Drinking at your desk… I mean water, obviously.

Drinking at your desk… I mean water, obviously.

I do quite a few workplace nutrition seminars in my job so it was quite intriguing reading some research published today on which the healthiest and unhealthiest professions are. It looked at everything from average number of hours sleep to how many portions of fruit and veg is eaten in the average working day. But because the research was commissioned by BRITA (the water filter people: www.brita.co.uk) they also looked at hydration.

Hydration is essential for lots of processes in the body including getting rid of toxins and maintaining blood pressure, and don’t forget around half our body weight is made up of water so if we don’t drink enough this can have a significant impact on the way we feel and how our body works.

Dehydration is so common in the workplace, but I think that not everyone is aware of how it can affect the way we feel and our efficiency, and often people only have a drink of water when they’re thirsty. Actually there are plenty of other signs that you might be dehydrated that happen before that thirst signal kicks in. A slump in energy; a lack of concentration and headaches are also signs and typically when we feel like this we often want to reach for a sugary snack.

And this is just what the survey found. Four o’clock is when workers seem at their most vulnerable to this sweet snacking behaviour, but this can be counter-productive as it can cause a spike in blood sugar, which is then followed by a crash. When that afternoon lull happens just having a drink of water can perk you up no-end without that crash.

One of the reasons given for not staying properly hydrated at work was being too busy, but staying hydrated can increase productivity no end so taking a few seconds to have a drink could save time rather than waste it.

Another thing that people seem to be saying is that, particularly if they live in a hard water area, water doesn’t taste particularly nice and this is where a water filter can help.

But how much water do we really need? As a guide, in a clinical setting a dietitian would look to encourage around 35ml fluids per kg of body weight every day, but of course some of this will come from the food we eat such as fruit and veg or other foods high in water like soup. But even pasta and rice absorb water in the cooking process, which will all add up. As a recommendation sipping around 1.5L of fluids on top of a healthy diet will help keep your body nice and hydrated.

So off the back of this research, BRITA are hoping to get the nation’s workforce drinking water instead of reaching for those unhealthy snacks, with their “Pour O’Clock” campaign and of course they have a range of products to help people do that, whatever their job.

Unhealthiest and healthiest professions (1)

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Tweaking recipes to make them healthier

So Flora Pro.activ rang me last week and asked if I’d like to join in their Christmas recipe challenge. I think the word “challenge” was only added to spur on those who might not otherwise take part by prodding their competitive nature. It’s not really a challenge at all. They sent me the ingredients and a recipe and I cooked it.

The purpose I think was to show that you can tweak a traditional recipe to improve its nutritional content: in this case by reducing the saturated fat content and increasing it’s poly- and mono-unsaturates to give a healthier fat profile. I am all for this, especially with the ever growing evidence showing that the type of fat you eat rather than the amount of fat is more important to heart health.

In the past, a low-fat diet was often recommended for people at risk of heart disease but more and more studies are now showing that unsaturated fats are cardio protective, and cutting fat out of the diet and replacing those calories with carbohydrates can actually be detrimental to health. Of course, part of the reason behind this advice was the fact that fats have a lot of calories so if you need to lose weight (as many people at risk of heart disease do) cutting out high calorie foods is a good place start. But on the whole, the inclusion of “good” fats is a positive thing.

Margarine typically contains hydrogenated vegetable oil which is what makes an oil into a spread. This is a problem because it creates trans fats in the process, and trans fats are as bad as saturated fats. However Flora say their spread does not contain trans fats, as does Bertolli olive oil spread and Benecol, so switching from butter to any of these (not just Flora) will improve your dietary fat profile.

So in this instance they have taken a baked apple recipe, traditionally laden with butter (saturated fat) and switched it to Flora pro.activ (unsaturated fat). And it tasted lovely. Flora also asked me to include a link to their recipe challenge so if you’d like to have a go, follow this link http://www.flora.com/proactive/Healthy-recipes/ (remember that you can use any of the brands I’ve mentioned, it doesn’t have to be Flora).

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Why making your own baby food is better

Why make your own baby food?
Making your own baby food is a great thing to do. The trouble with baby food that you can buy is that it is a rather one-size-fits-all affair. It has very uniform texture that tends to be on the mushy side, throughout each weaning stage, so baby doesn’t get the chance to chew. Chewing is essential because it helps develop those muscles around the mouth that are so important for speaking with. Every baby matures and learns to manage new textures at different rates. By making your own foods, you can tailor the textures to your own baby’s stage of development.

Additionally, one of the main points of weaning is that your baby ends up eating the same food as the rest of the family, so making your own baby food gives you the opportunity to introduce them to your way of eating and gives you the chance to experiment with different textures sooner rather than later.
There are also nutritional benefits to making your own baby food. Many of the baby foods you buy have been heat-treated in order to minimise the risk of bacterial growth while they are sitting on a supermarket shelf. Some vitamins are damaged at high temperatures. By cooking your own food at normal household temperatures you are preserving these heat-labile vitamins. For example, you can poach vegetables in hot water to soften them, rather than boiling them which may destroy some vitamins.

Keeping your homemade food safe
There are a few practical issues to think about though, particularly with regards to food hygiene. Once a baby reaches 6 months, you no longer need to boil their water to sterilise it, or their utensils (if formula feeding you should continue to sterilise bottles as directed by instructions), but you do need to follow basic food hygiene practices to limit the possibility of food poisoning. It is particularly important with babies as their stomachs aren’t fully ready to battle all bacteria and some infections can be serious at that age.

Always wash your hands before cooking or feeding your baby; avoid contamination from raw meat and fish by using separate utensils and chopping boards for them; make sure food has been cooked so it is piping hot all the way through before serving it. Storage of food is just as important: keep raw meat at the bottom of the fridge so blood can’t drip down on to other food; and make sure you throw food out if it is past it’s use-by date.

Getting the most out of purees and mash
To give your baby the most from pureed or mashed foods there’s a few golden rules to follow. To avoid the issue with homogenised textures and flavours that you get with commercial baby food, it is important to blend food in its separate constituents. For example, a cottage pie and peas should have blended mince, mashed potato and peas separately rather than a beige uniform mass of mush! Remember though, if you are waiting until 6 months to introduce solids, most babies will be past the puree stage and can manage fork-mashed consistencies easily as well. To start with you may want to thin purees with a bit of breast- or formula milk or some of the cooking water.

Healthy eating guidelines
Babies and toddlers have different healthy eating recommendations to adults. Under the age of two years you should avoid giving low fat versions of food as they don’t have enough energy and do not contain all the necessary fat-soluble vitamins that a baby needs. It’s also important to remember that a baby’s organs are not fully matures so can’t cope with much salt. Salt is in everything: bread, cheese, milk, tinned food, ready-prepared sauces and meals, stock cubes and gravy so check the labels and limit your babies intake to less than 1g per day. Don’t add salt in cooking or at the table.
Sugar is also in a lot of things and while a little is tasty, it is important that your baby learns to enjoy savoury flavours too so try to add as little as possible and when you are making sweet dishes, use grated apple or some other fruit to sweeten it. Honey must be avoided until 12 months as it can sometimes harbour bacteria that can be fatal to babies. Whole nuts are a choking hazard.

What different textures are there to try?
As mentioned above, all babies develop at different rates so it’s difficult to state what age baby should be given what. It is far better to eat with your baby and experiment with different textures as your baby develops. Signs your baby might not be ready for a texture are the food coming straight back out repeatedly, and coughing and spluttering. Don’t worry about them gaging, this is all part of the learning to eat process and is a natural reflex and not the same as choking. If your baby is chocking, their whole windpipe will be blocked and they won’t be able to cough or make any sound, if they are coughing it means a little bit has gone down the wrong way and is not life threatening!

A general texture-progression would be:
Puree, mashed, tacky/sticky (like cream cheese, peanut butter, houmous, cream icing), to
Mixed textures (like yogurt with bits of fruit, soup with vegetable lumps, pasta in thin sauce), to
Bite-and-dissolve (like rusks, wafers, quavers/skips/wotsits crisps), bite & crumble (like biscuits), to
Bite & chew easily (like bread or cake), to
Bite & lump (like raw apple, raw carrots, whole grapes), to
Bite & splinter (like bread-sticks, crackers, popadoms).

Remember many babies power through this list so don’t feel you have to stick at puree. If you find they aren’t able to cope with a particular texture, leave it a week and try again.

Always sit with your baby and monitor them when introducing new textures.

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What is Metabolism?

Question from Jack: So what exactly is metabolism?

The term metabolism describes all the chemical processes in our body necessary for us to live. When we talk about it in terms of diet and health what we are primarily looking at is how our body uses energy.

A car gets its energy from petrol, and we get ours from food and we measure this energy in units called calories (or joules which is the metric version). The process of digestion breaks food down so its constituent parts, such as vitamins, proteins and energy, can be used.

Our metabolic rate is a measure of how many calories we need for all those processes to take place. Lots of factors affect our metabolic rate such as muscle mass, activity levels, temperature, age and gender. The more muscle we have the higher our metabolic rate as muscle needs more maintenance and therefore more chemical processes than fat. Exercising increases our metabolic rate while we are engaged in it, but it also stays higher for a while following exercise too. Our bodies need to stay at a pretty constant temperature and being in a cold environment will mean our bodies will have to generate a bit of heat. This increases metabolic rate. Men tend to have higher metabolisms than women – likely owing to a higher muscle mass. Ever heard the term middle-aged spread? As we age our metabolism tends to slow down so we need less calories to live on. However not everyone adjusts their eating accordingly and this can lead to weight gain as we get older.

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The 5:2 diet

Question from Megan: What’s your opinion on the 5:2 diet?

Answer:
There is little in the way of research done into the long-term effects of this diet; whether the five days off, two days on is the most effective ratio; or even if this diet works in terms of sustainable weight loss – of course, if your overall calorie intake goes down, you will lose weight anyway.

There are some animal studies that suggest restricting calories in this way may increase lifespan and protect against dementia. There is also the question of a gene called SIRT1 AKA “the skinny gene” which may trigger the body to start burning its fat reserves. It is thought by some that this gene, which may also suppress tumours offering some protection against cancer, might be activated by following this kind of diet. However, animal studies are self-limiting in terms of applying results to a human population.

If you are planning to try this diet, there are a few things you should remember. The five days you are not fasting are not an excuse to eat whatever you like. If you eat too much of the wrong foods, this diet is not going to work! Also on the fasting days it is important that you still get a balance of nutrients. Fruit and vegetables, whole grains and protein with some healthy fats will need to be squeezed into your 500kcal limit. It’s also not sensible to have two consecutive fasting days.

But, if the thought of restricting calories every day leaves you miserable, then this could be a diet for you to try. If followed properly there is unlikely to be any negative health consequences – although some people have complained of lethargy on the fasting days and it is not sensible to diet when pregnant. As with any diet (although probably not what a dieter wants to hear) gradual weight loss is more sustainable than losing lots of weight quickly so if you want to keep the weight off, take it slowly and aim for half to one kilo a week. And remember, if you stop the diet, going back to the way you were eating before is likely to cause weight gain in the same way it did before so making changes to your diet should be life-long to break the diet-followed-by-rebound-weight-gain cycle.

A healthy balanced diet should include plenty of whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and low-fat dairy, and should also not exceed your calorie needs. To figure out roughly how many calories you need to keep your weight the same, there is a nifty calculator on the Dudley NHS website: Calorie requirement calculator http://www.dudley.nhs.uk/sites/Healthy-Living-Tackling-Obesity/index.asp?id=8550

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Introducing solids

Weaning (also referred to as complementary feeding) is the process of introducing babies to solid foods. What, and how, you feed your child is crucial to their development and health including developing speech and social skills. However, with so much conflicting information out there it can seem like an incredibly daunting process, instead of the exciting new stage of your baby growing up!

When to start
The official recommendations as set out by the Department of Health are based on recommendations made by The World Health Organisation state that the process of introducing solids should begin at around six months and definitely not before four months, however, a recent research project carried out in south east London showed that nearly three-quarters of parents acted against the government guidelines.

At around six months, most babies will be able to support their own heads and sit up by themselves. They will also have the co-ordination to pick something up and put it in their mouths. Additionally their gut and other organs begin to mature meaning that they are able to digest food well. All these things are pretty important when it comes to eating so waiting until they are this age is a good idea.

Before they are born, babies build up stores of some nutrients, such as iron and zinc, to see them through the early stages of life. These stores begin to run low at about six months and at this time they will need to get these nutrients through food.

The goal of weaning
The ultimate goal of complementary feeding is to have a child (and later on and adult!) that eats a wide variety of healthy foods and has good eating habits (that is good behaviour at the table to appropriate meal patterns). Sometimes it’s difficult to think this far ahead when you have a baby who is totally dependent on you, but the good work you do early on pays dividends later in your child’s life – think being able to take your three year-old out to a restaurant without worrying that they will scream the place down or not eat a single thing on the menu. Start as you mean to go on: include your baby at mealtimes and build a routine that fits in with your family meals and lifestyle.

What to give & what to avoid
Your baby needs the same range of nutrients as you do although it’s important to remember than general healthy eating advice doesn’t apply to children under two years. They are growing rapidly so need lots of energy meaning that you should avoid low fat and reduced calorie products.

They need a balanced diet containing protein (meat, fish, beans, tofu), fat (oily fish, oils, butter), starchy carbohydrate (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta), and dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese). Fruit and vegetables are also very important for vitamins and minerals.

The department of health recommendation are that if your baby is younger than six months, you should avoid giving eggs, wheat, fish & shellfish, nuts & seeds, unpasteurised cheeses and soya as these foods could increase risk of developing allergies. Salt, added sugar and low fat products should be avoided also.

Free Workshop
I am running a free weaning workshop in March for those who are about to start or want to make sure they are on the right track with introducing solids to their baby. This workshop covers what to feed your baby, when to start, meeting your baby’s nutritional needs, baby-led weaning, how to encourage good eating habits & dealing with feeding problems. This is also a chance to have your infant nutrition questions answered as well as meeting other parents in the same situation. To book your own workshop go to the Mother & Baby workshops page.

Places are limited so booking is essential, please contact Jo Travers for more information and to book.

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Overindulged over Christmas? Then read on…


Question: After overindulging, how can I cut back without feeling I am wearing a hair shirt!

If you have overindulged, you are not alone. And you are also not alone in starting the year wanting to get back on track. However, a lot of people give up and often it’s because they try to do too much at once which can feel like torture. One way to see it through is to get a plan…

Breakfast
Start the day with something filling that will keep you going and won’t leave you feeling deprived. For some a bowl of porridge is the ultimate comfort food. Made with skimmed milk and with a handful of raisins or prunes thrown in for sweetness. For others, this is nothing but a punishment! For those who love it, you carry on. This is a great breakfast and will do you no end of good.

If however you would have to force down porridge, then fear not there are other great breakfasts that are not too calorific and will do a good job at keeping you full. A couple of boiled eggs and a slice of granary toast (easy on the butter) is often a breakfast reserved for lazy weekend brunch, but try making time for it before work. Eggs are full of protein and important vitamins and minerals, plus evidence shows that people who eat two eggs for breakfast eat fewer calories throughout the day.

If you don’t think either of these will work for you, stick to high-fibre cereals such as bran flakes, shredded wheat, Weetabix or fruit & fibre. Top with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and add some sliced or dried fruit. If toast is your thing, have a scraping of spread and have a topping such as marmite or a little peanut butter.

Lunch
Lunch can be a killer if you have to buy it work every day. A simple cheese and onion sandwich can contain up to 600kcals depending where you get it. From a supermarket you can check the labels but if you go to a café or restaurant you are at their mercy. Soup is a great lunch. It’s filling, comes in hundreds of flavours, is readily available in supermarkets and can fit nicely into your calorie budget. Beware of the cream-of versions though. If possible buy your soup from somewhere that lets you know what is in it and how many calories it contains. It’s super easy to make a big batch at home and freeze in portions to take into work to heat in the microwave, and there are literally a million recipes to be found online.

If soup doesn’t hit your comfort spot though you could try sushi; filling whole-grain salads such as couscous, barley, quinoa or bean; pitta pockets with low calorie fillings like tuna or salad (easy on the mayo and dressings).

Evening meal
It’s easy to get into bad habits over Christmas and New Year like drinking every day and eating your way through the left over chocolate. Try and have a couple of days off the sauce each week, preferably consecutive days. If you have been drinking over the festive season, the chances are your liver has a back-log to get through and if you don’t give it time to clear it, the alcohol can cause scarring i.e. cirrhosis.

In terms of eating, planning ahead is the best way to make sure you have easy, healthy options for dinner and don’t reach for the takeaway menu. Plan what you’re going to eat on each day before you go to the supermarket. Go for things that are filling but not too calorific: chicken, fish, lean meat, beans, lentils, pulses, vegetables, rice, pasta and potatoes. Try to stay away from full-fat creamy or cheesy sauces and go for tomato based ones instead. If you’re buying ready-made, check the labels to see which are best. If you cook from scratch, limit the oil or fat to one teaspoon per person for the whole meal (whatever the recipe says!). If you’re a pudding person, try looking for the lower-calorie options. Instead of ice-cream, try frozen yogurt or sorbet; fruit salad; meringue and berries; baked apple; low-calorie chocolate mousse. Instead of cream try half-fat crème fraiche or fat free Greek yogurt.

Between meals
For snacks throughout the day, try to limit them to about 100 kcals such as a muesli bar, a pot of low-calorie yogurt, a piece of fruit, a portion of light cheese and a couple of oat biscuits, a small bag of baked crisps.

To figure out roughly how many calories you need to keep your weight the same, there is a nifty calculator on the Dudley NHS website: Calorie requirement calculator
But remember, if you want to lose any weight you have gained over Christmas, you’ll need to take off a few hundred calories from your calorie requirements, but don’t go below 1200kcals a day without the supervision of a specialist. Also remember that slow & steady wins the race: gradual weight loss is more sustainable than rapid.

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Diet & Arthritis


Question from Jenny Watts:

I have problems with arthritis and suffer in cold damp weather, what could I eat to help ?

Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints so make sure you are getting enough fish oils (omega 3s) which are anti-inflammatory. You should be having about two portions of oily fish per week such as sardines, mackerel, fresh tuna, salmon, herrings.

Additionally cutting down on saturated fats (mainly found in animal products such as meat & full-fat dairy) may help the pain as these fats can add to the inflammation. Cutting down on saturated fat is also good for another reason: sufferers of arthritis are at increased risk of other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, and cutting down on saturated fats can lower your cholesterol, reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular problems.

Eating a ‘Mediterranean Style’ diet has been shown to benefit people with rheumatoid arthritis, particularly lessening stiffness in the joints in the morning. This style diet means eating about 6 portions of fruit & veg every day; include nuts and seeds; choose fish rather than meat; eat plenty of wholegrain foods such as wholemeal bread & pasta and brown rice; and use oils such as olive oil rather than butter.

Getting enough calcium is also important so make sure you have plenty of low-fat dairy dairy in your diet and taking a vitamin D supplement will help your body absorb the calcium. There is also some evidence that vitamin D works as an anti-inflammatory – so a double-whammy!

Also, making sure you are the right weight for your height will mean that your joints won’t be under any unnecessary pressure – particularly important if you get pain in your hips, knees and ankles.

You could also try moving somewhere hot & dry!

I hope this helps,

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Vegetarian sources of iron for your baby


Unlike the thing that stands in the laundry room next to a huge stack of washing, the iron in your blood is your friend! Iron carries oxygen around the body to the brain and other organs. Mums supply their babies with a good store of iron when pregnant, but this will start to run low at around six months old. It is important to give your baby iron-containing foods from this age so their body and brain can get on with growing into a walking, talking, little person. Your baby will need about 8mg of iron each day from when they are seven months up to a year old.

Types of Iron
There are two types of iron that come from food. Both do the same job but the way they find their way into the blood is slightly different:
The first is called haem iron and this comes from animal sources like meat and fish and eggs. This type of iron gets separated from food and is absorbed directly so can be put straight to work;
Non-haem iron comes from non-animal sources such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and pulses. This type of iron needs some odds and ends doing to it before it can be put to good use, which means it a little less efficient than it’s cousin.

Food sources
The best vegetable sources of iron are beans and pulses like lentils (6mg per 50g) and the best fruits, are dried ones such as dried apricots (3mg per 50g). Dark-green leafy vegetables are all generally pretty good too like spinach as well as kale and broccoli. Cooked spinach has just under 1mg for every 50g.

Maximize the Benefits
Another thing to know about veggies is that they tend to have a lot less iron than animal sources but never fear, there are one or two tricks to keep up your sleeve to get maximum benefit.

Some foods interfere with the absorption of iron. Phytates are found in whole grains and their products such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, nuts and seeds. Now there’s nothing wrong with these healthy and tasty tidbits and they are a great addition to your little one’s dinner plate, but to make sure she’s getting enough iron, give them at different times to iron-foods most of the time.

Calcium containing foods such as milk and cheese are also a bit pesky when it comes to iron absorption. So again, if you are worried your child might not be getting enough iron, give these foods at different mealtimes. Tea is another one so it is best to avoid giving this as a drink.
You can help baby absorb non-haem iron by giving them foods that contain vitamin C alongside. Bell peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruit (or orange juice diluted 1:10 with water) are all perfect for this job.

References
The Composition of Foods; McCance & Widdowson
Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism 5th Ed; Wadsworth
British Nutrition Foundation: feeding your baby

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