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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.

 

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.

 

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

 

Heart health diet advice, controversy and confusion

Heart health diet advice, controversy and confusion

Heart health – diet advice, controversy and confusion 

The interest and reporting on health has been revolutionary in driving the key messages about the importance of diet and exercise, but have the scales started to tip in the wrong direction?

The basics of good heart health have remained relatively unchanged in that eating a balanced diet and keeping active are key drivers in reducing the risk of disease. The problem is that the definition of what constitutes a ‘balanced diet’ continues to get redefined as we have become obsessed with the ‘micro’ issues and controversies surrounding this topic.  The consequence of this is that key health messages, which are based on science, have become blurred and cause confusion amongst people on what they should be eating.

The basics

We all know what a healthy diet should look like.  To keep healthy, our diet should include plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, oily fish, high-fibre foods such as beans, pulses and lentils and ‘brown’ carbohydrates over ‘white’.  Foods and drinks that are in high in sugar and saturated fat such as puddings, desserts, confectionary, soft drinks, convenience foods, pies and pastries are perfectly fine in moderation but when eaten to excess, especially in place of healthy alternatives are not good for health.

Simple right? If you follow these principles and control the amount of food you eat then there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to retain a healthy body weight, glean enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and protect yourself against diet-related diseases. Yet many adults still fail to achieve this.

What does the current adult UK diet look like?

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) is a rolling program that assesses the dietary intake of the UK population. This latest version of the survey is a combination of years 7 and 8 (2014/15 – 2015/16) and provides insight into the foods people eat, nutrients gleaned and adherence to public health guidance around nutrition (1).

In summary, the average adult eats too much sugar and saturated fat, not enough fruit and vegetables, too little fibre and hardly any oily fish.  Total fat intake is within the recommended guidelines and we all eat get more than enough protein in our diet.  Vitamin and mineral intakes vary with a significant percentage of some groups not getting enough from their diet.

In more detail…

  • The average fruit and vegetable intake amongst adults is 298g (similar for both men and women), which equates to less than four servings per day.  Only 31% of adults manage to achieve five-a-day, which is higher in women than men (32% versus 29%).
  • The average intake of oily fish is just 8g per day or 64g per week, which is lower than the recommended single weekly serving of 140g.
  • The average intake of ‘free sugars’ amongst adults is over 11 teaspoons per day, which is almost twice the recommended amount.
  • Adults barely manage to get more than 2/3 of their recommended intake of fibre and only 9% meet the guidance of 30g per day (only 4% of women meet this).

 

Percentage of adults with micronutrient intakes below the LRNI

Micronutrient Adults Men Women
Vitamin A 13% 16% 10%
Riboflavin (B2) 10% 6% 14%
Folate 5% 3% 6%
Iron 15% 2% 27%
Calcium 9% 2% 11%
Magnesium 13% 14% 11%
Potassium 17% 11% 23%
Iodine 12% 9% 15%
Selenium 36% 25% 47%
Zinc 8% 7% 8%

 

So, why has healthy eating got so complicated and what is influencing our inability to meet these basic principles?

For the purposes of this blog we’ll set aside the myriad reasons why people make certain foods choices.  This is hugely complex and influenced by emotion, knowledge, peer pressure, access to healthy food, cooking skills, food budget and many other factors.

Let’s focus on the things that have caused confusion around what it means to eat a balanced diet, which can impact on the food choices made by people who are motivated to make changes to their diet to maintain good health and reduce the risk of heart disease.

1.Weight loss

Much of the diet advice we’re exposed to in the media revolves around maintaining a healthy body weight, which is one of the biggest influences over your risk of disease.  Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death and is directly linked to being overweight; the conditions associated with being overweight also act as risk factors for heart disease.  The basic biology of ‘eating less and moving more’ will promote a healthy weight.  The idea that ‘not all calories are created equally’ is very sound but overplayed as within the context of basic healthy eating principles it’s really just common sense.  You know when you’re trying to eat healthily that you should be making up your daily energy (calorie) needs from foods that fit in with the basic principles of healthy eating and not compromising this by figuring out how you can tally a couple of Mars Bars into the equation by skipping meals or eating less nutritious food.

The diet industry and influence of celebrities and social media has seduced people with myriad ways to approach weight loss, which has contributed to the confusion around food choice.  Making long-term small changes to your current diet whilst watching your portion size is probably the best approach but doesn’t appeal to everyone.  Putting very extreme diets aside, there’s no right or wrong way to losing weight and some prefer to embark on a diet plan that lays out exactly what and when to eat.  Diets can be a useful way to ‘kick-start’ your weight loss goals and in some cases can provide much quicker results, but you still need to take on board that adopting long-term habit changes is the only thing that’s going to help you to keep the weight off once the diet has ended.

Attitude towards dieting is important and getting yourself in the right head space is key.  Many people refer to diets in the context of a set period of time and view the end of their diet as being the point that they can start eating ‘normally’ again. However, if your definition of ‘normal’ is reverting back to the way you ate before, then what’s the point if you’re just going to end up putting the weight back on again (classic ‘yo-yo’ dieting).

The best diet is only ever going to be the one you can stick with and forming new healthy eating habits is key to long-term success.  Diets come in many guises and this is where basic healthy eating messages can get blurred.  High protein, low carb, fasting, ketogenic and paleo are just a few examples of how people can develop false ideas around healthy eating.  These diets often label foods as being somehow ‘good’ or ‘bad’, which only adds to the confusion and in some cases can lead to guilt and a feeling of failure if they fail to lose weight or stick to the program.

There’s nothing wrong with dieting, just do your research and work out what approach fits in with your lifestyle.  Once you’ve lost the weight then try reverting back to the basic principles of healthy eating to keep the weight off, which will reduce your risk of heart disease.

2.Food controversy

There have been many books highlighted the impact of certain nutrients on health and questioned current dietary guidelines, which in relation to heart health have revolved around sugar, saturated fat and cholesterol.  I love reading these books as they provide a really interesting insight into the latest science and underline some of the wider controversies that may have shaped the way we are told to eat.  The concepts are very convincing in most cases, but the problem is that without a full understanding of the science of nutrition and research methods, it’s difficult to form an objective opinion and we have all been at a dinner party or sat in the pub with someone reciting the insights this type of literature offers.

The problem I have is that the typical person insinuated by the text is often in the extreme, which is overlooked by the reader. Let’s use carbohydrates as an example. The idea that a high-carbohydrate diet causes weight gain, diabetes and inflammation is rightly true but what defines a high-carbohydrate diet in this instance.  Whenever this is reported in the media or through books, no one actually defines this or shows you what a typical day’s food looks like for this high-carb eating person.  Take a diet of excess calories made up of sugary cereals and muffins for breakfast, washed down with a coffee laden with sugar then a 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 and soft drinks.  This is clearly not a healthy way to eat and if you eat this way then there’s a very good chance that you’re unhealthy in many other ways such as lacking in exercise. For the reader this is instantly translated as carbs are bad, but you can’t compare this diet with one that contains the right number of calories, forgoes snacking and includes porridge oats for breakfast, quinoa and chicken salad for lunch and then a tofu stir-fry with brown rice for dinner.  Someone following this type of diet may also make healthier lifestyle choices such as exercising regularly. I’m not going to argue the toss over carbohydrates and it’s clear that overdosing on them, especially sugar is no good for your health, but it needs to be put in perspective to be fully understood.

Saturated fat is another good example

It’s taken a while for the nation to adapt to the message that fat isn’t all that bad and research has broadened our understanding of the role this nutrient plays in the diet and its impact on heart disease.  Current advice is that we choose ‘healthy’ fats from foods such as extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds, which are rich in fatty acids called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These fats have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease by ways such as reducing inflammation and levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Saturated fat in the diet has always been sold as being bad for heart health and to be honest if you’re eating a diet that’s high in any type of fat (putting keto diets to one side) then you’re at greater risk of becoming overweight, which is a risk factor for heart disease.  The average adult still eats too much saturated fat but the impact of this on heart health has come under scrutiny.

A landmark scientific review published in the British Medical Journal found no association between saturated fat consumption and all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes (2).  This study sparked the saturated fat debate and has further studies have contributed to a growing body of evidence that has changed the dialogue on saturated fats.

The impact this study had on the topic of saturated fat in the diet and the relevance of current dietary guidance led to the publication of a report carried out by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). The Saturated Fats and Health report was published in May (2018) after an extensive review of data from high quality cohort studies and clinical trials (3).  Their findings strongly support the current dietary guidance of limiting saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of the total energy from the diet.  This is translated in dietary guidelines as no more than 30g per day for men and 20g per day for women.

SACN found that there were significant limitations in the available data, which may have helped to be fuel the debate on saturated fat. They also said that lowering saturated fat in the diet was needed to improve events related to heart disease.

But is this insight really of any true benefit to people when they’re choosing what to eat? 

If you’re a healthy weight and enjoy full fat Greek yoghurt, butter, cheese or other natural sources of sat fat in moderation as part of your balanced diet then this is unlikely to have any impact on the health of your heart.  However, the problem with talking about diet in terms of nutrients is that foods don’t just contain a single one.  Convenience foods, pies, pizza, pastries, sweet puddings, ice cream, cakes and chocolate contain a lot of saturated fat and are also high in calories, sugar and salt, which we know is not great for heart health. Redefining saturated fat is not straight forward and runs the risk of people thinking these foods are in some way healthy and confuses the issue of food choice, particularly that related to heart health.

3.Superfoods

Nutrition is often defined by individual foods and nutrients but it’s the overall quality of your diet that counts.   The term ‘superfood’ has been banned by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), who are the body that regulates food labelling. The regulations put upon the food and supplement industry have helped to provide transparency for consumers as well as providing more information about the nutritional and ingredient content of products.

These regulations do not apply to media coverage and as a result we’re still bombarded with new research findings, foods and nutrients portrayed as being superiorly better for our health, preventing myriad of diseases.  The irony is that many of these foods often come full circle and contribute to the ‘kill or cure’ approach to reporting in the media.

There’s nothing wrong with reading about current research, which is often fascinating, but you need to keep perspective. Blueberries, grapes, red wine and pomegranates may contain compounds that could help to prevent heart disease but including them in your diet doesn’t mean you won’t get heart disease, especially if your overall diet is poor and you make unhealthy lifestyle choices such as not exercising or smoking.

The basic principles of healthy eating have been proven to help reduce the risk of heart disease and diets such as the Mediterranean have been shown to be the ‘gold standard’.  Reading about the next best diet or superfood is hugely interesting but there’s no quick-fix solution to eating and living well, yet many people view these as some sort of panacea.  The controversy is interesting but the outcome in terms of what we are advised to eat doesn’t really stray far from basic healthy eating principles.  The real challenge is finding a way to change your habits and making the right diet and lifestyle choices that will see you through to long-term good health and this includes reducing the risk of heart disease.

 

References

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
  2. https://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h3978
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/saturated-fats-and-health-draft-sacn-report
The blokes guide to going vegan

The blokes guide to going vegan

The blokes guide to going vegan

Veganism is on the rise and research commissioned by the vegan society in 2016 showed that the number of vegans in the UK has increased by 360% over the last 10 years as a record number of people are choosing to avoid food derived from animals. Over 500,000 people aged 15 or over (more than one per cent of the population) have adopted this plant-based way of eating, making this one of the fasted growing lifestyle movements according to the Vegan Society.  Most vegans live in urban areas, with a quarter residing in London. A Mintel survey carried out in 2017 found that 11% of Britons had tried to follow a vegan diet at some point (1), whilst a previous report found that 33% of Brits had tried eating less meat to be healthier (2).

Vegan men

It wasn’t that long ago that Formula One superhero Lewis Hamilton said he was planning to go vegan full-time in an attempt to function at his healthiest and avoid damaging the planet.  “I stopped eating red meat two years ago”, he told the BBC.  Continuing, he said, “I think it’s the right direction and by letting people who are following me know, maybe that will encourage a couple of people to do the same thing”.  Other male vegan sports people include the footballers, Jermain Defoe and Dean Howell, and even heavyweights such as the British boxer David Hayes have made the switch to this plant-based way of eating. Hollywood celebrities have also followed suit with actors and musicians such as Jared Leto, Chris Martin, Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck all reported to follow a vegan way of eating.

It still stands that more women are vegan but 37% are still made up of men (3) and the increase awareness of health and body weight amongst men may equally be driven these days by celebrity influence as it has always been amongst women. Recent research has suggested that even men who don’t like meat, find it upsets their digestion, or have been asked by a doctor to reduce consumption, still find it difficult to choose the vegetarian or vegan option when in public with other men.

Vegans in the UK

The growing trend towards veganism is reflected in the demand for meat-free food, which has increased by over 900% with this way of eating predicted by some sources to be one of the biggest food trends in 2018 (4,5).  Food industry insight provided by Foodable Labs reported that in 2018, fifty one percent of chefs in the US added vegan items to their menus.  The same report suggests that this rise is in part due to the influence of social media food and health bloggers as it showed a 79% increase in photos tagged as being vegan (6).

High street food outlets have recognised the increase and responded by offering more vegan options and certain branches of Pret are now solely offering vegetarian and vegan food. Dietary food labelling (including dairy and eggs) has also made it easier for vegans to choose their food when looking for something to eat on the High Street, although some restaurant options are still limited.

Benefits of veganism

Whilst some people choose to go vegan for ethical reasons (environmental damage from methane gases and deforestation, water scarcity and land degradation), others see this is a great way to improve their health and rightly so.  Research shows that non-meat eaters have healthier lifestyles compared to a typical omnivore diet. Plus, a well-balanced vegan diet is more likely to contain a greater quantity of fibre-rich wholegrain foods and pulses. It’s also been shown that vegans are more likely to exceed the daily recommended fruit and vegetable intake, which means gleaning a greater quantity of certain key vitamins and phytonutrients that help to protect the body from disease (7).

Studies also show associations between meat-free eating and a lower incidence of obesity (8), heart disease (9), high blood pressure (10), type 2 diabetes (11) and digestive disorders such as constipation (12).  Lifestyle habits do play a key role here and this doesn’t mean that following a vegan diet will definitely prevent you from developing these conditions.

Anecdotally, people who have gone vegan report better energy levels and overall wellness, but this could in part be to do with the fact that vegans have been shown to be healthier in general, more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke (13).

Men going vegan

Going vegan may pose challenges to certain men especially those programmed towards a ‘meat and two veg’ way of eating.  The vegan diet can be quite calorie restrictive, which means careful planning for men trying to maintain their body weight.  Men following a demanding fitness regime will also need to adjust their thinking towards how they source their increased requirement for protein. Certain nutrients are also more important for men’s health such as zinc, which is typically found in meat and seafood but easy to source from plant foods once you know which ones to include in your diet.

There’s absolutely no reason why anyone can’t glean everything they need on a vegan diet. The issue of nutrient sufficiency has nothing to do with the food and is more a case of people understanding what foods they should be including in their diet and how to incorporate them. Following a vegan diet does take a little more thought and planning, especially when you first start out, but once you begin to understand what this diet looks like in terms of food, then it’s no different to any other way of eating and the same basic principles of healthy eating apply.

What to expect and how to start

Firstly, you may find yourself feeling hungrier once you switch to a vegan diet, so you may need to be prepared to include a couple of snacks during the day and think about including certain more nutrient dense foods.  Switching to eating solely plants means you may be eating a larger volume of food but fewer calories so choosing the right foods to supply you with enough energy is key.

It’s essential to include foods such as nut butters, avocados, oils, nuts and seeds to your diet to maintain adequate energy levels. Try and make your meals up of a protein (see below), grain, and healthy fats (nut, seed, oil, tahini, avocado, nut or seed). Explore dressings and sauces to accompany your meals. If you do get hungry then fill the gap with dips (bean or veggie based), nuts, seeds, soya yoghurt with toppings, smoothies (try adding oats for extra protein) or breads (topped with nut butter, avocado or banana).

Secondly, there’s likely to be a greater burden on cooking and preparing meals so work out your go-to meals to make things a little easier.  This might be a tofu or vegan Quorn stir-fry or one pot dishes such as a bean-based chilli that can be batch cooked and frozen for future meals.

Thirdly, you may experience bloating and gas when you make the switch to eating more beans, pulses and other high fibre foods. This will pass as your body adapts to this way of eating.

You may want to ease yourself in gently to veganism by starting with eliminating animal flesh then after a few weeks cutting out eggs and dairy.

Nutrients you may want to focus on as you begin vegan eating

A balanced diet is bedrock to good nutrition but if you’re used to eating animal foods as the main component of your diet then you may want to consider how you source certain nutrients in your diet.

Protein

There’s a current obsession with protein and whilst the richest sources are found in animal foods, there’s no reason you can’t get everything you need from plants. The trick is to include a source of vegan protein with every meal.  The richest sources are tofu, beans, lentils, pulses and vegan Quorn but other sources include quinoa, nuts, nut butters and seeds.  You will also glean a little protein from foods such as breads, pasta and rice.  The idea of pairing proteins is outdated so just mix and match them across the day to get a good intake of all the amino acids that make up this macronutrient.

Zinc

Zinc is an important part of many enzymes and has a role to play in immunity, processing carbohydrates, fats and proteins from foods and wound healing. The recommended daily intake for zinc is set higher for men as it plays a key role in maintaining prostate health, testosterone levels and overall reproductive health.

There’s a suggestion that vegans may fall short of this mineral in their diet but there are plenty of plant foods containing zinc. There’s also the issue of absorption, which is thought to be less from plant sources so just being mindful to include plenty of zinc-rich foods in your diet such as spinach, nuts, seeds, cocoa powder, mushrooms, beans, breads and cereal products will do the trick.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is mostly found in foods of animal origin so vegans should try to include fortified products such as plant milks and breakfast cereals in the diet. Yeast extract is one of the few vegan-friendly natural sources of vitamin B12. Contrary to popular belief, spirulina and other algae products are not reliable sources of this vitamin

Iron

Low intakes of iron can lead to tiredness, fatigue and low mood as this mineral is required to make red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. The type of iron found in meat is more easily absorbed by the body than plant-based sources, but you can increase the uptake by partnering them with a source of vitamin C such as serving fruit juice with your breakfast cereals or combining red peppers with pulses, beans and lentils. Avoiding tea with meals can also help maximise the absorption of iron from your food. Good sources include pulses, nuts, seeds, fortified breakfast cereals, tofu, tempeh, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, molasses and dried spices.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for the good health of your bones and is also required for proper muscle and nerve function. Although dairy is often (falsely) thought to be one of the only sources of this mineral, you can glean more than enough from foods such as tofu, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini and fortified plant-milks. Try eating two or three servings of calcium-rich foods on a daily basis.

Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids cannot be made in the body. The two most important are called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexeanoic acid (DHA), which are predominantly found in oily fish.  Another type of Omega 3 called alphalinolenic acid (ALA) can be found in foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, quinoa, walnuts and chia seed oil.  This Omega 3 fatty acid is converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but the conversion rate is poor, so you may want to consider supplementing your diet with a vegan Omega 3 supplement (sourced from algae).

Store cupboard essentials for all vegans

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Nut butters
  • Oils (extra virgin olive, rapeseed, sesame, chia)
  • Soy (tofu, miso, tempeh)
  • Fortified plant milks
  • Yeast extract
  • Dried spices
  • Cocoa powder
  • Quinoa
  • Canned beans, pulses and lentils
  • Tahini
  • Avocado
  • Hummus
  • Dried fruit
  • Wholegrains (oats, barley, brown rice, spelt)
  • Wholemeal pasta and breads
  • Vegan Quorn
  • Yeast extract
  • Fortified cereals

There’s no reason why anyone can’t get everything they need from a vegan diet.  Certain nutrients such as zinc are particularly important for men and they may also need to consider their overall energy and protein intake if they are trying to gain or maintain body weight alongside a heavy training regime.  They key is planning and understanding how to create quick and easy vegan meals to reduce the burden of cooking.  Supplements such as a multivitamin and mineral or omega 3 may be worth investing in as you begin the transition to vegan eating to insure you are getting everything your body needs.

 

  1. https://store.mintel.com/uk-meat-free-foods-market-report
  2. https://store.mintel.com/healthy-lifestyles-uk-october-2016
  3. https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/migrations/en-uk/files/Assets/Docs/Polls/vegan-society-poll-2016-topline.pdf
  4. https://www.just-eat.ie/blog/plant-based-diet-2018/
  5. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/
  6. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/vegan-dishes-chefs-restaurant-menus-added-2018-veganism-trend-us-a8511526.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707634
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26138004
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636393
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466938/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21983060
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10466166
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23583444

 

Cooking With Soul – Soul Sisters Fitness & Rob Hobson Nutrition

Cooking With Soul – Soul Sisters Fitness & Rob Hobson Nutrition

Cooking With Soul

I’m very excited to be collaborating with my buddies on this new venture.  Sisters, Alex and Maddie are the talented, fun and inspirational duo behind Soul Sisters Fitness.  The girls are top of their game in the world of wellness and run the Adidas female fitness studio on Brick Lane, London, where all the classes are FREE.

Diet and fitness has evolved into something that some people may view as being unachievable, but the bottom line is that it shouldn’t be a chore and with the right attitude, anything’s possible.  Diet and fitness should be fun and there’s something for everyone.  Without wanting to sound ‘preachy’, we all have our own journey and the key to developing and sticking with good diet and fitness habits is found within the right inspiration and a little bit of expert knowledge.  It’s naive to think it’s that simple and we get that (we certainly don’t get it right ourselves all the time!), but let us show you how to approach diet and fitness uninhibited, with a focus on confidence, fun and positive energy.

Time to inject more excitement into the wellness industry 

Alex, Maddie and I want to inject more excitement into the wellness industry with cheesy grins, high energy and a general ethos of ‘keeping it real’ rather than worrying about balancing your macros, overdosing on protein or other ways of trying to micro-manage your diet and fitness.  If you complicate your diet and fitness too much then you’re more likely to lose the fun element.  That’s when you start to set unrealistic goals. That’s when you start to put too much pressure on yourself.  That’s when it can all become a bit of a chore and when you risk losing the long-term routine and consistency of diet and fitness, which is essential for long-term health. That’s the most important thing right?  Your health is your wealth.

Common barriers to diet and fitness

Do you need to splash your cash on so called ‘Superfoods’ to be healthy?
Do you need to be an expert chef to cook healthy food?
Do you need to dedicate hours in the kitchen to prepare healthy food?
Do you need fancy gym gear or an expensive gym membership to exercise?

The answer to all these questions is ‘HELL NO’ (although the Soul Sisters do love a snazzy outfit!)

 

Cooking With Soul is a weekly YouTube feature and we’ll show you how to cook delicious, nutritious and sometimes a little bit fancy, healthy food.  We want to make the most of foods that can save a few quid and create dishes that anyone can prepare in a flash.

Cooking With Soul will explore all areas of health and fitness.  As a qualified and registered nutritionist, and qualified PT’s, we’ll use our 30 years of combined experience as experts in the industry to share insight and answer the questions we commonly get asked in our line of work, and of course, bring it back to the kitchen!

Just a few examples include:

What’s veganism and can I get enough protein on this diet?
How can I get more iron in my diet?
How much protein do I actually need and should I be drinking shakes?
What’s the best way to lose weight?
What are the best foods for women’s health?
What’s the best way to ‘bulk up’?
What fats should I be cooking with?
What’s the deal with snacking?
Can my diet help with sleep?
What’s inflammation?
Do I need to go dairy-free?
How can I reduce my sugar intake?
Why am I always bloated?
Are carbs bad?

Got a question that you want answered? Get in touch and we’ll make a video for you!

We’re also planning a new concept of supper clubs throughout London where you’ll train with the girls and then get fed by me.  Any level of fitness and no fancy gym gear required, but I will make you all eat my food! Just bring a smile and we’ll take care of the rest!

Fancy a corporate supper club with me and the girls to improve the health of your workforce?  Get in touch!

You can contact me through the website or at rob@robhobson.co.uk
You can also contact me or the Soul Sisters via Instagram:

Soul Sisters Fitness

Rob Hobson Nutritionist

Here’s a quick snapshot of our first video..

 

You can access the full video at our YouTube pages (Cooking With Soul page to come)

Soul Sisters Fitness

Rob Hobson Nutritionist

Come and get involved.  Start Cooking With Soul!

Rob, Alex and Maddie x

Hillside beach club (Turkey) wellness week

Hillside beach club (Turkey) wellness week

So, just spent a brilliant week in Turkey at the Hillside beach Club with my good buddy and personal trainer to the stars Christina Howells of That Girl London .  I have to admit that Turkey was never top of my list of places to visit, but the beautiful resort of Hillside in Fethiye was an eye opener.  We had a week of glorious sunshine accompanied by breathtaking views and crystal clear,  jade green sea.

Chris and I were invited to be part of the Wellness week at Hillside, which included an array of interesting workshops including one from me about healing foods and others including yoga, juicing and other relaxation techniques.  As you can see from the pictures, Chris took every opportunity to strike a pose in the latest collection from Charli Cohen.
image1-12 Christina Howells

 

Later in the week we were joined by four of the UK’s top health and wellbeing journalists and bloggers including Poppy cross,  Anneli Bush (Sustain the Glow), Abi Butcher and Nina Zietman, invited by the PR agency, Hue & Cry, represented by the gorgeous Esme Fillingham.

There was plenty of time to bask in the sunshine and explore the beautiful beaches on offer at the resort.  If a lively environment and cool beach club vibe is your thing, then the main beach was the place to soak up the sun.  However, needing a little quiet, I found the Serenity beach (see below) a haven of relaxation, and for those who are looking for total silence, the quiet beach offered just that, complete with a mobile phone ban.  The rooms were also sheer bliss with huge comfy beds and pillow menu (I opted for the buckwheat pillow) as well as stunning views out to sea.

 

image1-5  image1-4  image1-2

 

The journals and bloggers experienced some magical moments including sunset yoga onboard one of the resorts many boats, spa treatments and water sports.  Christina also put us through our paces over the weekend with personal training sessions and a group circuit training session that worked muscles I never even new existed (thanks to Anneli for subjecting me to a further 30 minutes of torture from Christina!).

 

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Obviously, food was big on my agenda and Hillside didn’t disappoint with a huge array of fresh salads, grilled meat and fish, as well as other offerings to meet the needs of most pallets.  If the canteen style of eating isn’t your thing then there are also other restaurants offering a la carte dining in style of the local cuisine, which included plenty of local foods and dishes including aubergine, local breads and locally caught seafood.

 

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I’m not the biggest fan of resorts as I like my own company to chill out, however, Hillside offered an environment to get involved in the group/family holiday vibe as well as quite spaces to reflect and rejuvenate.  I also took the opportunity to shamelessly promote the Detox Kitchen Bible!

 

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I’m not sure I could personally cope with the crowds that likely fill the beaches of Hillside during the summer months, but that’s just me.  Saying that, I can’t recommend visiting this resort highly enough if you’re looking for a dose of sunshine and luxury to escape the dreary UK weather during the end of September through to October.

I also have to say a huge thanks to the team at Hillside who were incredibly friendly and accommodating during the week, especially Oscar the chef who helped with my food demonstration.

If you fancy joining me and Christina then check in for May when we will be involved in the next Wellness week at Hillside.