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Inflammation & Diet

Can you prevent inflammation by eating well?

Inflammation pops up in nearly all the conversations I have about long-term health and preventing illness. This is because it is the cause of many of the illnesses that dominate the NHS budgets. However, many of these illnesses are at least somewhat preventable and at the very least can be postponed. By this I mean that by making adjustments to our day to day lives we can improve our health outcomes significantly. This of course is not news. We are told this constantly! We can indeed prevent inflammation and therefore greatly reduce our risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even COVID-19, by eating well.

I have made a short video on inflammation called What is inflammation, anyway? which, if you don’t know much about it, I recommend you watch. In this article I’d like to take a deeper dive into the dietary elements of inflammation, and how this can help you prevent disease.

The ZOE Nutrition Study

A recent study involving 1000 people (that’s quite a lot in nutrition terms) has looked into the inflammatory effects of eating. Yes, the act of eating itself produces a certain amount of inflammatory compounds. And while we have known for some time that some foods seem to be protective and prevent inflammation and inflammatory diseases, this study has shown how. One other thing that this study shows is that the response to different foods varies widely from person to person and really does show that personalised nutrition is going to be extremely useful in the future. Personalised nutrition however involves lots of testing, is quite expensive, and although it can be very valuable it isn’t going to be possible for everyone. But, the study has given us some very useful findings that we can safely say will help most of us. 

The things that increase postprandial (after eating) inflammation are, perhaps unsurprisingly, fat, sugar and processed foods. This, interestingly, includes processed plant-based proteins like Quorn. Over a lifetime, this chronic contact with inflammatory metabolites (including those in our environment) is what leads lead to diseases like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s the individual’s response to fat and sugar nutrients that is so highly personalised. However there are some fairly universal things that can dampen this response, and over time can reduce one’s exposure to inflammation.

Preventing inflammation

The advice for some time has been that fruits and vegetables are protective against heart disease, cancer and dementia and the PREDICT study has shown that the polyphenols present in these foods, especially those with vibrant colours like reds, purples and greens (eat a rainbow!) counteract the inflammatory compounds produced as a result of eating. 

We’ve also known that fibre plays an integral role in preventing disease. The study found that some microbiota in the gut increase an inflammatory marker called GlycA. Some beneficial bacteria lower GlycA and some unhelpful bacteria raise it. A reliable way to improve beneficial bacteria is to eat more fibre. Fibre, again, comes from fruits and vegetables and also whole grains. Although I mentioned above that processed plant-based proteins can increase inflammation, this isn’t so for unprocessed ones. Beans, lentils and pulses raise beneficial bacteria and lower inflammation.

As we are talking about post-prandial inflammation, this effect of eating polyphenols and fibre it seems, can lower the inflammatory response of processed foods when eaten alongside them. So if you do want to eat a bowl of Frosties or Krave for breakfast, adding some blueberries might cancel out some of the negative after-effects.

The take home message is eat more fruit and veg, especially purple, red and dark green ones and eat more foods that are close to their original form and less processed ones. And if you do eat junk (which lets face it, who doesn’t on occasion?), have something healthy with it.

Sleep Awareness Week

Sleep Awareness Week

This week is Sleep Awareness Week and, as someone who has at times suffered with insomnia, it’s an awareness week I feel I can really identify with. 

Sleep is something we all need to do if we are to function well the following day, but there are some specific benefits that tie in with nutritional aspects of health too. 

Read more “Sleep Awareness Week”

Eating well for energy

The three pillars of wellness: movement, mindfulness and nutrition!

I teamed up with Re-set to do their nutrition course focussed on improving your energy, which you can find here.

If you are suffering with​ an eating disorder, have…

This one is for everyone out there who is going through an eating disorder (ED) right now. Please notice that I said “going through” because you are going to go all the way through it. There’s a great quote from Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell, keep going” – Don’t stop till you get out the other side! I want to empower you to keep going. Eating disorder recovery is hard, but so worth it! I specialise in eating disorder recovery and would like to share some of the things I have learned along the way.

Read more “If you are suffering with​ an eating disorder, have hope”

The London Nutritionist YouTube Channel

I’m now in earnest starting a YouTube channel!

I know. I’m a bit late to the party. But if you aren’t partied out, please come and have a look around and subscribe! Here’s my first video right now!

Men’s Health Week

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

Balanced Body
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)