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How can your diet help you to sleep well during the winter months?

How can your diet help you to sleep well during the winter months?

Sleep patterns may easily be thrown off course during the winter as the increased darkness impacts on our circadian rhythms.  The result is that it may make it more difficult to wake up and leave us feeling sluggish or lacking in energy.  These effects may also impact on the food choices we make and vice versa our diet may impact on sleep.

How can the winter months impact on sleep?

Darker evenings and mornings can impact on sleep in several ways.  Some of these may be associated with the fact that our basic diet and lifestyle behaviours could become challenged during the winter.

How can mood impact on sleep?

How we feel can affect our food choices and pattern of eating.  In some cases, skipping meals may affect overall nutrient intake, some of which are linked to poor sleep such as magnesium.  Erratic eating patterns can also encourage snacking on foods high in sugar that may also affect sleep.

Low mood can also lead to overeating and weight gain, which may impact on mental health. Any form of anxiety linked to our lifestyle can play on the mind and affect our ability to sleep well.

How does diet play a role?

Comfort eating and alcohol consumption may increase during the winter as we get cosy indoors.  This is even more so during the festive season which can also play havoc with our sleep patterns.  The tendency to choose richer foods may also trigger indigestion in some people which will negatively impact on sleep quality.

So, what can you do to help achieve a good night’s sleep in the Winter months?

Stick to your regular sleep/wake pattern

Establishing a set routine is bedrock to sleeping well. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning is key to keep your circadian rhythms in sync.

It’s often tempting to hit the hay earlier than normal and stay in bed longer, but this is not going to help with how energised you feel during the day.

Avoid the stodge

It’s tempting to seek out stodgy foods during the winter months but this may impact on your sleep quality.  Overly rich foods can cause indigestion, especially if you’re not used to eating them.

Heartburn is a symptom of indigestion and something many people experience during the festive season, especially when partnered with more alcohol than usual.

If you’re going to eat more stodgy food then try to eat smaller portions and team them with plenty of veggies on the plate to try and balance out your meal.

Invest in a vitamin D3 supplement

We all rely on sunlight to provide us with adequate amounts of vitamin D but during the winter months it has been shown that many of us are lacking in this nutrient (1).  This essential vitamin helps to maintain healthy bones and supports immunity but inadequate levels are associated with fatigue, muscle weakness and low mood.

Research published in the journal Nutrients has suggested that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of sleep disorders (2).

Food sources of vitamin D are limited to fortified foods, oily fish, liver, mushrooms and eggs but will not provide you with everything your body needs.

During the Winter months you should take a supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D3.

Try and stick to making healthy food choices

The colder months can have an impact on our eating habits and food choices.

The longer evenings can also lead to snacking late at night which will do little for your ability to sleep as eating and digestion can prevent the body from shifting into sleep mode.

Foods rich in carbohydrates are craved more in the winter which may be linked to their connection with serotonin (the feel good hormone) and could be the body’s way of attempting to improve mood.  Always choose wholegrain varieties of carbohydrates as these have less impact on blood sugar levels.

Simple carbohydrates such as sugar are digested much more quickly and may impact on sleep quality (3) as well as doing little for your waistline if eaten in excess.  Obesity has been linked to poor sleep by way of its impact on hormones associated with satiety (4).

Eat a nourishing diet that will provide your body with the essential nutrients required for good health, some of which may be connected to sleep such as magnesium.  It is widely understood that magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia.  Research published in the journal Public Health Nutrition has also shown how adequate levels of magnesium are positively associated with sleep duration (5).

Don’t eat too close to bedtime and keep evening meals light including lean proteins (poultry, fish, tofu) and wholegrain carbohydrates (brown rice, wholemeal pasta, quinoa) as this combination can help with the uptake of tryptophan into the brain which assists with the production of melatonin (the hormone that regulates the sleep cycle).

Try and avoid the classic ‘pick-me-ups’

If you’re feeling sluggish during the day then it can be tempting to reach for a food or drink containing caffeine or sugar to help boost your energy levels. Both caffeine and sugar have been shown to disrupt sleep.  The effect is usually short-lived and often followed by a craving for more of the same creating a vicious cycle of highs and lows.

The first morning coffee is like nectar and a perfect way to get you ready for the day ahead.  After this it may be worth avoiding, especially if you have trouble sleeping. Try alternatives such as herbal teas including ingredients such as ginger and lemon which have an invigorating and refreshing effect without the caffeine hit.

It’s worth remembering that tea, chocolate, energy drinks and even decaf coffee all contain a source of caffeine.

Pay attention to the health of your gut

Early research has suggested that the microbes in our gut (microbiome) may be linked to sleep.  It is thought that while a lack of sleep may negatively impact on our microbiome the diversity of microbes in our gut may also lead to disrupted sleep (6).

The connection is not fully understood but it may be worth taking a probiotic supplement to promote a good diversity of bacteria in your gut.

Try to also include plenty of prebiotic foods in your diet which help gut bacteria to flourish.  Prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, beans, pulses and lentils as well as cooked and cooled potatoes, pasta and rice.

The winter months can pose challenges to many areas of your health.  If you are struggling with your sleep then consider the approaches above while also paying attention to the basic sleep hygiene practices addressed in my new book which focus on behaviour, environment and diet (BED).

References

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213953/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26156950
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535424/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5675071/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31589627
Nathan Khider Sleep Podcast 2019

Nathan Khider Sleep Podcast 2019

This is a new podcast hosted by my lovey mate Nathan Khider.

Nathan’s YouTube channel is fantastic and involves him interviewing guests that have many interesting stories to tell to hope to inspire and educate his listeners.

My new book, ‘The Art of Sleeping’ is due out today (14th Nov 2019). I talk with Nathan about the reasons why I chose to write this book which revolve around my own persona interest in sleep and my experiences of sleep deprivation and insomnia.

While some of you may sleep well, the reality is that we are a nation of non-sleepers.  Some people believe they can survive on hardly any sleep, but I disagree.  From personal experience of insomnia, I know first-hand how the effects can negatively impact on every aspect of your life.  I’m also guilty of telling people how tired I am rather than taking the action required to tackle the issue head on.

We all need to take sleep seriously as the long-term consequences of not sleeping well are scarier than you think.  For these reasons I decided to write my new book ‘The Art of Sleeping’.  I share my experiences with Nathan and discuss the positive steps we can all take to improve our sleep which in turn will help us to achieve optimal health and wellbeing.

 

Whats the deal with free radicals and antioxidants?

Whats the deal with free radicals and antioxidants?

The world of nutrition has evolved hugely over the last few decades as interest in the topic has grown.  Basic dietary advice is no longer enough for many people as they seek out other ways to optimise their health, combat ageing, lose weight and maximise exercise performance.

The desire to learn more has helped drive this evolution but has also exposed us to information that may be lacking in reliable science.

One topic that has always been popular is that of free radicals and antioxidants.  These terms are frequently chucked around and often oversimplified as being either good or bad for us but is it really that simple?

A little too much knowledge can be dangerous

One of my old bosses many years ago once said to me that a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing and this is something that always rings true when I listen to people talk about nutrition.

How has dietary advice evolved over the last couple of decades?

Not long after I started out as a nutritionist the Department of Health had just launched the five-a-day campaign (2003) to promote the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables in the diet.  This campaign was driven by the science which proved fruits and vegetables had a key role to play in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes.

The conversation around diet and nutrition at this time was heavily focused on key public health messaging to help tackle obesity and heart disease.

In 2007 the Food Standards Agency launched the ‘Eatwell Plate’ to help people to understand how the five key food groups form the basis of a balanced diet. This has since been replaced with the updated ‘Eatwell Guide’ (1).

When did the conversation start to change?

After this is when the conversation began to change as more people took an interest in the topic of nutrition.

Reporting in the media began to focus more on research findings linking diet to disease (many of which were contradictory), food companies started to coin phrases such as ‘superfoods’ and many books and TV shows on the topic became hugely popular.

During this time the quality of advice given out was questioned by qualified health professionals and authors such as Ben Goldachre putting much of it down to bad science.  This also saw the demise of well-known ‘health experts’ who dominated our screens at this time.

Around this time was also when the food industry became more regulated as they had to provide evidence to support any health claims made on their products (2008).

In 2007 the UK regulator Ofcom introduced regulations banning the advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar on children’s TV channels.  Bans were also introduced on the advertising of these foods on non-children’s channels during, before and after programmes aimed at those aged between four and fifteen.

The UK was the first country to introduce statutory scheduling restrictions of food advertisements to children.

The birth of social media

Around the same time came the social media explosion with the birth of Twitter in 2006 and Instagram in 2010.

These social media platforms are now home to many health and wellness ambassadors who churn out advice and represent food and wellness brands in the media.  This has raised many issues as to the quality of nutrition and diet advice as people turn to unqualified influencers for information over experts (although there are now many trusted voices on these platforms).

The topic of free radicals and antioxidants

As our interest in the nitty gritty of nutrition has grown one of the topics that has continued to come up is that of free radicals and antioxidants.  The terms are chucked around willy nilly and while most people may be familiar with them, very few actually know what they are.

The problem of oversimplification

The science behind free radicals and antioxidants is actually quite complex.  One problem with delivering these concepts to people has been an oversimplification of the science which has led them to be classed as either being good or bad for you.

The idea that free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good is one that is used to sell myriad of products in the wellness market, but the science is not that straight forward.  Antioxidants are normally depicted as the superhero defending our body against ageing and chronic disease risk caused by free radical damage.

There is of course truth in this depiction but unfortunately biology is never that simple.

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are very reactive chemicals, which are created when an atom or molecule (chemical that has two or more atoms) either gains or loses an electron.  The most common type of free radicals produced in living tissue are called reactive oxygen species or ROS for short and these contain oxygen.

We produce free radicals naturally through chemical processes that occur in the body such as the breakdown of food and its transformation into energy used by cells.

We are perfectly equipped to deal with free radicals but they may become an issue when they build up in high concentrations.  This can put the body in a state of oxidative stress (when free radicals outweigh antioxidants), which has the potential to damage every major component of cells when it occurs over a prolonged period of time. The most significant damage is that caused to DNA, which is thought to play a role in the development of many health conditions including heart disease and cancer (2).

The most likely cause of excess free radicals in the body are due to a combination of environmental, lifestyle and dietary factors which include pollution, stress, smoking, alcohol, sun exposure, infection and overconsumption of foods high in bad fats and sugar.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are essential for the survival of all living things.  These chemicals are able to interact with free radicals and neutralising them without getting damaged or becoming a free radical themselves. Whilst the body relies on external source of antioxidants, which are gleaned from the diet, it’s also able to make some such as the cellular antioxidant glutathione.

Dietary antioxidants are found in fruits, vegetables and grains, which are all a rich source.  Examples of dietary antioxidants include lycopene and beta carotene found in red, orange and green vegetables as well as vitamins A, C, E and minerals such as selenium.  Plants also contain compounds such as polyphenols, which act as antioxidants and are found in foods such as berries and raw cacao.

Are free radicals always bad for us?

Most people equate free radicals to poor health but there is more to the story as they also play an important role in many normal cellular responses.

The immune system uses free radicals to help kill foreign invaders (phagocytes) in the body, which are just one of many ingredients in a cocktail of chemicals released in this defence mechanism, which is known as an oxidative burst.

Another interesting example of where free radicals may be beneficial is linked to exercise, particularly amongst athletes. Free radicals may play a key role in the benefits gained from exercise, which goes against much of the information provided on this topic.

One of the benefits of exercise is that it helps to improve insulin sensitivity, which is a good thing as the body becomes more attuned to maintaining blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance has the opposite effect resulting in higher insulin and blood sugar levels, which form part of the aetiology of diseases such as diabetes.

Research has shown that the oxidative stress (excess free radicals vs antioxidants) induced by exercise actually promotes insulin sensitivity and triggers an internal mechanism to protect the body against the potential damage from free radicals (3).  Interestingly, the same research has also shown that flooding the body with antioxidants (mostly in the form of supplements) may inhibit this health benefit from occurring.

These and similar findings have prompted experts in the field of sports nutrition to question the use of antioxidant supplements as part of their prescribed diet regime.

Are antioxidants always good?

The reputation of antioxidants has evolved over the decades into something of a panacea for good health.  Early research many decades ago identified their role in the ageing process and their association with health has stuck.

There is no doubt that antioxidants have a key role to play in the aetiology of disease and cell ageing, but this doesn’t mean that overdosing on them will help you to live longer, stop you getting sick or prevent wrinkles.

Antioxidant supplements

Supplements containing antioxidants have always been popular but the evidence to support their use in the reduction of disease risk is often lacking and often contradictory.

Supplements have their place and as the name suggests this is to supplement the diet to make up for any shortfalls that may exist when your diet may be compromised for whatever reason.  Public Health England currently recommend we supplement our diet with vitamin D during the winter months in the absence of sunlight and it has long been advised that women take folic acid during the early stages of pregnancy.

Supplements are also useful for young children, older adults and those following strict diets such as veganism.  In such cases there may be a greater risk of deficiency.

In some cases, supplements could do more harm than good and especially high doses of antioxidants.

One example is the link between beta carotene supplements and lung cancer as shown in the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research Third Expert Report Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. This report found that there was strong evidence to show that taking high-dose beta carotene supplements increased the risk of lung cancer in both current and former smokers (4).

It’s all about balance  

Adopting a healthy diet which includes plenty of plant-based foods, especially brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, will ensure a good intake of antioxidants. Leading a healthy lifestyle which involves being active, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking and addressing stress and sleep issues can help to reduce excess free radicals.

I get that this may be easier said than done and behaviour change is a tricky thing that often challenges our ability maintain a healthy way of living.  However, focusing on the information and advice which is supported by science is always going to be a better long-term option than seeking out quick-fix fads.  A faddy approach to your health is  not only likely to be short-lived but may in fact be more detrimental to your health.

References  

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-guide
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2231253611110048
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2680430/
  4. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer
Could sleep deprivation contribute to weight gain??

Could sleep deprivation contribute to weight gain??

Sleep is a key pillar of good health

Sleep is becoming more widely recognised as one of the key pillars of good health alongside diet and exercise.  Diet and exercise are directly linked to our ability to maintain a healthy body weight, but it may be that sleep also has a role to play.

How well are we sleeping?

The optimum number of hours of sleep is thought to be just under eight, but research carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health has shown that most people manage less than seven (1).

Over the course of a week this deficit equates to a whole night’s sleep, and research by The Sleep Council has shown that 33 per cent of people only manage 5–6 hours, while 7 per cent get less than 5 hours (2).

“Sleep derivation causes fatigue and can impact on our ability to perform daily tasks as we struggle with attention, concentration, creativity, insight, memory and decision making” 

How is diet linked to sleep, disease and weight gain?

Research has suggested that poor sleep may increase the risk of diabetes, elevated blood pressure, poor mental health and even our ability to maintain a healthy body weight (3).

“A lack of sleep may increase your energy intake by 300 calories per day”

It has also been shown that if you continually lose sleep at night then this may affect your ability to lose weight. 

Studies carried out by Loughborough University found that those who habitually sleep for less than six hours each night tended to have a higher BMI than those who managed to get the recommended eight nightly hours (4).

Sleep deprivation may affect our hormones that regulate appetite

Research has suggested that a lack of sleep may impact on the hormones leptin and ghrelin which control appetite. 

Leptin sends signals to the brain to help inhibit hunger while ghrelin is released by the stomach to stimulate appetite.  The research, which is not yet definitive, suggests that a lack of sleep reduces leptin and increases ghrelin (5).

This hormonal effect may explain the correlation between obesity and sleep deprivation highlighted by certain studies.

Insulin and sleep

Insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar, may also be affected by sleep.  This hormone also promotes the storage of fat and as such it has been suggested that higher levels may impact on weight gain.  Research has suggested that sleep deprivation may increase the release of insulin as well as another hormone called cortisol which has also been associated with fat storage in the body (6).

There may also be a simpler explanation

Sleep deprivation causes fatigue and tiredness which can impact on our motivation to exercise and stick to healthy eating habits.

Sleep deprivation can also lower mood and could contribute to depression and anxiety both of which may lead to comfort eating and weight gain.

Adolescents are at particular risk if depression as a result of sleep deprivation which is compounded by the overuse of electrical equipment at night and the psychological effects of social media (7).

“A prolonged lack of sleep can eventually filter into our emotions and relationships”

Avoid quick energy fixes

Trying to overcome the fatigue associated with sleep deprivation may also affect eating patterns as well as the temptation to rely on ‘pick-me-ups’ during the day such as sugar laden energy drinks or sweet snacks. These may not only promote weight gain but could further inhibit your ability to sleep well at night.

How does being overweight affect our ability to sleep?

Being overweight can affect our ability to sleep in a couple of ways.  Sleep apnoea is a condition that affects breathing during the night which can disrupt sleep. If this is an issue, then make sure you sleep on your side to help open up the airways.

Indigestion is another problem that interrupts sleep and is more common in people who are overweight. Heartburn is a common symptom of indigestion as stomach acid rises into the oesophagus and throat.

Try eating a light low-fat meal a few hours before bed and include a good source of protein as this help the gall bladder to produce more bile acids that aid digestion.

The power of herbs to help with sleep

If you want to help promote sleep, then try herbal drinks. There are many herbs associated with relaxing the body and easing anxiety, which is a leading cause of sleep deprivation. 

Herbs such as chamomile, passionflower and lavender are good but the most potent is valerian root.  Look for herbal teas with a high percentage of valerian root for maximum effect.

References

  1. https://www.rsph.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/a565b58a-67d1-4491-ab9112ca414f7ee4.pdf
  2. https://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/The-Great-British-Bedtime-Report.pdf
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2845795/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29526681
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16227462
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26141007

Food For Thought podcast with Rhiannon Lambert

Food For Thought podcast with Rhiannon Lambert

How foods and sleep can change your life

My chat with Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert on her podcast Food For Thought is now available.

It was great chatting with Rhiannon who I have known for quite a while now.  We talk about the importance of sleep and in particular the role of diet.

Here is just one of the questions I was asked…

With two-thirds of adults in the UK failing to get the recommended quality and quantity of sleep, could our nutrition be more as effective than getting an early night?

Interesting question….  The first point to make here is that there are many factors that impact on our ability to sleep well both in terms of the number of hours we get and equally as important, the quality of sleep.  As we both say when it comes to many areas of health, there is no one size fits all and this mantra can be applied to sleep.

Modern lifestyle

Our modern lifestyle is fast paced, and this is not just work related as everyone is affected by the pressure, we put ourselves under to be and be seen as achieving and this looks different for every individual whether it involves work goals or doing the best for your family.

Anxiety

The reasons for not sleeping are common amongst all groups and include things like anxiety which could be linked to lifestyle or other behavioural habits associated with overuse of modern technology.

Addressing diet

I would say that addressing your diet can help you to sleep but you also need to address behaviours and the environment you sleep in.  In my new book, I use these three pillars (BED) as a way of helping people to really think about how they can tackle their sleep issues and form their own personal sleep ritual.

Foods that harm and foods that heal sleep

When it comes to diet, it’s about looking at the foods and drinks that both help and hinder sleep as well as also looking at your eating behaviour and pattern of eating which also play a role.  This may link to micronutrient deficiencies, food and drinks that stimulate our bodies or the effect of food on digestion which can all keep us awake in some way.

Diet plays a role but is just a contributory factor that should be considered alongside other things as part of addressing and understanding the bigger picture as to why you’re unable to sleep.

There is also another angle here in that sleep deprivation can cause depression, anxiety and fatigue which can lead to erratic eating patterns and impact on the food choices we make which may exacerbate the issue of sleep deprivation.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Join Cancer Research UK in giving up sugar for February

Join Cancer Research UK in giving up sugar for February

Addicted to sugar? Learn more about how you can ditch the sweet stuff!

Sugar is the villain in the world of nutrition and most significantly those added to foods, which are referred to as being ‘free’.  We all eat too much of it and it’s supposedly more addictive than class A drugs.  So, what’s the deal with sugar and how can we start to cut it out of our diet?

This month we’ve been challenged by Cancer Research UK to ditch the white stuff in the name of charity but why is it so bad for our health, how much are we eating and how can we reduce it?

What are free sugars?

Free sugars are considered to be the ‘bad guys’ and have been defined by Public Health England as all added sugars in any form which include (1):

  • All sugars naturally present in fruit and vegetable juices, purées and pastes
  • All sugars in drinks
  • All sweeteners including table sugar, honey, barley malt, maple syrup, coconut nectar, palm sugar, agave nectar, date sugar and brown rice syrup

Other sugars found naturally in foods such as whole fruits, cereals and dairy foods (not flavoured milks) are not as damaging to health.  Blood glucose levels are less affected by the sugars in these foods as their fibre, fat and protein content slows down its release into the bloodstream.  Foods containing these sugars are also much more nutritious and contain many other nutrients which are beneficial to health.

How much free sugar should we be eating?

Sugar is high on the health agenda with both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) urging us to reduce free sugars to just 5% of our daily calorie intake.  Guidance from Public Health England is to limit free sugar intake to no more than 30g (6 tsp) per day.

How much free sugar are we eating in the UK?

Findings from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2018) have shown that most of us consume too much free sugar (2).  The greatest contributors come from the sweeteners we add to food and drinks, soft drinks and then the usual suspects of confectionary and other sweet treats.

Sugar and heart disease

The relationship between sugar and heart disease has been widely researched and a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a high-sugar diet was associated with a greater risk of dying from the condition.  Researchers not only found a strong association between sugar intake and heart disease but that the higher your intake of sugar the greater your risk of disease (3).

It’s not fully clear how sugar and heart disease are related but several indirect pathways have been implicated. The liver converts excess sugar into fat and when overloaded this may increase the likelihood of fatty liver disease, which contributes to diabetes risk (a key factor in the aetiology of heart disease).  Other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure and inflammation have also been associated with diets high in sugar (3)

Sugar and cancer?

Sugar is often talked about with respect to cancer but according to Cancer Research UK, there’s no direct link between the two.  Saying that, the two may be indirectly associated with one another, which has more to do with the impact of obesity.  An unhealthy diet, which may include an excess of sugar in the diet has the potential to cause weight gain and evidence from research has shown that being overweight or obese can increase the risk of many different types of cancer including breast, bowel, oesophageal and pancreatic (4).

Beyond smoking, obesity is one of the greatest preventable risk factors in the development of cancer.  It’s been predicted that by 2035 almost three quarters of the UK population will be overweight or obese, which may cause a further 670,000 new cases of cancer over the next 20 years.

Exactly how being overweight or obese causes cells to become cancerous is not yet fully understood but is thought to be triggered by chemical signals released from excess body fat. We need some fat for the body to function properly, but excess may be harmful as it releases hormones and growth-promoting signals in the body, which encourage inflammation and influence how often our cells divide. These changes in cell division are thought to be one of the most likely reasons why carrying excess fat increases the risk of cancer (5).

How to start cutting free sugars out of your diet

Food surveys have shown we all eat too much of the white stuff and yet most of us find it impossible to cut it out of our diet.  Ditching free sugars for good is probably an unrealistic goal for the majority of people, but this current campaign led by Cancer Research UK offers an opportunity to kick-start new eating habits and explore ways to reduce them from your diet.

Top tips to tackling sugar in your diet

Try and make simple changes to your diet that involve cutting down on the amount of free sugars you consume.  The tips below can help you to reduce the amount of free sugars in your diet and beat the cravings that act as a key barrier to change.

Understand sugar on the label

Many of the foods typically high in free sugars are obvious to spot, but a significant amount of those we consume are hidden in salad dressings, condiments, breakfast cereals, soups, cook-in-sauces and ready meals.

The front of pack labelling highlights the amount of sugar in a food product so opt for green or amber traffic lights. This labelling can be misleading as it represents all the sugars so also refer to the ingredient list.  To identify free sugars, look for anything that ends in ‘ose’ (sucrose, glucose, fructose) as well as any healthier sounding alternatives, such as raw sugar, barley malt, maple syrup, coconut nectar, palm sugar, agave nectar, date sugar and brown rice syrup.  These are all classed as free sugars.

Switch to sweet snacks lower in free-sugars

To reduce the amount of free sugar you add to food you can opt for dried fruits or homemade compotes.  If you’re looking for something sweet to snack on, then try fresh or dried fruits alone or topped onto plain yoghurt.  You can also control the amount of sugar you add to homemade fruit breads, which can be topped with nut butters.

Include plenty of protein in your diet

Protein helps to keep you feeling full and can lessen the desire to snack between meals.  Structure your meals by teaming proteins with healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds), fibre (wholegrains) and plenty of vegetables.  If you need to snack between meals then something protein-based such as boiled eggs, pulse-based dips (hummus) or lean meat proteins are a great option.

Get a little spicy!

Sweet spices such as ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon can make a great substitute for sugar.  These spices can be added to hot beverages and smoothies or sprinkled over porridge and yoghurt in place of sweeteners such as sugar or honey.

Ditch sugary drinks

Soft drinks are one of the biggest contributors to sugar in the diet and even so-called health drinks can be loaded with sugar in one of its many forms.  Try flavouring sparkling water with fruits, vegetables and herbs such as lemons, limes, strawberries, mint, cucumber, rosemary, fresh ginger and basil. Herbal teas are also lovely when brewed, chilled and sweetened with a little honey.

Keep occupied

Research shows that the desire for something sweet after you have eaten is more likely to stem from habits formed during childhood as opposed to anything more biological (6). Evenings are the downfall of most people when it comes to snacking, so the first step is to keep sweet treats out of the house.  The next step is to find ways to occupy your time such as going out for a walk, doing something around the house or having a nice bath with a good book rather than flopping in front of the TV with a family pack of minstrels.  There’s some truth in the saying, “Idle hands make for the devil’s work”.

Gum

Research findings are mixed but have shown that chewing gum may help overcome sweet cravings in some people (7). Make sure you opt for sugar-free varieties!

Learn to chill

We’re more likely to seek out sweet treats and comfort foods when under stress.  Try to adopt other ways to manage your stress rather than relying on food. Magnesium helps to relax the body and can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds and even a little high-cocoa dark chocolate, which is also rich in the compounds phenylethylamine that acts as mild mood booster.

Try chromium

This mineral has been shown to help manage blood glucose (sugar) as part of something called the glucose tolerance factor (GTF).  This factor increases the effectiveness of insulin, which is a hormone that helps to control blood sugar levels by transporting glucose into cells.  Chromium also helps the body to process the carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the foods we eat.  Whilst not conclusive, research has suggested that chromium supplements may help with cravings (8) and anecdotally, some people find these a useful way to reduce sugar cravings by taking with meals.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29587886
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24493081
  4. https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2017/05/15/sugar-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/
  5. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/obesity-fact-sheet
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2531152/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17118491
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16184071
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.