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Revision Nutrition

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.

Exam day

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!

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.

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.

Gift Vouchers

Buy a nutrition gift voucher

By popular demand, you can now (finally!) buy London Nutritionist gift vouchers which are particularly good – as pointed out more than 30 times by Maddie – for mums-to-be to use for the workhops. Thank you Maddie! Choose your amount from the drop-down menu below. This feature is now at the bottom of each page below the twitter feed.

Vouchers will be emailed to you for you to print out and give to the intended recipient.


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