Tag: ask a nutritionist

Happy gut, happy hormones!

How much do you know about what’s going in your gut?   We have millions of microbes there, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. All of them have a good and bad element and they have an impact on our physical and mental health.   Our […]

Going back to basics with nutrition.

In my conversations with women from all walks of life, I often get asked about food and what to eat.  Not surprising, considering my profession 🙂   The question I get asked the most is usually phrased something like this: “what should I eat / what shouldn’t […]

What are the benefits of coffee?

coffee break

Like many people in the UK, coffee is my go to morning drink. I love the smell, the taste and the ritual of making a lovely cup of joe. There’s also the sheer weekend pleasure of having the time to sip on a hot cup of black coffee while reading the newspaper.

 

It pains me to say this because I love it so much, but coffee is a much-maligned drink, with the downside more frequently talked about than the many positives. A recent review of studies in the BMJ showed that moderate coffee drinking is okay and has some benefits, but like all good things, you need to know when to stop.

 

So what are the benefits? 

1. A cup of coffee is so much more than just hot black water. A cup of coffee contains riboflavin (vitamin B2), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), manganese, potassium, magnesium and niacin (vitamin B3). Coffee is also packed with antioxidants.

 

2. Coffee can improve brain function. Caffeine blocks one type of neurotransmitter that can hold you back and increases noradrenaline and dopamine, leading to enhanced firing of neurons.

 

3. Coffee could lower your risk of developing type II diabetes. A number of observational studies show that coffee drinkers have as much as a 62% lower risk of developing this disease; one of the biggest health problems of our time, which is characterised by raised blood sugar and the inability to secrete insulin to lower blood sugar levels. A daily cup can typically lower your risk by 7%.

 

4. Coffee can help you burn fat. Caffeine is found in almost every fat loss supplement because it’s one of a very small number of substances proven to help with fat burning. Research shows that it can boost your metabolic rate by up to 11%, and raise the amount of fat you burn by between 10% in overweight people and 29% in lean people. The downside is that the effects are likely to diminish with time in regular coffee drinkers.

 

5. The caffeine in coffee can boost your physical performance. Caffeine stimulates production of adrenaline. This is one of the stress hormones, but primes you for physical activity. A cup of coffee can improve physical performance by up to 12%. Caffeine also stimulates the nervous system, telling it to break down the fat stored in fat cells and making the energy more available to be used as fuel. A cup of black coffee before a workout could improve your performance in the gym!

 

What’s the best way to enjoy coffee?

No coffee after 2pm. It is, after all, a stimulant and, if you drink it too late in the day, it can interfere with the quality of your sleep, or your ability to get to sleep in the first place.

 

Ditch the sugar. A sure fire way to undo all the good a cup of coffee can do is to add a few spoons of the white stuff. The downside to sugar is now pretty well documented. In a nutshell, it increases inflammation in the body, and can lead to obesity and diabetes.

 

Go organic. Coffee is routinely heavily sprayed with pesticides, so go for organic whenever you can.

 

How much can I drink?

The amount of caffeine in a single cup of coffee varies enormously. A small home brewed cup is likely to contain around 50mg per cup (unless you have an amazing coffee machine), while a large one from a coffee shop might have over 400mg. You’d expect the average cup to have around 100mg.

 

A number of studies suggest up to 400mg a day (that’s about 4 cups) is safe for most people but many people are able to enjoy more without any ill effects. Do bear in mind that tea, chocolate and some soft drinks and prescription drugs also contain caffeine, so you need to view your coffee intake in light of other things you are eating and drinking.

 

If you know you need a diet and lifestyle upgrade, but are not sure exactly what that would look like for you, get in touch. Looking forward to talking to you and helping you take the first step towards a new you!

 

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How can I make Autumn meal planning and preparation easier?

I was recently asked to share my top tips for Autumn health and wellness with Motherhood Reconstructed. I love what Tamu and Leah are doing to share diverse stories of motherhood in the UK. Go check out their site and events!   The kids are […]

How much water do you drink a day?

Conventional wisdom suggests that we should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, or about 1.5 – 2L. How much water do you drink a day? For a lot of people, even drinking a litre of water a day is tricky. When I […]

Just eat more vegetables.

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People like shortcuts. Maybe it’s a symptom of our modern world, where we can get pretty much anything we want at the touch of a button.

 

Speaking of shortcuts, I’m often asked by friends, family and colleagues about the fastest ways to get healthy / fit / more energy (delete as appropriate).

 

There are two answers I always give, no matter what their underlying symptoms. Then I ask more questions and give a more detailed, tailored response.

 

The first answer is always – get more sleep or go to bed earlier.

 

I’ve talked about the benefits of sleep before – it regulates your metabolism, allows your various organs to repair and heal and allows your brain to process the events of the day. Don’t give into the current masochism around sleep – most people really need at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night to be fully functional.

 

And then my second answer is always – eat more fresh vegetables, especially green leafy ones.

 

I cannot overstate that vegetables are little nutrition powerhouses! Each vegetable has many individual benefits, with its own mix of macronutrients (protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates) and phytonutrients.

 

The greater the variety in your vegetable intake, the more benefit to you. When in doubt, just eat the rainbow!

 

Ideally, everyone would eat at least 7-10 servings of vegetables a day. I know that’s hard, so  you’ll often hear nutritionists, (including me!) say to prioritise cruciferous / brassica vegetables. You know them as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, kale, brussels sprouts, savoy cabbage, radish, bok choy and watercress.

 

Not only are they high in antioxidants like vitamins A and C, they are also high in folic acid and vitamin K and have a huge amount of minerals such as magnesium and potassium.

 

Cruciferous vegetables are also high in phytonutrients like glucosinolates which support your liver in clearing excess hormones, alcohol, xenoestrogens and environmental chemicals.

 

So, adding a big handful of kale to your morning smoothie after a big night out will help your liver clear the alcohol from your system and make your feel better a bit faster!

 

In a nutshell, adding more cruciferous vegetables into your diet can help you boost your energy levels, support your liver, balance your hormones, support your immune system and feed the good bacteria in your gut!

 

There are lots of ways to add cruciferous vegetables to your diet:

Add a big handful of kale to your morning smoothie

Make a big pot of soup with broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower

Make a big a*s salad with loads of different veggies in it

Grate up some cabbage for a coleslaw

Make a big tray of roasted veg

Steam some asparagus and eat them with hummus as a snack

 

How do you eat your veggies?

 

Get in touch for to book a free, no commitment 20 minute health coaching call to find out more about how you can improve your health & wellbeing and reduce your stress.

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Food is food – nutritious, cheap and tasty.

This week, a prominent doctor in the UK talked about the need to reduce the 5-a-day fruit and vegetable intake recommendation because it was ‘unrealistic’ for low-income families to achieve this. She says that lots of families may struggle to afford the recommended amounts and that […]

Clean eating? Healthy eating? What about nutritious eating?

There’s been a lot of chatter in the media this week about the end of ‘clean eating’, with many disavowing this term, saying that it has led to a rise in disordered eating and anorexia. The denouement of the majority of these pieces tend to […]

Do you read labels?

One of my favourite things to do is spend an hour or two browsing the aisles of a health food shop like Whole Foods, Planet Organic or As Nature Intended, looking through the products, seeing what’s new, picking things up, flipping them over and reading the labels.

Do you read labels when you go grocery shopping, either in store or online? It can be a bit of a minefield, right? The good news is that in the UK and Europe, food labelling is strictly governed by law and manufacturers can’t just say what they want on labels. It’s illegal to have false information or misleading descriptions.

From understanding what the different food additives, emulsifiers, thickeners and flavour enhancers are, to figuring out how much added sugar is too much, to navigating calories, then adding in the different kite marks from the various standards associations, such as the Soil Association, Fairtrade, Organic (EU & USDA) and Freedom Food – it feels a bit mind blowing, doesn’t it?

I have a few rules of thumb that I follow when I buy food and read labels and I promise that with practice, it does get easier!

1. Shop along the edges of the supermarket and start with fresh produce first.

Fresh fruit and vegetables should have a single ingredient. If you can afford organic, great. In the UK, look for the Soil Association to help guide you through organic purchases, in the US, look for USDA Organic and in Europe, look for the EU Organic logo. If you can’t afford to do a full organic shop, try to buy the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables organic. Here’s Environmental Working Group’s most recent update to the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen.

And try to buy organic, grass-fed meat and dairy where possible.

2. Five ingredients or less.

When I buy packaged goods, I like foods that have 5 ingredients or less. Food labels appear on all processed foods, and the more ingredients, the more processed the food is. I’m not creating a strawman about processed food, as I know all food is technically processed is some way when it is changed from its original state. The difference is when I ‘process’ it in my kitchen, I know exactly what ingredients are being used and how it’s being ‘processed’ or er, cooked.

Food labels must list the ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight, so keeping this in mind helps you understand if something like a beetroot, carrot and apple juice is actually mostly apple!

3. Know your E numbers.

E numbers are the European Union’s code for substances added to foods to perform specific functions. Here is the UK Food Standards Agency’s exhaustive list of the colours, preservatives, antioxidants, sweetness, emulsifiers, stabilisers, flavour enhancers and other additives that are classed as E numbers.

It’s worth noting that not all E numbers are bad for you. Additives may be natural, nature identical or artificial, however many people tend to avoid E numbers, because there are so many of them and it’s easier than trying to decipher what each one is, what it’s made from and their effects on the body.

4. Know your additives and which additives to avoid. 

Whole Foods have put together a wonderful list of ‘unacceptable ingredients for food‘, that includes additives and ingredients such as aspartame, bleached flour and hydrogenated fats. This is a good starter for ten. I also personally avoid carrageenan as there have been a few studies showing that it can cause inflammation and has been used to induce inflammation to study something completely unrelated.

5. Know the different names for sugar. 

It’s not just glucose, fructose, sucrose and lactose. Sugar comes in many forms and natural or not, your body responds to it in the same way – an insulin release to help break down the sugars into energy. This image has the names of 56 different types of sugar, and believe it or not, there are more to add to this list, like coconut sugar!

56 different names for sugar

6. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it.

Until you understand exactly what the different food additives are, this is a good rule of thumb to follow.

7. Keep practicing. 

Get into the habit of reading labels and understanding what’s in the food you eat. It will soon become an automatic reflex to lift, turn and read. If you want to read more about food labelling and additives, Joanna Blythman released a fascinating book last year called Swallow This: Serving Up The Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets.

Part 2 covering calories, reference nutrient intake and the traffic light system coming soon!

Photos courtesy of Adam Wilson, Women’s Health and EWG

I Tried It: Keeping A Food Diary

  My second assignment for my second year of nutrition requires me to keep a food diary. Sounds too easy, right? Copy down breakfast, lunch, dinner and Bob’s your uncle. For this exercise, we need to record every single element of each meal and put […]

What is your nutrition style? Abstinence or moderation?

I love January. It’s the start of the new year (I’ve only recently stopped thinking in academic years! It’s funny how long it takes to break that mental habit), a time to reset and ease into new goals and intentions. And I love all the television […]

Do you need to detox?

lemon water

At this time of the year, newspapers and magazines are filled with weight loss, fitness and detox stories. I admit, I do enjoy reading them and seeing what nutrition & exercise (mis)information is being passed around.

One of my biggest gripes is seeing articles that talk about needing to detox post Christmas, with claims that a 3, 5, 7, 10 (you choose a number of days!) day detox will cure everything that ails you.

The biological reality is that your body is constantly detoxifying itself – that’s what your liver, kidneys and skin are for. And the by-products of the perpetual detoxification are stool, urine and sweat (really! they’re not just annoyances!).

The liver is the body’s waste purification plant and it is perpetually in motion, 24 hours a day. The more toxins you put in, the harder the liver has to work to remove them. Your body really doesn’t want toxins to build up. So much so, the liver has a two stage detoxification process to make sure all the waste is removed – anything from alcohol to heavy metals to pesticides to hormones. The liver is continuously converting these substances to inactive forms for excretion in urine (via the kidneys) or stool.

So knowing all this, the real question (which is less of a quick fix and not as sexy a ‘detox’): how can I consistently support my liver and kidneys?

  1. Drink lots of water throughout the day. Most people are slightly dehydrated and often mistake thirst for hunger, so the bare minimum to aim for is 1.5L of water across the day.
  2. Eat green leafy vegetables. These contain the micronutrients and enzymes that support the first stage of liver detoxification and kickstart the second stage.
  3. Eat enough protein. Red meat, nuts, eggs and fish are amongst some of the protein sources that contain the amino acids needed for the second stage of liver detoxification.
  4. Don’t drink alcohol every day. Metabolism alcohol puts pressure on the liver and diverts it from its other important functions, such as bile secretion, which is helps the body digest fats.
  5. Get sweaty at least 3 times a week. A good excuse for a run, a spin class or a shag!
Photo by Dominik Martin