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How to Stay Hydrated

Dehydration Nation

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!

stay hydrated
How much do you need to stay hydrated

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 –


Breastfeeding in Public

  • 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

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.

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: 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)


Tweaking recipes to make them healthier

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 (remember that you can use any of the brands I’ve mentioned, it doesn’t have to be Flora).


Why making your own baby food is better

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.


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.


The 5:2 diet

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

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


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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.