained by the antioxidant effect of polyphenols as they help to protect the body from free radical damage (4).

Blood pressure

Research around blood pressure stems from islanders of Kuna that don’t appear to develop high blood pressure as they get older, which is in part attributed to the high amounts of cocoa they consume on a daily basis. It was noticed that once they left the island and consumed less cocoa they lost the protective effect on blood pressure.  The link between cocoa and blood pressure is that the flavanols it contains increase the availability of nitric oxide in the blood, which dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.  Researchers from Adelaide University found that drinking cocoa (rich in flavanols) significantly lowered blood pressure when compared to a flavanol-free placebo drink (5).  Similar findings have also been shown in several other studies although the effect is not that strong (6, 7).

Brain health

Studies have shown that drinking cocoa at least 5 days of the week boosts the flow of blood to the parts of the brain that help with cognition and may improve performance and alertness (8).  The antioxidants in cocoa also help to neutralise the low-grade inflammation associated with ‘foggy’ thoughts. Studies of older people that are mentally impaired have found that those who regularly drank cocoa had greater improvements in memory and verbal reasoning than those who did not (9). It’s for this reason that cocoa has been of interest to researchers investigating dementia.

Chocolate as a functional food?

Advances in innovation have seen a rise in chocolate products with added health benefits.  Companies such as Ombar produce a dark chocolate bar fortified with probiotic cultures.

How to add more cocoa into your diet

Whilst many people enjoy eating chocolate and may understand the potential benefit of choosing dark over milk varieties, less people know how to use cocoa powder beyond a drink.

If you’re not familiar with using cocoa powder, then try these ideas below for a little inspiration:

  • Add 1 tbsp to your protein shake.
  • Add 1 tbsp to porridge.
  • Make homemade energy balls by blending cocoa or raw cacao powder, dates and chopped hazelnuts to a food processor.
  • Combine 1 tbsp with hot milk of choice for a warming evening drink rich in magnesium that helps to promote muscle relaxation and has been shown by research to induce sleep. Try adding cinnamon, ground cardamom or chilli for extra flavour.
  • Add cocoa or raw cacao powder to chilli con carne for richness and intense flavour.

The reality of chocolate and health

The truth still remains that chocolate, even dark chocolate, is never going to be considered a healthy food as it contains high amounts of sugar and saturated fat, which if eaten in excess will counteract any potential health benefits of cocoa.  However, you can reap the health benefits of cocoa by incorporating it into your diet in ways that allow you to control the amount of sugar and saturated fat.  It’s also worth pointing out that the true benefit of nutrition lies in the overall diet and not single foods so whilst the health potential of cocoa is interesting, you still need to focus on eating a well balanced and varied diet.

Try this recipe from my book The Detox Kitchen Bible.  These brownies are still a sweet treat but contain much less sugar than usual recipes and harness the benefits of cocoa.

Beetroot Brownies

Makes 9

Ingredients

150g raw beetroot, peeled and cut into small cubes

50g hazelnuts

100g gluten and wheat-free flour

1 tsp baking powder

60g raw cacao powder

120g runny honey

½ tsp salt

3 eggs

75ml rapeseed oil

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Line the bottom and sides of a 20cm square cake tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. Put the beetroot in a microwave-safe bowl with 50ml water, cover with clingfilm and cook on a high heat for 7 minutes until soft. If you don’t have a microwave, wrap the beetroot in foil and bake in the heated oven for about 40 minutes until soft.
  3. Put the hazelnuts in a blender and blitz until they are roughly chopped. Transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Sift in the flour, baking powder and cacao powder.
  4. Now blitz the cooked beetroot in the blender for 1–2 minutes until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients in the bowl but do not mix just yet.
  5. Using the blender for the third time, put the honey, salt and eggs in it and blitz for 3 minutes. Pour into the bowl and mix with the rest of the ingredients using a wooden spoon. Be gentle, as you want to keep air in the mixture whilst combining it thoroughly.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the heated oven for about 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

You can find more delicious recipes from Lilly and the gang at the Detox Kitchen website.

If you liked this blog and want to learn more about chocolate then have a read of these:

Raw cacao and avocado mousse recipe 

Raw cacao and cashew nut milk

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10871557
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21875885
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17513403
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11684527
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19910929
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17609490
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22301923
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16794461
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25733639

 

A natural approach to reducing cholesterol

A natural approach to reducing cholesterol

A natural approach to reducing cholesterol

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that comprise all heart and circulatory diseases which includes coronary heart diseases (CHD), angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease, hypertension, stroke and vascular dementia.  This collection of conditions contributes to the most common cause of death. The risk of developing CVD is closely linked to lifestyle and dietary habits and the foods you choose to eat can have a big impact both on blood fats and body weight.

A poor diet is characterised by foods which are high in sugar and unhealthy fats.   The impact of this type of diet on your health is amplified by the amount of food you eat, which dictates your body weight (a risk factor for CVD).  High cholesterol is a risk factor for CVD and according to statistics from the charity organisation Heart UK, more than half of all adults have raised cholesterol levels. Adopting a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise can help to lower your cholesterol and as such reduce your risk of disease.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood and in your cells. Your liver makes most of the cholesterol in your body and the rest comes from foods you eat. Cholesterol itself isn’t bad and your body needs it to make hormones, vitamin D, digestive fluids and for your organs to function properly.

There are two forms of cholesterol:

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the unhealthy kind of cholesterol often referred to as ‘bad’.  LDL cholesterol can build up in your arteries and form fatty, waxy deposits called plaques.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the healthy kind of cholesterol often referred to as ‘good’. It transports excess cholesterol out of your arteries to your liver, which removes it from your body.

What happens if you have high cholesterol?

High cholesterol itself doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, but it does increase your risk of serious health conditions.  Over time, high levels of LDL cholesterol, especially when oxidised, can damage your arteries, contribute to heart disease, and increase your risk of stroke. Oxidised LDL cholesterol is more likely to stick to the walls of your arteries to form plaques that clog blood vessels.  Smaller LDL particles are more likely to become oxidised by way of excess free radicles, which can build up as a result of smoking, poorly controlled diabetes, excess sugar, excess trans fats and stress.  Oxidised LDL cholesterol can increase inflammation, which over time has the potential to damage tissues and organs in the body.

What can increase your risk of having raised cholesterol?

Many factors can increase your chances of having heart problems or a stroke if you have high cholesterol.

  • An unhealthy diet– especially if rich in saturated fat and sugar, whilst lacking in vegetables
  • Smoking- one particular chemical found in cigarettes called acrolein stops HDL from functioning properly, which can lead to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Diagnosed with diabetesor high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • A family history of heart disease

Exercise also plays an important role

Being overweight and not exercising affects the fats circulating within the bloodstream.  Carrying excess weight can increase levels of LDL cholesterol, whilst being inactive can depress protective HDL cholesterol. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising can help to reverse these effects on cholesterol.

Where does diet fit into the equation?

Certain foods have been shown to reduce cholesterol and can be used alongside medication or as a natural approach to tackling raised cholesterol.  Certain foods work in different ways to lower cholesterol through the effect of soluble fibre (removes LDL cholesterol from the body), unsaturated fats (rebalances cholesterol levels) and plant sterols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.

There’s a misconception that foods naturally high in dietary cholesterol such as eggs and shellfish are harmful, but the effect of these foods has little impact.  Cholesterol production is tightly regulated and most of what circulates in the body is made ‘in-house’.  It’s the overconsumption of foods high in sat fats and sugar, and not dietary cholesterol that prompts the body to create excess.

Foods that help to lower and maintain healthy cholesterol levels

Certain foods have been shown to have a beneficial role in lowering and maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol including:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Beans, pulses and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Foods fortified with plant sterols
  • Oily fish
  • Soy foods

Ideas for food swaps that can help you to reduce your cholesterol levels

These food swaps encompass the foods that have been shown to help lower and maintain healthy levels of cholesterol.

Breakfast cereal for oats

UK dietary guidelines suggest that we aim to eat 30g of fibre per day but findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey have shown that most people only manage to achieve two thirds of this target and that only 9% of men and 4% of women meet the guidance (1).

As far as cholesterol is concerned, it’s soluble fibre that has the greatest impact.  These fibres dissolve in the gut to form a thick paste that binds with cholesterol and cholesterol like substances preventing them from being absorbed.  Oats contain a type of fibre known as oat beta glucan. To get the greatest benefit, research has suggested aiming to eat 3g of oat beta glucan per day (2-4 portions of oat-based foods) and shown that this may help to reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 10% over 4 weeks (2).

Swap you usual cereal for something oat based.  Oats can be used to make porridge or soaked oats, and granola is a tasty option to top yoghurt.  You can also add oats to breakfast smoothies.

Cow’s milk for soy alternative

The protein found in soy-based foods such as tofu, edamame beans and soy milk have been shown to help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and form a key part of the Portfolio diet. Research has suggested that a 25g daily intake of soy protein can help to lower LDL cholesterol by up to six percent (3).

Food Average serving size Soy protein per serving
Soya milk alternative 250ml 7.5g
Soya yoghurt alternative 125g 5g
Edamame beans 80g 9.3g
Soya nuts (roasted) 30g 15g
Soya mince 100g 16.4g
Tofu 75g 12g
Soya dessert 125g 3.8g

Switching cow’s milk with a soy alternative is a useful way to increase your intake of soy protein.  This alternative can be used in the same way as milk but look for a brand that’s fortified with calcium.

Chocolate bar for dried fruit and nut bar

Processed foods such as chocolate bars are not just high in saturated fat but also added sugars, which can increase levels of LDL cholesterol if eaten in excess.  Dried fruit and nut bars contain less saturated and more monounsaturated fats, which are found in nuts.  Monounsaturated fats help to lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Various studies have shown how nuts including almonds, peanuts and walnuts in your diet (50g per day) can slightly lower LDL cholesterol by up to five percent (4).

Dried fruits also have heart healthy properties as they contain resveratrol, which is a polyphenol antioxidant thought to be associated with good heart health.  Sultanas and raisins are particularly high in resveratrol.

Cream for low fat yoghurt

Cream is another food that is high in saturated fat, which can increase your levels of LDL cholesterol.  Saturated fat is not all bad and it does also help to lower triglycerides and nudge up levels of HDL cholesterol when eat in moderation.

Switching to low fat yoghurt over cream is a simple food swap that can be used in the same way when cooking.  You can flavour yoghurt with spices such as cinnamon, vanilla or lemon juice, which makes a nice accompaniment to fruit or fruit-based puddings.

The topic of saturated fat and its role in heart disease is one that continues to cause debate. Regardless of opinion, limiting your saturated fat intake, especially from processed foods will help to maintain a healthy body weight and balance out cholesterol levels.

Butter for low fat spread fortified with plant sterols such as Benacol

The market for functional foods has grown in recent years and at the forefront are plant sterols, which have been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol.  Plant sterols are extracted from plant gums and help to lower LDL cholesterol by inhibiting it from being absorbed in the body.  Foods with added plant sterols include spreads, milk, orange juice and yoghurt, which can all easily be incorporated into the diet.

Research has shown that consuming 2g of plant sterols per day can lower LDL cholesterol by around ten percent (5).  Try swapping butter for a lower fat spread fortified with plant sterols.

Red meat for oily fish

Red meat, especially fatty varieties, are rich in saturated fat, which can raise levels of LDL cholesterol.  There are many benefits associated with limiting your intake of red meat, which include reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.  Opting for alternative source of protein can be beneficial and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout not only help to regulate cholesterol levels but contain omega 3 fatty acids that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Omega 3 fatty acids increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol as well as reducing triglycerides in the bloodstream.  Swapping red meat for oily fish can reduce your overall intake of saturated fat and offer the benefits associated with omega 3 fatty acids.

White rice for barley

Like oats, barley contains beta glucans that have been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol.  Beta glucan binds to bile acids in the gut which increases their excretion from the body. This reduced level of bile acids stimulates its production in the liver. In order for the liver to synthesise bile acids it requires LDL cholesterol, which is drawn from circulation in the body. The net effect is a reduction in circulating LDL cholesterol.

Barley can be used in place of rice and works really well in risottos.

Raised cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease but is easily reversed by the adoption of healthy diet and lifestyle habits, which also influence many other areas of health. If you have high cholesterol and want to approach it from a diet perspective, then including the foods above can help you to achieve the greatest impact.

If you liked this blog and want to learn more about diet and cholesterol then try reading these:

How easy is it to get your ten-a-day?

Turmeric chicken with Asian slaw recipe

Mexican prawn and black bean salad recipe

Super green stir-fry with smoked tofu recipe 

Avocado and white bean smash recipe 

Nutty couscous and veggie salad recipe 

Oat Bircher muesli recipe 

Edamame bean salad recipe

 

References

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21631511
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409663/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16140880
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24468148
An in-depth look at the current state of mens health in the UK

An in-depth look at the current state of mens health in the UK

An in-depth look at the current state of men’s health in the UK

Regardless of what sex you are it’s been shown time and again that diet and lifestyle choices have a significant impact on your health and reduce the risk of disease.  Men and women share similar risk factors for ill health and weight is a concern for everyone, but some conditions are more sex-specific to men.  Targeting men’s health often requires a different approach to women and given the slight disparity in attitudes between the sexes, it’s important that awareness continues to grow to help break taboo’s and create an environment that men feel comfortable enough in to seek help when needed and make behaviour changes that can significantly improve their health.

Apologies as this is quite a hefty blog, but for my own curiosity I just wanted to put everything about men’s health into one place to provide insight and the latest research findings to give a good overview of the health landscape according to men.

This includes:

  1. What a typical male diet looks like in the UK?
  2. How overweight men are in the UK?
  3. What lifestyle choices men are making in the UK?
  4. The most common causes of premature death amongst men in the UK
  5. Heart disease amongst men in the UK
  6. Mental health amongst men in the UK
  7. Men’s attitudes towards health and how they access health services

1.What a typical male diet looks like in the UK?  

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK has shown that both men and women share similar dietary characteristics (1). Both groups eat enough protein and meet the guidelines for total fat but consume too much sugar and saturated fat.  Both sexes also fail to eat enough fibre and very few meet the recommended 5-a-day guidance or eat enough oily fish.  Fewer men than women have micronutrient insufficiencies, but low levels of vitamin D are shared between the sexes, especially during the winter months.

Dietary findings for men (1)

  • The average energy intake is 2091 calories.
  • The average intake of protein is 87.4g, which is 1.5 times the RNI of 55g per day. Protein requirements differ depending on health status and exercise, but the average is around 0.75g per kg of body weight.  Most of the protein in the diet comes from meat and meat dishes (37%).  Twenty three percent comes from cereals and cereal products, whilst 13% comes from milk and milk products.
  • The average intake of total fat is 76.6g per day, which equates to 32.6% of energy intake. This falls within the guidance of no more than 35% of energy intake.  Most of the fat in the diet comes from meat and meat products (24%).  A similar amount (21%) comes from cereals and cereal products including biscuits, cakes and puddings.  Milk and milk products account for 12% of total fat intake.
  • The average intake of saturated fat is 27.5g per day, which equates to 11.6% of energy intake.This exceeds the guidance of no more than 10% of energy intake.  The main source of saturated fat in the diet is from meat and meat products (24%). Twenty one percent comes from cereal and cereal products that includes biscuits, cakes and puddings.  The same percentage comes from milk and milk products, the majority of which comes from cheese.  Nine percent comes from fat spreads with 6% attributed to butter.
  • Sat fat (21% cereals and cereal products – 5% biscuits,4% cakes, 1% puddings), 21% (milk and milk products – 9% cheese), 3% (eggs and egg dishes), 9% (fat and fat spreads – 6% butter), 24% (meat and meat products), 3% (fish and fish dishes), 6% (veg and potatoes – 3% chips), 1% (savoury snacks), 2% (nuts and seeds), 5% (sugar and confectionary – 4% chocolate)
  • The average intake of ‘free’ sugars is 64.3g (12.8 tsp) per day. This is more than twice the guidance of no more than 30g (6 tsp) per day.  The main source of ‘free’ sugars in the diet is from sugar and confectionary (25%), most of which is from table sugar and sweet spreads.  Twenty four percent of ‘free’ sugars comes from cereals and cereal products that includes breakfast cereals, biscuits, cakes and puddings.  Non-alcoholic drinks are also a big contributor with 6% coming from fruit juice and 14% from soft drinks.
  • The average intake of fibre is 20.7g per day. This is just a third of the guidance of 30g per day and only 13% of men manage to achieve this.  The main source of fibre in the diet is from cereals and cereal products (38%), which includes pizza, pasta, rice and bread (more men choose white bread over wholemeal). Thirty eight percent of fibre in the diet comes from vegetables and potatoes, with 7% coming from chips. Twelve percent of fibre in the diet comes from meat products, which are breaded or include pastry or potatoes.
  • The average intake of fruit and vegetables is 4.2 portions, which is below the recommended 5-a-day. Only 29% of men manage to eat 5-a-day.

The micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)

Nutrient Average intake % RNI % below LRNI Key food sources
Vitamin A 921mcg 132% 16% 28% vegetables, 15% milk and milk products, 16% meat and meat products, 11% cereals and cereal products
Vitamin B1 (riboflavin) 1.76mg 136% 6% 27% milk and milk products, 20% cereals and cereal products, 17% meat and meat products
Folate 267mcg 134% 3% 27% cereal and cereal products, 26% vegetables, 10% meat and meat products.
Vitamin D (food sources) 2.9mcg 29% 30% meat and meat products, 19% egg and egg dishes, 17% fish and fish dishes, 15% cereals and cereal products
Iron 11.6mg 134% 2% 38% cereals and cereal products, 21% meat and meat products, 15% vegetables
Calcium 897mg 107% 11% 31% cereals and cereal products, 15% meat and meat products, 9% milk and milk products
Magnesium 302mg 101% 14% 31% meat and meat products, 27% cereals and cereal products, 16% vegetables, 12% egg and egg dishes
Potassium 3145mg 90% 11% 24% vegetables, 18% meat and meat products, 15% cereals and cereal products, 10% milk and milk products
Iodine 172mcg 123% 9% 34% milk and milk products, 12% cereals and cereal products, 10% fish and fish products, 10% meat and meat products
Selenium 55mcg 74% 25% 32% meat and meat dishes, 27% cereal and cereal products, 15% fish and fish dishes, 9% egg and egg dishes
Zinc 9.7mg 102% 7% 34% meat and meat dishes, 25% cereals and cereal products, 14% milk and milk products, 11% vegetables

 

2.How overweight are men in the UK?

The majority of the male population in the UK are either overweight or obese (2,3,4,5).  Obesity is both a disease and risk factor for many other diseases.  Being overweight or obese increases the risk of having high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).  Obesity also increases the risk of joint problems, lower back problems, deep vein thrombosis, colon cancer and erectile dysfunction.  Losing and maintaining a healthy weight can have a significant impact on health and reduce the risk of disease.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity vary throughout the UK but in general, rates are higher amongst men.

England (2)

  • Over 60% of men are overweight or obese.
  • Men (65.7%) are more likely to be overweight or obese than women (57.1%).

Wales (3)

  • Twenty three percent of adults are obese and 36% overweight.
  • Sixty five percent of men are obese or overweight compared to 53% women.

Scotland (4)

  • Sixty five percent of adults are overweight and 29% of these are obese.
  • Sixty seven percent of men were overweight or obese compared to 63% of women.

Northern Ireland (5)

  • Sixty percent of adults are overweight or obese (34% overweight and 26% obese).
  • Males (65%) were more likely to be overweight or obese compared to females (57%).

3.What lifestyle choices men are making in the UK?

Diet is important but in terms of health it co-exists with the lifestyle choices we make which include physical activity, smoking and drinking.  A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of being overweight, which is a risk factor for disease.  Exercise plays a key part in maintaining a healthy weight and also helps to maintain muscle mass, flexibility and bone strength as well as being good for mental health.

Smoking has been proven to cause cancer and respiratory conditions, whilst excessive drinking is known to be a risk factor for certain cancers and liver disease.

Physical activity in men

The government guidelines suggest that we do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes, which equates to 30 minutes on at least 5 days.  Alternatively, it’s suggested that 75 minutes of vigorous activity spread over the week will have the same health benefits.  Moderate physical activity is defined as raising your heart beat whilst still being able to carry on a conversation such as brisk walking or cycling.  Vigorous activity is defined as increasing your heart to beat rapidly, making it much more difficult to carry on a conversation such as running, swimming or football (6).

In the UK, men:

71% met the guidelines

10% some activity1

3% low activity2

16% inactive3

  1. Some activity: 60-149 minutes MPA pw or 30-74 minutes VPA pw or an equivalent combination of these.
  2. Low activity: 30-59 minutes MPA pw or 15-29 minutes VPA pw or an equivalent combination of these
  3. Inactive: Less than 30 minutes MPA pw or less than 15 minutes VPA pw or an equivalent combination of these

Smoking amongst men in the UK

According to findings from the Office of National Statistics (7):

  • In the UK, 17% of men smoke compared to 13.3% of women.
  • The highest proportion of smokers are aged between 25 and 34 years (19.7%).
  • 1 in 4 people in routine and manual occupations smoke compared to just 1 in 10 people in managerial and professional occupations.
  • 5% of people in the UK currently use and e-cigarette (vape) – 2.8 million people
  • 5% of men report vaping compared to 4.6% of women and the highest proportion of vapers are aged between 35 and 49 years.
  • In the UK, 60.8% of people aged 16 years and over who currently smoke said they wanted to quit and 59.5% of those who have ever smoked said they had quit.
  • The main reason for vaping is to help stop smoking (48.8%).
  • Only 0.4% of people who have never smoked reported that they currently vape.

Drinking in the UK

Guidance around drinking is no more than 14 units per week for both men and women (8).

125ml glass of wine = 1.4 units

25ml shot of spirit (37.5% ABV) = 1 unit

½ pint of lager (4%) = 1 units

According to the ONS (9):

  • Men are more likely to drink than women – 9% of men compared to 52.4% of women.
  • Men are also less likely to abstain from drinking as 17% of men and 22% of women said they had not drunk in the last year.
  • 53% of men said their alcohol consumption was no more than 14 units per week compared with 62% of women.
  • 10% of men said their alcohol consumption was more than 14 units per week but less than 21 units per week compared to 7% of women.
  • 12% of men said their average alcohol consumption was more than 21 units but less that 35 units per week compared to 6% of women
  • 4% of men said their average alcohol consumption was more than 35 units but less that 50 units per week compared with 2% of women.
  • 5% of men said their average alcohol consumption was more than 50 units per week compared to 2% of women.

4.The most common causes of premature death amongst men in the UK

  • More men than women die each year – 1156.5 compared with 863.8 deaths per 100K people (10)
  • In the UK one in five men (19%) dies before the age of 65 years (10)

Leading causes of death in 2015 – taken from findings published in 2017 (11)

Leading causes of death by age group for males in England, 2015 taken from findings published in 2017 (11)

 

5.Heart disease amongst men in the UK (12)

  • Heart and circulatory disease cause more than a quarter (26 per cent) of all deaths in the UK; that’s nearly 160,000 deaths each year – an average of 435 people each day or one death every three minutes.
  • There are around 7 million people living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK: 3.5 million men and 3.5 million women.
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of cardiovascular disease.
  • Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of heart attack. In the UK there are 188,000 hospital visits each year due to heart attacks: that’s one every three minutes.
  • An estimated 915,000 people alive in the UK today (640,000 men and 275,000 women) have survived a heart attack.
  • Over half a million people in the UK are living with heart failure.
  • There are more than 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK each year. The overall survival rate in the UK is less than 1 in 10.

6.Mental health amongst men in the UK (13)

  • Over 40% of adults think they have had a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their life (35.2% of men and 51.2% of women).
  • A fifth of men (19.5%) and a third of women (33.7%) have had diagnoses confirmed by professionals.
  • In 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and older showed symptoms of anxiety or depression – a 1.5% increase from 2013. This percentage was higher among females (22.5%) than males (16.8%).

As far as men are concerned:

  • Just over three out of four suicides (76%) are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35 (14).
  • 12.5% of men in the UK are suffering from one of the common mental health disorders (15).
  • Men are three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men are alcohol dependent compared to 3.3% of women (15).
  • Men are more likely to use (and die from) illegal drugs (15).
  • Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women. Only 36% of referrals to IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies) are men (16).
  • Over three quarters of people who kill themselves are men (17)
  • Men report significantly lower life satisfaction than women in the Government’s national well-being survey – with those aged 45 to 59 reporting the lowest levels of life satisfaction (17).
  • 73% of adults who ‘go missing’ are men (18).
  • 87% of rough sleepers are men (19).
  • Men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (20).
  • Men are three times as likely to report frequent drug use than women (4.2% and 1.4% respectively) and more than two thirds of drug-related deaths occur in men.
  • Men make up 95% of the prison population 72% of male prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders.
  • Men are nearly 50% more likely than women to be detained and treated compulsorily as psychiatric inpatients (21)
  • Men have measurably lower access to the social support of friends, relatives and community (21)
  • Men commit 86% of violent crime (21)
  • Boys are around three times more likely to receive a permanent or fixed period exclusion than girls (22).
  • Boys are performing less well than girls at all levels of education. In 2013 only 55.6% of boys achieved 5 or more grade A*-C gcses including English and mathematics, compared to 65.7% of girls (23)

The Men’s Health Forum suggests that these statistics indicate that male emotional and psychological distress may sometimes emerge in ways that do not fit comfortably within conventional approaches to diagnosis. They also show that men may be more likely to lack some of the known precursors of good mental health, such as a positive engagement with education or the emotional support of friends and family.

A picture begins to emerge of a potentially sizeable group of men who cope less well than they might:

  • These men may fail to recognise or act on warning signs and may be unable or unwilling to seek help from support services.
  • At the further end of the spectrum they may rely on unwise, unsustainable self-management strategies that are damaging not only to themselves but also to those around them.
  • Such a picture would broadly parallel what is already known about men’s poorer physical health.

7.Men’s attitudes towards health and how they access health services

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, read, understand, and use healthcare information in order to make appropriate health decisions and follow instructions for treatment.  There is evidence that men have lower levels of health literacy than women.

  • One study found that men were than twice as likely as women to have inadequate health literacy (24).
  • An analysis of people with coronary heart disease in south London found that those with low health literacy were more likely to be male, from a non-white ethnic group, live in a more deprived area, have spent fewer years in education, and were less likely to be employed (25).
  • A large study of British adults (970 males and 1246 females) found that women were more likely than men to recall seven out of nine cancer warning signs (26).
  • According to a National Pharmacy Association study, more men than women admit that their understanding of medicines is poor (23.1% against 15.6% women) (27).
  • Men are twice as likely as women to take a new prescription medicine without first reading the patient information leaflet or seeking professional advice (10.9% of men against 5.1% women) (27).
  • Men’s purchase of prescription-only drugs without medical advice, usually via the Internet, is of increasing concern because of the risks of toxicity and missed diagnoses (27).
  • The percentage of men purchasing prescription-only medications without a prescription via the Internet increases to 67% when considering medications for erectile dysfunction specifically (28).

Men and women display different attitudes towards health and illness.  We have a cultural script about masculinity that tells men they need to be tough, brave, strong and self-reliant. It’s exemplified in phrases like “be a man” and “man up”. Men learn from an early age if they don’t act in this tough, masculine way they lose their status and respect as men.

One study carried out in 2016 found men who buy into the traditional cultural script about masculinity and believe they must be brave and self-reliant in order to be respected, had more barriers to seeking care compared to those who did not endorse these beliefs.  Men validating these beliefs about masculinity and enacting them in their own lives were less likely to seek preventative care and are more likely to delay care when they experienced injury or illness (29).

This all has a huge influence on the attitude’s men have towards their health.

  • Health is often socially constructed as a feminine concern and men therefore have to behave as if they are unconcerned about their health if they wish to publicly sustain a ‘real’ male identity (30).
  • Many men appear to legitimise health service usage, only when a perceived threshold of ill health has been exceeded. There is also a tendency amongst men to play down symptoms or to view potentially serious symptoms as simply signs of growing old (30).
  • Fear surrounding the potential loss of masculinity may result in a façade of control and stoicism, instead of honesty about reporting symptoms and accepting interventions, or openness about feelings and insecurities associated with particular illnesses (30).
  • Risk-taking behaviour is associated with masculinity and is, therefore, more common in males than females (30).
  • A King’s Fund study that looked at four behaviours – smoking, drinking, diet and exercise – found that men were more likely to participate in a combination of three or four risky behaviours (31).

Men’s health is unique to their gender and as such the approach to tackling the issues men face needs to take account of their risk of disease and their attitudes towards their wellness.

 

References

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
  2. Https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/health-survey-for-england-2016-findings-and-trend-tables
  3. Https://gov.wales/statistics-and-research/national-survey/?Tab=current&lang=en
  4. Https://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Health/scottish-health-survey
  5. Https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/health-survey-northern-ireland-first-results
  6. Https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-physical-activity-guidelines
  7. Https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/adultsmokinghabitsingreatbritain/2017
  8. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic-drinks-units/
  9. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/drugusealcoholandsmoking/bulletins/opinionsandlifestylesurveyadultdrinkinghabitsingreatbritain/2017/previous/v1
  10. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsregistrationsummarytables/2015
  11. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-profile-for-england/chapter-2-major-causes-of-death-and-how-they-have-changed
  12. https://www.bhf.org.uk/for-professionals/press-centre/facts-and-figures
  13. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016.pdf
  14. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2016registration
  15. https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB17712/alc-eng-2015-rep.pdf
  16. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/data-collections-and-data-sets/data-sets/improving-access-to-psychological-therapies-data-set/improving-access-to-psychological-therapies-data-set-reports
  17. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160107060820/http:/www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_351100.pdf
  18. https://www.york.ac.uk/inst/spru/pubs/pdf/MissingPersons.pdf
  19. https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/rough-sleeping/
  20. https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB14184/alc-eng-2014-rep.pdf
  21. https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB12994/drug-misu-eng-2013-rep.pdf
  22. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160106231734/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/focus-on-violent-crime-and-sexual-offences–2012-13/rpt-chapter-1—overview-of-violent-crime-and-sexual-offences.html#tab-Profile-of-Offenders-Involved-in-Violent-Crimes
  23. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130320141729/http://www.education.gov.uk/researchandstatistics/statistics/a00195931/
  24. https://jech.bmj.com/content/61/12/1086
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3549254/
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790705/
  27. https://www.npa.co.uk
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3069491/
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25293967
  30. https://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d7397
  31. https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/field_publication_file/clustering-of-unhealthy-behaviours-over-time-aug-2012.pdf

 

Ten prebiotic foods you need to know about

Ten prebiotic foods you need to know about

Ten prebiotic foods you need to know about

Gut health has become a hot topic in the world of nutrition and as research evolves it’s becoming very clear that the beneficial role of microbes found in the gut goes way beyond digestion.  The collection of microbes in your gut are referred to as your microbiome and advice about how to protect it has become commonplace.

Your gut microbiome is sensitive to your lifestyle and dietary habits; both  can either promote a good diversity of microbes in the gut or tip the balance in the opposite direction, which may have a negative impact on your health.

The foods that can have the biggest positive effect on your microbiome are those containing beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and those containing indigestible fibres referred to as prebiotics.

Your microbiome is unique like a fingerprint

The term ‘microbiome’ refers to the collection of microbes that live in and on the body, of which there are around 100 trillion, the majority of which are found in the gut.  These bugs form a protective barrier defending the body from foreign invaders, which can be harmful to health.

The microbes in your gut include bacteria, which are essential for efficient digestion.  These bacteria also help to digest antioxidant polyphenols, synthesise vitamins such as B12, D, folic acid and thiamine, and produce short chain fatty acids that provide energy to the cells of your colon helping to maintain a strong gut barrier.  Gut bacteria have also been shown to play a role in immunity and new research is starting to explore the effect on the brain with early findings linking the diversity of bacteria in your gut to mental health and obesity (via the effect on hormones that control appetite).

Like a fingerprint, your microbiome is unique, and its composition is dictated by the world around you and within you.

Cultivation is key to a healthy microbiome

It’s yet unclear what constitutes a ‘healthy’ microbiome but one thing for sure is that it takes a bit of cultivation.  If your gut becomes overrun with bad bacteria then this can upset the balance of your microbiome, which may lead to symptoms such as bloating, excessive gas, abnormal bowels, bad breath and fatigue.

A poor diet is characterised by an over-consumption of sugar and bad fats, whilst lacking in nutritious foods such as vegetables and other wholefoods including beans, pulses and wholegrains.  This type of diet has been shown to promote the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut  (1, 2, 3).

Medication can also impact on gut bacteria as the overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and antibiotics have the potential to destroy them, which can leave your gut vulnerable and increase the risk of infection.

What are prebiotics?

No doubt you will have heard about probiotics, which are friendly bacteria found in foods such as live yoghurt and supplements.  Other foods such as kimchi, kefir and miso also contain bacteria, which are beneficial to health.

The role of prebiotics is less well understood but they’re equally, if not more important than probiotics as these indigestible fibres help the bacteria in your gut to thrive.  Probiotic supplements have the potential to be very beneficial, especially if you need to re-balance the diversity of bacteria in your gut but the same is not necessarily true of prebiotics.

There are many food sources of prebiotics, which include inulin, lignin, oligosaccharides, mucilage gums, non-starch polysaccharides (pectin and beta glucans) and resistant starches.  Foods containing these prebiotics can easily be incorporated into your daily diet and many of which you may already be eating on a regular basis. You’re more likely to be eating prebiotic foods if your diet is healthy and contains plenty of plant-based foods.

Ten top prebiotic foods to include in your diet

There are quite a few prebiotic foods, but I have chosen the ones that are more commonly eaten and easily accessed from your local supermarket.

1.Jerusalem artichoke

This vegetable is now available in larger supermarkets and is in season between October and February.  Jerusalem artichokes contain 2g of fibre per 100g and 76% comes from inulin. You can also glean a good source of thiamine (healthy nervous system and releases energy from food) and iron (healthy immune system, red blood cell production and wards of tiredness) from Jerusalem artichokes.

These are not a commonly eaten vegetable as many people are unsure how to use them.  Jerusalem artichokes have a nutty flavour and can be used in the same way as potatoes in that they can be roasted and mashed, and also work well in soups.

2.Garlic

This vegetable is closely related to onions and leeks. Garlic can form the base of many home-cooked dishes alongside onions, which means it’s easy to add to your daily diet.  Around 11% of the fibre found in garlic comes from inulin and 6% from fructooligosaccharides, which add a slight sweetness to its flavour.

3.Onions

Onions are another food that can easily be included into your daily diet as it acts as a base for many home-cooked dishes.  Around 10% of the fibre found in onions comes from inulin and 6% from fructooligosaccharides.  Onions also contain a good source of vitamin C (protects cells, maintains healthy skin and helps with wound healing) and the flavonoid quercetin, which acts as an antioxidant in the body.

4.Leeks

This vegetable is similar to garlic and onions but less commonly used.  Around 16% of the fibre found in leeks is from inulin.  Leeks are also high in flavonoids, which support the body to respond to oxidative stress.  You can also glean a good source of vitamin A (healthy immune system, eyes, skin and mucosal linings such as the nose), vitamin C (protects cells, maintains healthy skin and helps with wound healing) and vitamin K (blood clotting and healthy bones) from leeks.

You can serve leeks as a side dish, incorporate into soups or a topping for pies.

5.Apples

There’s a lot of truth in the saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away, and this includes the health of your gut.  Around 50% of the fibre found in apples is from pectin.  This prebiotic not only benefits the health of your microbiota but has been shown to help reduce cholesterol.  Apples are also high in polyphenol antioxidants.

As well as snacking on apples you can use them to make fruit puddings, add to savoury dishes and grate as a topping for yoghurt or soaked oats.

6.Asparagus

This vegetable is now available all year round with supermarkets importing it from countries such as Peru.  To savour the best tasting Asparagus and save on food miles, you’re better to wait until the British asparagus season, which occurs between April and May.   Asparagus is not as rich in prebiotics as other vegetables with only around 5% of the fibre coming from inulin. This vegetable also contains a good source of vitamin A (healthy immune system, eyes, skin and mucosal linings such as the nose), vitamin K (blood clotting and healthy bones) and folate (healthy red blood cells and protection against neural tube defects in unborn babies).

Asparagus is delicious served on its own with a big drizzle of olive oil or topped with a poached egg for breakfast.  You can also add asparagus to pasta dishes, risottos and soups.

7.Bananas

These fruits are one of the most commonly eaten in the UK and contain small amounts of inulin.  Unripe (green) bananas are high in resistant starch and feature as an ingredient in many Caribbean dishes. Bananas are also a good source of vitamin B6 (converts food into energy and helps to form haemoglobin in red blood cells).

Bananas can be eaten as a snack, baked and used in smoothies and fruit puddings.  For something different, try adding to curries.

8.Barley

This grain is not as commonly used as others such as rice but is actually hugely versatile once you know how to use it.  Barley contains around 8g of beta glucan per 100g, which is not only good for your gut but has been shown to help reduce cholesterol. Barley also contains the minerals magnesium (converts food into energy, promotes muscle relaxation and healthy bones) and selenium (protects cells and promotes a healthy immune system).

Barley can be used in place of rice to make risotto, added to soups or salads (cooked).

9.Potatoes

Potatoes are a starchy carbohydrate as are other foods such as grains.  Starches are long chains of glucose, which the body uses for energy.  When potatoes are cooked and then cooled, they develop resistant starches, which the body is unable to break down and as such behave as prebiotics.

10.Flaxseeds

These seeds are hugely healthy and a good source of prebiotics with 20-40% of their fibre coming from mucilage gums and 60-80% from cellulose and lignin.  Flaxseeds also contain phenolic antioxidants and are a useful source of protein. You can also glean a good source of minerals from flaxseed including magnesium (converts food into energy, promotes muscle relaxation and healthy bones), iron (healthy immune system, red blood cell production and wards of tiredness), calcium (healthy bones and teeth) and zinc (converts food into energy, involved in making new cells and enzymes and helps with wound healing).  Flaxseed are also rich in omega 3 and although the conversion to more usable forms of this fatty acid in the body is poor, it’s still a useful source, especially for people following a plant-based diet.

You can add seeds to any dish and also smoothies.

If you’re eating a healthy diet, then many of the foods included will naturally take care of your gut and including the foods listed above will be especially useful to promote the health of your microbiome.

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3493718/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4005082/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4083503/