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Food Myths: 7 Vegetable Myths Exposed!

13 Nov

  1. Potatoes count towards our 5 a day guideline – they don’t.  Along with cassava, plantain and yam, they are classed as carbohydrate foods.  Sweet potatoes do count, however, as they are rich in betacarotene
  2. Raw is better than cooked – not always.  While some nutrients, like Vitamin C, are damaged by heat, others like the lycopene found in tomatoes actually gets released and made more bioavailable when cooked
  3. Organic isn’t worth the extra cost – while organic foods are not completely free from some toxins, they do contain up to 40% more antioxidants
  4. Baked beans don’t count – they do, but only as one portion regardless of how many you eat.  However, remember that baked beans are high in both salt and sugar.  Similarly, chickpeas, kidney beans and other pulses also count as one portion but are lower in antioxidant properties than other vegetables
  5. Eating 5 apples counts as 5 a day – your 5 a day minimum needs to be a variety of 5 different fruits and vegetables.  Aim for a variety of different colours as a guideline
  6. Ready meals don’t count – they can, if the ingredients are there to start with and the nutrients haven’t been damaged by preservation and heating.  However, remember that these options are usually high in salt, sugar and fat – eat them in moderation.
  7. Dietary supplements count – most supplements are made from synthetic ingredients and cannot replace real food.  Even natural, high-quality supplements like the multivitamin and mineral I use and recommend should be used as an additional source of nutrients, not to replace fruit and vegetable intake.

Are 5 A Day Fruits And Vegetables Enough?

12 Nov

Photo Courtesy of mattwi1s0n (Flickr)

The benefits of fruits and vegetables have long been recognised, and the introduction of the ‘5 a day’ campaign in 2001 was designed to break down the World Health Organization (WHO) 1991 recommendation of a 400g daily fruit and vegetable intake into practical portions.

The nutrients in fruits and vegetables are essential for our bodies, but what exactly does a portion look like and how many of us are reaching the 5 a day target?

Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day could be made up of:

  • Two broccoli spears, one medium tomato, three heaped tablespoons of peas, one slice of melon and one pear
  • Three sticks of celery, eight cherry tomatoes, four heaped tablespoons of spinach,  three prunes and one banana

While this sounds simple enough when broken down like this, the Health of Britain – Perspectives on Nutrition independent study found that 88% of us are failing to meet the 5 a day guideline, and 12% are not even managing one portion daily.

How is this possible?  There are various elements contributing to this situation, from the focus on marketing junk food to the availability of convenience meals, to the decline of the family meals around the dinner table.  Meals have become something that are often squeezed into an already too busy schedule, and when stress is high and time is short it’s all too easy to grab a fast food meal lacking the benefits of fruits and vegetables.

So, given the current situation for many people, asking whether 5 a day is enough may seem a slightly irrelevant question.  If people are not achieving 5, what would be the point of raising the guideline to 6 (the guideline for Denmark), 10 (the French guideline), or even 17 (the staggering guideline for Japan)?

The fact is that while the 400g / 5 a day guideline is useful as a benchmark (albeit a low benchmark – remember the 5 a day guideline was always meant to be the minimum, not the optimal intake), the exact requirements for each person vary considerably depending on their age, gender, physical activity, stress levels, overall diet and many other factors.

What should you do then?

  • Aim for a minimum of 5 fruits and vegetable portions each day
  • Choose as wide a variety of fruits and vegetables as possible – 5 of any fruit or vegetable will not be as effective as a range of 5 different varieties
  • Use a natural multivitamin and mineral to ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake – not to replace the need for fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Consider supplementing a natural dehydrated fruit and vegetable supplement if you, or perhaps your children, regularly do not meet the guideline

For more personalised advice, contact me.


12 Top Food Facts: Bananas

27 Sep

  1. Bananas actually don’t grow on trees, but the Musa sapientium, the world’s biggest herb, which can grow up to 35 feet tall
  2. Bananas are a great source of potassium, containing 400mg per 100g of banana.  Potassium helps lower blood pressure, provide energy, aid muscle growth and prevent muscle cramps
  3. Bananas contain all 8 amino acids (the molecules that make up protein) that the body cannot produce itself
  4. The word banana most likely originates from banan, an Arabic word meaning finger  Continue reading

Children Who Eat Vending Machine Food Prone To Chronic Health Problems

7 Sep

School children who consume vending machine food are more likely to develop poor diet habits, leading to obesity and a greater risk of chronic health problems including diabetes and coronary heart disease.

In a study by the University of Michigan Medical School, 22% of children studied purchased a vending machine snack on a typical day.

This study is the first to focus on vending machines amongst this age group, rather than on the USDA lunch program and found that vending machine users had higher sugar intakes and lower intakes of fibre, B vitamins and iron than non-consumers.

Interestingly, there was no significant difference in vending machine consumption based on family income, face or ethnicity.

Even more interesting, and worrying, is how commonplace vending machines have become within the school setting.  The study found that vending machines were present at 16% of elementary schools, 52% of middle schools and 88% of high schools.

Simply by being present and offering a food alternative that is popular, highly marketed, and a poor nutritional choice, schools are assisting children – and teenagers – in developing unhealthy diet habits.  And, as we know, the bad habits formed in childhood can take a lifetime to break.

As a parent to a daughter who is just a few years away from school, this topic scares me.  I work hard to instill a good diet for her, and her tastes at 18 months are directed towards healthy foods – don’t you dare eat a grape without offering her!  But, I have to wonder: how effective will this good start be when she begins school and sees friends choosing soda and crisps?  Why are our schools not helping educate children about the importance of good diet, and instead are facilitating access to unhealthy snacks?

I would love to hear your views on this!

How To Achieve Acid-Alkaline Balance Through Diet

6 Sep

Personal trainer, Jill Gardner, asked me recently about the acid-alkaline balance and whether there is any merit to this ‘diet’.  (I use diet in this sense meaning the food you eat, not as a weight loss diet.)

It’s a great question, so here’s my answer for everyone:

Our body tissues and blood are slightly alkaline, with a pH of 7.4 – just above neutral, which is a pH of 7.0 (like water).  This means that we need to eat a diet containing more alkaline foods.  The residue of all foods we consume influences the body’s pH level – note that pH is determined by residue, not the food’s taste.

The way foods break down, however, is not the same as their pH – the pH level does not reveal how the body breaks that food down.

The acid-alkaline balance, therefore, refers to the body’s response to the food, not the food in isolation.

I recommend a diet of 70% alkaline and balanced foods.  Otherwise, the body system becomes acidic, congested and mucousy.  This is bad news for the body as it creates extra pressure to remove the unwanted residues using the colon, kidneys, and then even the skin and sinuses.

Generally, to achieve this acid-alkaline balance, your diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables, some whole grains, sprouts, fewer animal foods and refined foods kept as an occasional treat.  Also remember the importance of receiving vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids – I recommend supplements to provide vitamins and minerals and essential fatty acids.

To help you maintain an acid-alkaline balanced diet, here’s an overview of acid-alkaline foods:

Alkaline = all vegetables, most fruits, millet, buckwheat, sprouted beans, sprouted seeds, olive oil, water-soaked almonds

Balanced = brown rice, corn, soybeans, lima beans, almonds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, honey, most dried beans and peas, tofu, non-fat milk, vegetable oils

Acid = wheat, oats, white rice, pomegranates, strawberries, cranberries, breads, refined flour, refined sugar, cashews, pecans, peanuts, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, meats, fish, poultry

I hope that helps, Jill!

The Truth About High-Quality Protein

2 Sep

In my practice, protein is one of the most controversial issues I face with clients.

It’s a touchy subject for many because in  people’s minds, protein usually equals meat.  And meat is something that people can become very defensive about; either their right to eat meat, or the injustice of people eating meat.

That isn’t my concern.  My concern is health through nutrition.

So, let’s uncover the truth about high-quality protein: it will probably surprise you.

You’ve probably heard talk about different sources of protein being higher or lower quality.  And, if you have, no doubt you’ve heard that red meat is the best-quality protein people can eat; this is why vegetarian protein is so often doubted.

Basically, there are 8 essential amino acids that our body needs to produce tissue proteins.  These must be provided by our diet; that’s what the word “essential” means in this context.  If any one of these amino acids are lacking, the synthesis of new protein will slow down or even stop completely.

Quality protein, therefore, is supposed to provide the right types and amounts of amino acids.

We actually know the very best source of protein to provide these replacement proteins.  Maybe you can guess what it is?

Human flesh.

Since we don’t recommend cannibalism, animal meat is the next best option because their proteins are similar to ours.  This source of protein is used efficiently and, therefore, labelled as high-quality.  Plant proteins can be lacking in one or more of the 8 essential amino acids, and so have become known as lower quality protein.

The problem here is that efficiency in promoting growth of new proteins sounds very beneficial, but is a completely different idea that the idea of, say, health.  Wellness.  Optimum health.

In fact, research is mounting to show that while plant proteins provide a slower, steadier synthesis of new proteins, they are actually the healthiest source of protein.  And, even though one plant food may be lacking in an amino acid, we now know that the body is able to derive all essential amino acids from the natural variety of plant proteins that we consume.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that the whole protein thing has been overemphasised for a long time.  Man’s right to meat became twisted into marketing claims and enhanced daily recommended intakes – back in the 19th century, scientist Carl Voit found that ‘man’ required 48.5 grams of protein per day, but recommended an intake of 118 grams daily because of cultural bias.  Historically, the civilized, upper-class, rich person has eaten a lot of meat while the lower-class, poor people ate bread and potatoes.

Once that bias has begun, it’s very difficult to stop.

Chances are that if you are following a healthy, balanced diet, you are receiving an adequate protein intake without focusing on it especially.  This is good news for vegetarians and vegans, but also food for thought for meat eaters.

As a meat eater, you should ask yourself if you are fully aware of the health implications of a diet high in red meat.  Red meat intake has been linked with various health problems ranging from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer.

Are you risking your own health because an 18th century bias decided that animal produce was superior?

I’d love to hear your comments on this!

The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

9 Aug

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), also known as isoglucose, maize syrup, chicory, inulin, fruit fructose and glucose-fructose syrup is a common sweetener and preservative.

It’s made by changing glucose in cornstarch into fructose, which extends a product’s shelf life and is cheaper than sugar.

For those reasons, high fructose corn syrup is present in foods ranging from processed foods, soda, yoghurt, ice cream, cookies, breads, soups, ketchup, salad dressings – in fact, it’s pretty hard to find a food without HFCS in.  (Intake of high fructose corn syrup has increased by 1000% from 1970 to 1990! – American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

This is pretty scary when we consider that high fructose corn syrup has been linked with obesity and liver disease, and contains concerning mercury levels.  Apart from these, we have to also remember that high fructose corn syrup contains no nutrients and actually leeches the body of nutrients, as well as increasing hunger.

HFCS is also usually joined by carbonyls, a substance found in the blood of Diabetics that have been linked with tissue damage and health complications.  On average, a typical HCFS product like a can of soda has been shown to have 5 times as many carbonyls as a Diabetic has.

So, what’s the answer?  A combination of knowledge and avoidance.  Make it a habit to have all the names that high fructose corn syrup goes by written on a piece of paper or saved as a note on your phone, and read the labels of foods and drinks you buy.  Avoid the ones containing HFCS.

As a rule, the more processed a food is the more likely it is to contain high fructose corn syrup.

What are your thoughts on HFCS?