food · Health promotion · Healthy Eating · Policy

Does healthy eating have to hurt the planet?

CSIRO_ScienceImage_3224_Pulses_and_legumes.jpg

Image: Commons Wikimedia -https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CSIRO_ScienceImage_3224_Pulses_and_legumes.jpg

 

This is a very complicated question because there are so many factors involved, but it has been the subject of much debate over the last few years.

The latest headline comes from work by scientists at Harvard University in the USA. The proposed diet moves us all away from eating as much meat (particularly red meat) and encourages us to eat more fruit and veg, more nuts and pulses. The amounts below are averages so you might have 100g of red meat on one day and then no more for the rest of the week for example.

  1. Nuts – 50g a day
  2. Beanschickpeaslentils and other legumes – 75g a day
  3. Fish – 28g a day
  4. Eggs – 13g a day (so one and a bit a week)
  5. Meat – 14g a day of red meat and 29g a day of chicken
  6. Carbs – whole grains like bread and rice 232g a day and 50g a day of starchy vegetables
  7. Dairy – 250g – the equivalent of one glass of milk
  8. Vegetables -(300g) and fruit (200g)

The diet has room for 31g of sugar and about 50g worth of oils like olive oil. (Source BBC)

Full details of the diet can be found here.

This diet still encourages eating fish (one of which should be oily) for health reasons and red meat is also a great source of iron so an important part of the diet.

I think this diet is manageable. It is realistic and you can make some very tasty things with the variety of ingredients on offer. Unlike a full vegan diet, followed properly, it should give you enough iodine and B12.

But like any diet, it requires knowledge to be able to follow it and achieve the health outcomes the authors desire. Why not take some steps today and swap one of your processed food snacks for a handful of nuts (unless you are allergic of course), and take one of your meat based meals and swap it for a legume based meal. Here are 2 to try:

Lentil Bolognese (you can swap the mushrooms for carrots if you are not keen on mushrooms)

Bean Curry (you can use any type of bean, you could even try a tin of mixed beans for variety)

 

If you are interested in this topic, the British Dietetic Association has also done work in this field. See here for more information.

food · Health promotion · Healthy Eating

Should we even be selling food which can cause harm?

This is a question to wrestle with. I am not going to give you the answer but share a few thoughts to start off your dinner time discussion!

With the latest cancer prevention report suggesting processed meat should, if possible, be avoided and the government consulting (finally) on a total ban of the sale of energy drinks to children based on the overwhelming body of evidence which says that the levels of caffeine in energy drinks are harmful to children, we need to ask ourselves whether products like these should even be allowed to be produced, let alone, sold legally?

We know that alcohol is harmful, we know that cigarettes are harmful and yet we continue to sell these (although there are restrictions of course), why, perhaps because of the taxes they bring in or perhaps because we are fortunate enough not to live in a dictatorship. We know that not wearing a seat belt can be harmful so there is legislation in place to ensure we wear one to protect ourselves. Where are the parameters for food?

There are clearly some foods which are banned. The EU has very strict testing for approving additives, whether natural or artificial, and there are very strict safety and hygiene standards for foods produced or sold in the EU (let’s hope it stays like this post Brexit, but that is a discussion for another day!). But beyond the safety and hygiene of a product, what about foods which might not kill us or make us ill in the short term but ones which might have an impact on the quality or overall length of our lives?

I am an advocate of choice. Restricting a product and it doesn’t necessarily have the desired effect. Look at the impact of taxing sugary drinks, yes manufacturers responded by reducing the sugar in their drinks but they did not necessarily reduce the sweetness of the drinks. The focus was on calories, and not on the quality of the food consumed. The focus on calories is not a great message for the public. Children do not need to focus on calories, the tragic stories of eating disorders or of young children hating their own bodies show us that. Pregnant women should not focus on calories, yes, they should not be eating for 2 in terms of energy but the focus has to be on the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) the calories contain.

Policy makers have a hard job trying to balance the market and consumer demands with the scientific evidence but at some point the weight of the evidence must prevail. It may take time, like it did to get the ban on smoking in public places put in, but it must be done. I hope the consultation on banning the sale of energy drinks to children will lead to legislation. The supermarkets have already put a ban in place so we are half way there. I wonder if there are other foods we should have similar restrictions on – processed meat perhaps? For the sake of children, especially those from low income households, this might be needed. BUT we must look at the unintended consequences, we must ensure the quality improves of the cheaper products without pricing the poorest even further out of a healthy diet.

What do you think?

Diet · Health promotion · Healthy Eating · Policy

Eating to reduce your risk of cancer

Today sees the launch of the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. The report takes all the studies on cancer and brings them together to see what the evidence base is. It takes all the individual studies you see in the newspapers and many more and brings them together. The report is 2000 pages long!

What does the new report recommend? (directly copied from http://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/recommendations-for-cancer-prevention/)

1Be a healthy weight
Keep your weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life

2Be physically active
Be physically active as part of everyday life— walk more and sit less

3Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans
Make whole grains, vegetables, fruits and pulses (legumes) such as beans and lentils a major part of your usual daily diet

4Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars
Limiting these foods helps control calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight

5Limit consumption of red and processed meat
Eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb. Eat little, if any, processed meat

6Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks
Drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks

7Limit alcohol consumption
For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol

8Do not use supplements for cancer prevention
Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone

9For mothers: breastfeed your baby, if you can
Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby

10After a cancer diagnosis: follow our Recommendations, if you can
Check with your health professional about what is right for you

Also: Not smoking and avoiding other exposure to tobacco and excess sun are also important in reducing cancer risk.
Following these Recommendations is likely to reduce intakes of salt, saturated and trans fats, which together will help prevent other non-communicable diseases.

 

If you need help changing your lifestyle, do get in touch. The key thing is to make sustainable changes.

Health promotion · Healthy Eating · Parenting

Portion sizes for children

All children are different and have different appetites. Here are 8 tips to help all those with responsibility for feeding children to know how much to give them.

  1. Know the child’s weight and get them weighed regularly (at least once a year for school-age children, more often for younger children). If they are tracking along their growth chart, they are probably getting the right amount of food (although not necessary the right type of food)
  2. Look at the balance of food across their day. Focus more on the variety and types of food, rather than just the amount. Focus on fresh, unprocessed foods. Focus on the nutrients rather than just the calories. From the age of 2, children’s diets should reflect the Eatwell Guide.
  3. Make sure your child is well hydrated. Children should have about 1-1.5l a day and more when it is hot. Water is the ideal drink. It is important to limit sugary drinks as well as limiting fruit juice to 150ml a day). For more specific amounts for different age groups click here
  4. Give your child a small amount of each food and let them ask for more. This will help them to regulate their own appetite
  5. Banish the rule which says you have to finish everything on your plate
  6. Encourage your child to have regular meals and not snack in between meals and your regular snack times
  7. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘you have had enough’.
  8. If in doubt, ask a health professional

 

Remember, food is not just about calories, it is amount nutrition, social activity, learning and new experiences. Get your child involved with every stage as they learn to love food.

 

Health promotion

Good mental wellbeing and nutrition

The longer I work in the field of nutrition the more I am convinced that we need to tackle mental wellbeing and nutrition together. It can’t be a coincidence that we have epidemics of both obesity and mental illness. We have to look at people as a whole. I am not saying anything new but perhaps highlighting an area where there needs to be more of a conversation between health professionals.

We are familiar with the term eating disorders and the majority of people are fortunate enough not to have to live with these, but disordered eating on the other hand is becoming more common. We respond to triggers other than hunger to eat and often reach for the ‘wrong foods’.

In my research recently I have found a lack of information on stress management and food. Apart from mindfulness, there seems little which links mental wellbeing and food.

Food for thought, perhaps?

Health promotion

10 minutes

There has been a lot in the headlines about 10 minutes of walking recently. 10 minutes brisk walking a day can have amazing health benefits. 10 minutes sounds like a short amount of time but for some of us it is more difficult to squeeze in that we would like to think. Here are some ideas for squeezing 10 minutes in. Remember you need to be slightly out of breath but still able to talk and your heart rate needs to have gone up for it to count in the 10 minutes.

  • Work out how far you can get in 10 minutes walking briskly – the shop, the bus stop, the far end of the car park… and then try and walk briskly every time you have to do that walk.
  • Park your car 10 minutes brisk walk away from work and you might even get 20 minutes in a day.
  • Park 10 minutes away from your child’s school and you can make it 40 minutes a day – plus, if your school is anything like ours you might even save yourself time because you can leave faster and don’t get stuck in the school gridlock!
  • Go for a 10 minute walk round the block before you get in in the evening. It is easier to do it before you get in than motivate yourself to go back out.
  • Ditch the car for journeys under a mile. Your car will be grateful too.

We are all busy but we probably spend at least 10 minutes on social media a day we could do without. Social media may teach us things which prolong life but a bit of walking will do us the world of good mentally and physically.

If 10 minutes is too much for you, start small and build it up.

Happy walking 🙂

 

Diet · Health promotion · Healthy Eating · Nursery · Parenting · Weaning

Looking for a nursery – what to ask in terms of food

Looking for a nursery can be a daunting process. It is important you feel comfortable leaving your child there and yet you can only go on other people’s recommendations. Not only should we check Ofsted reports and find out other parents opinions but we also need to ask the right questions when we go to visit. I would suggest you right them down too, if you are anything like me, you won’t remember all of them when you get there.

I have heard people say that they want to start weaning before they go back to work. My answer to this is that if you are not happy for your childcare provider to feed your child and teach them about food then you shouldn’t be using that provider.

Unlike schools nurseries and childminders are not required by law to keep to strict nutritional standards. There are voluntary guidelines developed by the Children’s Food Trust but they are not mandatory.

So here are 10 questions I think you should ask:

  1. Are they signed up to the voluntary guidelines?
  2. What is on the menu? – if your child is eating all their food at nursery, they need to have 5 portions of fruit and veg included each day, a portion of oily fish a week, some wholegrain foods, 2-3 portions of dairy and some red meat. There shouldn’t be too much processed food, high sugar foods or high salt foods.
  3. What do they give the children to drink? Children don’t need juice or squash. Ask the nursery whether they offer these or whether they stick to water – children will want what their peers are having. A portion of milk a day is a great way to get some calcium but toddlers don’t need milk all the time. (the age of the child will determine how much water and how much milk they should have)
  4. How much water to they encourage the children to drink? Did you know that a 1 year old needs about 1 litre of fluid a day? Good hydration is good for concentration and crucial for good dental health too.
  5. Do the staff eat with the children? Role model are SO important. Do the staff model eating fish and fruit and veg.
  6. Are children expected to finish what is on their plates? What happens if they don’t? The current recommendation is to let children say when they have had enough so they can learn to regulate appetite.
  7. What is offered if the child doesn’t like the food? Children should not be offered a high fat/high salt/high sugar alternative. They can be given choice but within the same food group. Otherwise children hear, you need to eat this nasty thing to have this yummy thing. Ideally you want a nursery which will reward children (with a sticker not a food reward) for trying the food.
  8. Is food given as a reward for good behaviour? This is not recommended and nurseries should try to use other things as rewards, otherwise food is used to treat – a cycle which can continue into adulthood.
  9. What are children allowed to take in on their birthday to share with their class? If there are 40 children in a nursery and every birthday comes with sweets and cake, that is a lot of additional sugar. Fruit or a special story to share with the group are a great alternative.
  10. How much physical activity is encouraged during the day? Children need to be active. They can be active in play as well as sport. Do they have plenty of space to run around, dance, kick a ball?

 

This is not an exhaustive list. I’d love to hear if you have any other suggested questions.