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Beauty and the Feast?


Can what we eat affect the way we look?

I was recently asked to provide nutrition advice for a beauty bar on Oxford Street and it made me realise that some people really are interested in how food impacts of their body (beyond being able to do up their trousers). So here’s a little bit of insider knowledge.

Most body cells don’t live very long. Not when you consider that the average human in the UK lives for about 80 years. The most longevity you can expect from any of your cells is, of course, a lifetime, and some neurons do live up to this expectation, but most have a transient existence compared to ‘us’.

Some of the most rapid cell turnover comes from the lining of our mouths and stomach; our blood; and from our skin, hair and nails. Our cells are always dying off without us ever really noticing – your body carries on helpfully replacing those that have come to the end of their road. You eat that delicious lunch, your body digests it, disassembles the components, chucks out the waste and recycles the useful bits to power our functions and make new cells. By trying not to align myself with a certain TV – and I use this in the flimsiest sense of the word – “nutritionist”, I have gone a rather roundabout way to say: you actually are what you eat.

Our skin, hair and nails are made of cells consisting of things such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates and water. Different types of cells are made in different ways and require different nutrients for the process to work. Hair and nails are largely made of a protein called keratin, which requires vitamin A for its formation. Skin contains a protein called collagen that provides strength to the structure of cells. The body cannot produce collagen unless there is sufficient vitamin C on hand, and if you have heard of scurvy, then you’ll know what the effects of long-term vitamin C depletion are. Fortunately, scurvy is not common in the UK.

Let’s have a look at a few key players:

Vitamin C:
Many face creams, shampoos, hair treatments and manicures promise you that putting a bit of this and that on your skin will make your skin/hair/nails this that and the other. It is worth noting that the dermis of your skin consists of several layers which the chosen topical ointment will need to battle through before it reaches anything that is in the business of producing new skin cells. So, although vitamin C is in a lot of cosmetics and marketed as “collagen-boosting” it is unlikely to be as effective as getting enough through your diet. It’s also worth noting that, unlike your skin (which is an organ and one of only two that can self-repair – the other is the liver), by the time your hair and nails become visible they are pretty much past it and their constituent cells are certainly beyond improvement. That is why shampoo manufacturers only say that their products will give you “healthy-looking” hair and not “healthy” hair, because dead things can’t ever be considered healthy and advertising regulations (thankfully) prohibit misleading claims.

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, meaning that it helps neutralise free radicals. Free radicals are the by-products of various processes in the body and they are known to attack DNA and cell membranes. Some people believe that getting enough antioxidants can offer a bit of protection against the ageing process and preserve youthful, wrinkle-free skin, but others disagree completely so the jury is still out on that one.

Vitamin A:
Vitamin A is important in the growth of epithelial cells (a type of cell found in skin, among many other places) and for the production of keratin. One of the symptoms of vitamin A deficiency is rough, bumpy skin around the hair follicles. A word of caution though: too much vitamin A is toxic and large intakes while pregnant can cause miscarriage.

Vitamin B complex:
Riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) have both been classified by the European Food Safety Authority as being physiologically effective in the maintenance of normal skin as has biotin on the maintenance of hair and nails.

Folate:
Folate (or folic acid as it is know in its synthetic state) is central to the process of cell division. Actively dividing cells need plenty of this stuff to divide properly – your skin cells are dividing all the time.

Zinc
Zinc is a mineral that is sometimes known for its purported aphrodisiac qualities but less often for its role, alongside vitamin C, in collagen production.

So can what we eat really affect the way we look? Well yes it can, but let’s not get carried away. The vitamins and minerals we’ve discussed here are abundant in the diets of the average person in the UK and deficiencies are rarely found here.

Should you take supplements? You probably don’t need to take supplements of these vitamins, with the exception perhaps of folic acid if you are female and of childbearing age as adequate quantities protect against neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Eating a balanced diet is usually better for the average citizen. Take a look at the list of foods below to see the best sources of these micronutrients. You should consult your doctor before taking any supplements, particularly if you are taking any medication or if you are – or are trying to become – pregnant.

Food sources
Vitamin A: Liver, whole milk, cheese, butter, fish, fortified margarine, carrots, watermelon, tomatoes
Vitamin B complex: Whole grains, fortified cereals, meat (B3) liver (biotin), egg yolk (biotin). Biotin is also produced by the body.
Vitamin C: Asparagus, papaya, citrus fruit and their juices, cauliflower, broccoli, green peppers
Folate: Mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, beans, legumes, oranges, liver
Zinc: Red meat, oysters, dairy products, whole grains, leafy vegetables

References
Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism 5th Ed. Wadsworth
National Diet and Nutrition Survey
European Food Safety Authority
UK Office for National Statistics

Research

Educated mothers are turning their backs on health visitors

Educated mothers are turning their backs on health visitors

The biggest UK survey of its kind has revealed that middle-class mothers disregard advice given to them by health visitors about feeding their babies.

A pdf version of this press release is available here: Educated mothers are turning their backs on health visitors Aug 2012 Press Release

PRESS RELEASE

Mothers are turning their backs on professional advice given to them about feeding their babies. Results just released from research carried out by nutritionist Jo Travers earlier this year show that many mothers were sceptical of state-sponsored guidance from health visitors, preferring to access advice from the Internet.

The majority of mothers involved in the survey were educated to degree level or higher and had a household income of above £41,000pa. Many of the sample felt that they were being given inaccurate or contradictory information and this led to a general mistrust of advice from health visitors.

The aim of the study was to explore the importance placed on various influences on complementary-feeding practices. Quantitative data taken from the largest nationwide survey ever undertaken into the degree that influencing factors affect complementary-feeding decisions shows that almost 60% of mothers did not value advice from health visitors rating it as “not very important” or “not important at all”.

Health visitors are provided by the state to every mother following the birth of their baby. The Department of Health in its 2010 white paper Healthy lives, Healthy people has committed to increase the number of health visitors by an extra 4,200 by April 2015 at an estimated cost of £577m. With mothers discounting their advice however, this raises the question, is it worth it?

Babies of complementary-feeding age are in a critical stage of development yet most mothers act against official recommendations.

“I received quite a bit of contradictory advice from health visitors, who did not themselves seem to know the guidelines.” – p131

“Generally the health professional[s] in primary care don’t seem very well informed, unfortunately, and their advice seems to be based on personal experience rather than research” – p109

“Health visitors had very outdated and unflexible [sic] knowledge […] so when I was introducing solids I didn’t even ask for advice” – p124

Jo Travers says: “We found that many people felt that they were being given inaccurate information from health care professionals, which damaged their credibility and led to a lack of confidence in advice from official sources. This ultimately drove these educated mothers towards potentially unreliable information from books and the Internet.”

Notes for editors:
Jo Travers is a practising, evidence-based registered Dietitian with a First Class BSc (Hons) degree in Human Nutrition & Dietetics from London Metropolitan University. Her experience in the field includes time working in the NHS throughout London as well as four years in private practice. She is the author of two recipe books and is available for interview.

Jo can be contacted via 07540 305699 or jo@staging.thelondonnutritionist.co.uk or @LDNnutritionist or staging.thelondonnutritionist.co.uk

Methodology: The survey, a specific electronic questionnaire, was completed by 133 participants who had been recruited via a well-known online parenting forum. A second arm of the survey, with 10 participants, was conducted face-to-face at a baby clinic in southeast London. Frequency tables and chi-squared tests were used to analyse categorical data, and thematic analysis was carried out on qualitative data. A Likert scale was used when canvassing opinions. Ethics approval was granted by London Metropolitan University. Please contact Jo Travers to read the entire paper.

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Research

New mothers distrust advice from their mother-in-law about baby…

New mothers distrust advice from their mother-in-law about baby feeding

The biggest UK study of its kind has found that mothers do not rate advice from their partner’s mother when making decisions about feeding their baby

A pdf version of this press release is available here: New mothers distrust advice from mother-in-law about baby feeding Aug 2012 press release

PRESS RELEASE

It’s not just men who ignore their other half’s family. According to nutritionist Jo Travers, mothers are also highly likely to ignore advice from their mother-in-law (or partner’s mother). In a major study she carried out in the UK earlier this year, the results of which have just been collated, she discovered that mums prefer to take feeding cues from their newborn than listen to advice from its paternal grandmother.

The aim of the study was to explore the importance placed on various influences on complementary-feeding practices. Quantitative data taken from the largest nationwide survey ever undertaken into the degree that influencing factors affect complementary-feeding decisions shows that almost two thirds of mothers did not value advice from their partner’s mother: 66% of mums rated advice from their in-laws (or equivalent) as “not very important” or “not important at all”.

Other factors that rated badly included advice from other family members, such as their own mothers; advice from friends; and labels on food packaging. Another significant finding was that advice from health visitors was also rated as “less than important” by nearly 60% of respondents.

Babies of complementary-feeding age are in a critical stage of development yet most mothers act against official (and family) recommendations. The mothers who introduced complementary foods before 26 weeks – the age recommended by the Department of Health – said that they did so because they felt that the baby was precocious and “ready”.

Jo Travers says: “We found that mothers did not regard advice from their partner’s mother as valuable when it came to feeding their baby. The paternal grandmothers were rated about the same as healthcare professionals, which was not as highly as it might sound.”

The survey found that new mums mentioned these sources most as trustworthy, in decreasing order:

1. Their own feelings about what was right (91%);
2. Whether the baby was interested in solid food (86%);
3. Their baby reaching a certain age (82%);
4. Printed advice other than food labelling (70%); and
5. Previous experience (67%)
6. Advice from health car professionals other than health visitors (60%)
7. Advice from friends/other mothers (49%)
8. Advice from health visitors (41%)
9. The impression that the baby needed more nutrients (41%)
10. The baby seemed hungrier (39%)

Notes for editors:
Jo Travers is a practising, evidence-based registered Dietitian with a First Class BSc (Hons) degree in Human Nutrition & Dietetics from London Metropolitan University. Her experience in the field includes time working in the NHS throughout London as well as four years in private practice. She is the author of two recipe books and is available for interview.

Jo can be contacted via 07540 305699 or jo@staging.thelondonnutritionist.co.uk or @LDNnutritionist or staging.thelondonnutritionist.co.uk

Methodology: The survey, a specific electronic questionnaire, was completed by 133 participants who had been recruited via a well-known online parenting forum. A second arm of the survey, with 10 participants, was conducted face-to-face at a baby clinic in southeast London. Frequency tables and chi-squared tests were used to analyse categorical data, and thematic analysis was carried out on qualitative data. A Likert scale was used when canvassing opinions. Ethics approval was granted by London Metropolitan University. Please contact Jo Travers to read the entire paper.

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