The gut, or digestive tract, is an organ that digests our food in several stages. As part of digestion it takes all the useful parts from the food we eat and absorbs them so our bodies can make use of them in the constant act of staying alive. It links with other organs like the liver, and pancreas; and it protects from poisons; stores and transports nutrients; reabsorbs water and gets rid of the stuff we can’t use. It also plays host to many different species of bacteria that live in symbiosis with us. These bacteria have a constant source of food and in return they provide functions such as extracting nutrients, making vitamins and training our immune systems.
Men’s Health Week
It’s Men’s Health Week this week and this year there is a specific focus on waistlines – or as it’s better known, belly fat (as the Men’s Health Forum quite rightly point out). As a dietitian, this is my bag! I love anything that highlights the problems with carrying extra weight around the middle, and there are a lot of problems with it. Heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colo-rectal cancers and erectile dysfunction are all much more likely if your waist measurement is above 94cm (37 inches).
Losing some fat around the middle is one of the best ways (after giving up smoking) to reduce your risk of poor health and dying too young. However dieting is notoriously difficult and hardly ever works long term. I have written about this before here and more recently in my book The Low-Fad Diet. I honestly believe that making small changes, without “dieting” can make a huge difference and I see it in clinic all the time. It would obviously be healthier to eat only wholegrains and cut out the bacon completely but that isn’t how things work in real life. If you can just change the portion size or the frequency a bit, you will be making a positive change that is sustainable rather than trying to resist the smell of bacon for the rest of your life.
If you only do one thing to improve your diet, it should be at mealtimes fill half your plate with fruit and veg, a quarter with carbs and a quarter with protein. This could be as simple as switching the baguette for a sandwich and adding an apple. This simple guideline will help make sure you are getting the balance of nutrients right, not overdoing it on the carbs (which get stored as fat around the middle if eaten in large portions), and increasing fruit and vegetable intake.
While it’s really important, belly fat isn’t the only health issue men face. Brita (the water filter people) asked me to work with them on a campaign they were putting together for Men’s Health week highlighting the importance of hydration in men’s health. I talk a lot about hydration as it’s one of the easiest things to change but makes a huge difference to how we feel.
Men’s bodies are about 60% water so keeping properly hydrated is really important. Even mild dehydration can affect mood and energy levels. A European study showed that 72% of men were drinking less than the recommendation to drink 2.5l/d set out by the European Food Safety Agency.
Fluid losses increase when you sweat so when you exercise aim to drink 500ml a couple of hours before you start exercise and around another 200ml every 20mins during. Although you may drink more when you exercise because you are thirstier, you may need to drink double what you lose in sweat to replace these losses. So if you lose 500g in sweat when you exercise, you will need to drink a litre to prevent dehydration. Additionally, muscles are hydrophilic meaning they need a lot of water so if you are dehydrated it’s hard to build muscle. Take a bottle with you when you run, particularly if you are running for more than half an hour. I have a bottle for filtering tap water which I take to Zumba where I respire rather a lot!
If you don’t like the taste of water you can drink other drinks (watch the sugar though) or add sugar-free squash. Use water cooler at the gym or at work, or if you don’t have one, water filter jugs will soften and improve the taste of tap water if you live in a hard water area. Of course Brita have a range of products for just this purpose like the Fill & Go for taking to the gym.
Here’s the Men’s Health campaign from Brita:
Hit Your Hydration Goals
A recent study found that 72% of men drink less than the recommended daily amount. As men’s bodies are made up of around 60% water, it’s really important to make sure those levels are always topped up to increase productivity at work and performance in the gym.
Tip – the BRITA fill&go Active bottle is a great way to ensure you are hydrated on the go – whether it’s a Sunday stroll or you’re pounding the pavements, make sure you’re always hydrated.
You Are What You Eat
40% of men were found to eat less than three portions of fruit and veg a day, with fiber intake being less than two-thirds of the recommended daily allowance.
Tip – Increase fruit and veg to five handfuls a day and switch to wholemeal bread. Including oats and beans in your diet will support general health and digestive systems.
Get On You’re ‘A’ Game
It’s not commonly know that 50% of men have below the recommended daily intake of vitamin A.
Tip – Include plenty of dairy to help boost your immune system and get in key antioxidants
Recent studies have found that 65% of men are overweight or obese which can lead to larger health problems.
Tip – To get the balance right, bulk out half your plate with vegetables and ensure carbs and proteins each cover a quarter of the plate
Mindfulness in Men
Mindfulness is important for everyone, but especially so for men as they often do not speak out with a study finding that 40% of men won’t talk to anyone about their health
Tip – small changes to your lifestyle such as reducing alcohol intake and increasing water intake, getting in some more exercise and eating a balanced diet will all aid this
Gazan, Rozenn et al. “Drinking Water Intake Is Associated with Higher Diet Quality among French Adults.” Nutrients 8.11 (2016): 689. PMC. Web. 8 June 2017.
EFSA Journal 2010; 8(3):1459, Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for water.
Bean A. (2009), The complete guide to sports nutrition. 6th. A&C Black Publishers: London
Position Statement from the American Dietetic Association (2000)
A lot of the clients I see have been struggling with their weight for a number of years and have tried losing weight on their own, often successfully at first, but always regained the weight and generally more than they lost.Read more “If you just want to lose a few kilos READ THIS!”
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It’s that time of year again! Studying for exams can be pretty consuming all-round and it’s easy to let food slip down the list of priorities, but giving your (or your young adult’s) body the right nutrients can mean the difference between a productive session and a bit of a washout. Here are the main revision nutrition players:
Iron carries oxygen around the body to all the organs including the brain. If too little is eaten it can cause tiredness, lethargy and “brain-fog” – the exact opposite of what you need for focused, alert revision sessions. It is one of the few micronutrient deficiencies that is common in the UK, and among teenagers, girls are most at risk. This is for two reasons: their requirements for iron are higher – double that of a teenaged boy – and girls also tend to eat less iron-rich foods. Iron comes from red meat, beans, pulses, dark green leafy vegetables and fortified foods such as white flour products and breakfast cereals.
Iron from meat is readily absorbed but iron from plant sources requires vitamin C to convert it to a useable form. Adding some fruit and vegetables alongside will aid this process. Iron absorption is hindered by tannins, which are found in tea, and also by calcium so it’s a good idea to separate dairy and iron-rich foods sometimes.
The brain’s favourite energy source is glucose, so carbohydrates are revision nutrition essentials! As the body doesn’t keep large stores of carbs it’s necessary to get them from the diet at regular intervals. A teenager will need about five portions the size of their fist of carbohydrates every day, such as bread, rice, cereals, potatoes or pasta: some at each meal and the odd snack. This helps keep blood glucose levels nice and even, the brain alert, and hunger (and hunger-related mood swings) at bay.
After going all night without food the body needs some nutrients so breakfast is essential. Anything is better than nothing, but some slow-release carbohydrates such as in whole grain cereals and toast or porridge are ideal. Avoid anything with lots of sugar as this can contribute to irregular blood glucose levels. Adding some protein will keep them fuller for longer, eggs on granary toast is the breakfast of kings.
The body depends on good hydration for blood volume and pressure; the delivery of nutrients; and removal of waste products, among other things, so even mild dehydration can cause all kinds of problems with concentration and energy levels. Sipping fluids regularly throughout the day is the most effective way of keeping hydrated, but very sugary drinks may have the opposite effect. Juice is not hydrating, as it tends to draw fluids into the digestive tract rather than the other way around. Thirst is actually not the first dehydration signal. Early signs of dehydration can be quite subtle and non-specific such as fatigue, a lack of concentration and headaches.
Caffeine can be great for sharpening up and giving a boost if the will to study is waning. However if caffeine use causes even a mild degree of insomnia and interrupts sleep patterns, then any benefit is massively outweighed by the sleep deprivation. Caffeine’s peak action occurs about 20 minutes after drinking but it has a very long half-life so it hangs around in the body for about two weeks. This means it is very easy for it to build up even with only two cups of coffee a day.
Snacks are another opportunity to consume some nutrients and also provide a bit of respite in a busy timetable. Go for slow-release carbohydrates like whole grain bread or oatcakes topped with peanut butter, hoummous or cream cheese to boost the nutritional value. Vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables are used as catalysts and co-factors in nearly every process in the body so snack time is a great time to squeeze in another portion. A lower-sugar cereal bar is great for keeping in a bag for revision sessions outside the house and is much better than a sugary chocolate bar from the café or vending machine.
Nerves can play havoc with the digestive system and sometimes its difficult to face eating, so go for whatever you can manage. Try to stick to small meals and top up with snacks. Keep well hydrated and always take water into the exam room with you. When it’s over, you can cut loose and eat whatever you want, food is about celebration as well as nutrients!
How to stay hydrated
As we start to see the first sunny days of the year, hydration and how to stay hydrated seems to be the (hot) topic of the moment. I have written about hydration before, but I have been asked no less than 8 times over the last week to provide comments for the press about how to keep properly hydrated so perhaps it’s time for another blog…
Water is essential for life. The body is roughly two-thirds water and this fluid performs many functions including the transport of nutrients, maintaining blood volume, removing waste products via urine and aiding movement of waste through the bowel, as well as acting as a lubricant and shock absorber in joints. It also regulates the body’s temperature. Drinking enough is vital to maintain good health in the short and long term, for example, for the prevention of constipation, kidney stones and urinary tract infections. Good hydration can also prevent other conditions such as chronic renal disease.
Dehydration is what happens when you don’t replenish the fluids lost through urine, sweat and breathing. The most obvious symptom is thirst but it’s not the only one or even necessarily the first one. A headache, a lack of concentration, lethargy or mood swings are not commonly recognised as marks of dehydration but they are all signs of a lack of fluid. Both fine and gross motor skills are also affected and although you may not necessarily notice impairment in your own motor skills (unless you are trying to thread a needle for example!) this is extremely pertinent in kids. A child that can’t concentrate for long periods, falls over a lot, over-reacts to your simple requests etc. might sound like just normal childhood behaviour, but a 2012 study found that 60% of school children arrived at school without being properly hydrated. Even mild dehydration has been shown to have an affect on cognition.
So what drinks are good for rehydration? Water and anything that contains it will generally rehydrate so if your child (or you) refuses to drink water but will happily drink squash – particularly if it’s a no-added-sugar one – juice diluted with water to reduce the sugar content, and milk that is fine. Tea and coffee also count and fizzy drinks but do think about sugar content and remember that caffeine is not recommended for children.
So how much is enough? The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommendation for adequate intakes of fluid, per day is 2L for women and 2.5L for men. There is a chart below for recommendations for children too. There are all sorts of things that affect hydration level though. For example, sweating is a mechanism to cool the body down so if you sweat a lot you will be losing a significant amount of fluid, which will need to be replaced.
Short of measuring the amount you or your child drinks, there is another way to gauge your hydration level. There are systems in your body that hold on to water if you are dehydrated and that means that urine volume goes down. However you still need to rid your body of all those waste products, which leaves urine looking darker so the colour of your urine is a very good indicator of your hydration status. It should be a pale straw colour, if it’s darker than that you need to top up!
Barker et al 2012, Hydration deficit after breakfast intake among British schoolchildren. Experimental Biology, San Diego, CA
EFSA: Scientific Opinion on theDietary Reference Values for Water –http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/1459.htm
- Breastfeeding in Public
So today the media is reporting that a swanky hotel in London asked a mother who was breastfeeding in public to cover herself while she was having afternoon tea. Claridges apparently said this is their hotel policy. On top of this, Nigel Farage live on LBC suggested that it was “a matter of common sense” that women should “sit in a corner” if they are breastfeeding in public in case they upset someone who feels uncomfortable. Don’t worry about the poor mother – who wants to feed her baby in the best way possible – feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps she should just not leave the house?
The benefits of breastfeeding, as most people probably know, are massive, but in case Claridges and Mr Farage are reading this I’m going to list some of them (from the NHS website):
- Breast milk is the only natural food designed for your baby.
- Breastfeeding protects your baby from infections and diseases.
- It’s free.
- It’s available whenever and wherever [even Claridges] your baby needs a feed.
- It’s the right temperature.
- It can build a strong physical and emotional bond between mother and baby.
- Less chance of baby getting diarrhoea and vomiting and having to go to hospital as a result
- Fewer chest and ear infections for baby and having to go to hospital as a result
- Less chance of baby being constipated
- Less likelihood of becoming obese and therefore increasing risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other illnesses later in life
- Less chance of child developing eczema
- Lowers mother’s risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer
- Naturally uses up to 500 calories a day
- Saves money – infant formula, the sterilising equipment, and feeding equipment can be costly
- Saves packaging and plastic – no packaging necessary
- Can help to build a strong bond between mother and baby
Breastfeeding can be stressful enough as it is, what with getting the latch right, cracked nipples, leaking boobs etc. Please let’s support new mums rather than make them wear a napkin!
I don’t know who these people are that feel uncomfortable about seeing someone doing what’s best for their baby while having a life (if I do know any of them they haven’t told me). I was always breastfeeding in public and I wish more mums would. The more of us that do, the more people will get used to it and the less we will need to have this kind of thing happen.
If you feel uncomfortable while seeing a woman breastfeed, I think it’s common sense really, just go and sit in the corner.
A New Baby Food Venture
I’ve written before about why making your own baby food is better but (having had two babies, a husband that works long hours and my own freelance business) I am completely aware that it’s not always going to happen!
The trouble with buying baby food is that the food that’s on offer is generally boring, beige, tasteless, textureless mush. There is such a limited range of flavours available and they don’t really reflect what we expect the child to eat when they start having family meals.
There is no recommendation that this is what babies should eat, but because this is all you can get in the supermarket, this is – understandably – what people think they ought to feed their baby. If I suggest feeding a 9 month old baby a prawn curry, parents nearly fall off their chairs. But there is no reason why you shouldn’t introduce strong flavours to your child, particularly if you eat them yourself. Before the age of 12 months, babies are very open to trying new things and introducing them to as many textures and flavours while they’re in this stage is a great idea. As soon as they start to get independent and learn to say no, they will do it a lot at dinner time! But, children are less likely to refuse foods that they are familiar with so get them familiar with as much as you can.
You have probably noticed that the baby food aisle is not refrigerated. That is because the food has been ultra-heat treated so can remain at room temperature without spoiling, but there is a cost for this convenience. Some nutrients are damaged by the high temperatures involved in this processing, a problem you don’t get as much when you cook at home.
So, recently I have been lucky enough to work with a start-up social enterprise that will raise money to provide training and employment opportunities for women who have faced domestic abuse, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The enterprise wanted to launch their own baby food range and we had a unique opportunity to address these problems in the market. They address the problems with texture by not pureeing everything to within an inch of its life; they have flavours from around the world; and they are producing a chilled range for reheating (or freezing) at home.
Tiny Diner have bravely taken on the challenge of trying to do something different and important in a very established market and now they need help raising money to get their first products on the shelves. Please have a look at their Crowdfunder page and support them however you can by donating money or even just sharing it with people (everyone!) you know.
A great product for a great cause!
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.