Food affects mood in a whole host of surprising ways, from vitamin links in metabolic pathways, to our associations with birthday cake.
The biological impact of food on mood
Food and mood are closely related. Whether you feel irritable because you haven’t eaten or you feel like you need to eat comfort food because you’ve had a hard day, the two things are difficult to separate. We have a couple of things going on here. On the one hand there is the psychological prop of having something comforting, and on the other there is the biological need for nutrients. Both are important.Read more “International Happiness Day: How Does Food Affect Mood?”
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.
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.
Question: After overindulging, how can I cut back without feeling I am wearing a hair shirt!
If you have overindulged, you are not alone. And you are also not alone in starting the year wanting to get back on track. However, a lot of people give up and often it’s because they try to do too much at once which can feel like torture. One way to see it through is to get a plan…
Start the day with something filling that will keep you going and won’t leave you feeling deprived. For some a bowl of porridge is the ultimate comfort food. Made with skimmed milk and with a handful of raisins or prunes thrown in for sweetness. For others, this is nothing but a punishment! For those who love it, you carry on. This is a great breakfast and will do you no end of good.
If however you would have to force down porridge, then fear not there are other great breakfasts that are not too calorific and will do a good job at keeping you full. A couple of boiled eggs and a slice of granary toast (easy on the butter) is often a breakfast reserved for lazy weekend brunch, but try making time for it before work. Eggs are full of protein and important vitamins and minerals, plus evidence shows that people who eat two eggs for breakfast eat fewer calories throughout the day.
If you don’t think either of these will work for you, stick to high-fibre cereals such as bran flakes, shredded wheat, Weetabix or fruit & fibre. Top with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and add some sliced or dried fruit. If toast is your thing, have a scraping of spread and have a topping such as marmite or a little peanut butter.
Lunch can be a killer if you have to buy it work every day. A simple cheese and onion sandwich can contain up to 600kcals depending where you get it. From a supermarket you can check the labels but if you go to a café or restaurant you are at their mercy. Soup is a great lunch. It’s filling, comes in hundreds of flavours, is readily available in supermarkets and can fit nicely into your calorie budget. Beware of the cream-of versions though. If possible buy your soup from somewhere that lets you know what is in it and how many calories it contains. It’s super easy to make a big batch at home and freeze in portions to take into work to heat in the microwave, and there are literally a million recipes to be found online.
If soup doesn’t hit your comfort spot though you could try sushi; filling whole-grain salads such as couscous, barley, quinoa or bean; pitta pockets with low calorie fillings like tuna or salad (easy on the mayo and dressings).
It’s easy to get into bad habits over Christmas and New Year like drinking every day and eating your way through the left over chocolate. Try and have a couple of days off the sauce each week, preferably consecutive days. If you have been drinking over the festive season, the chances are your liver has a back-log to get through and if you don’t give it time to clear it, the alcohol can cause scarring i.e. cirrhosis.
In terms of eating, planning ahead is the best way to make sure you have easy, healthy options for dinner and don’t reach for the takeaway menu. Plan what you’re going to eat on each day before you go to the supermarket. Go for things that are filling but not too calorific: chicken, fish, lean meat, beans, lentils, pulses, vegetables, rice, pasta and potatoes. Try to stay away from full-fat creamy or cheesy sauces and go for tomato based ones instead. If you’re buying ready-made, check the labels to see which are best. If you cook from scratch, limit the oil or fat to one teaspoon per person for the whole meal (whatever the recipe says!). If you’re a pudding person, try looking for the lower-calorie options. Instead of ice-cream, try frozen yogurt or sorbet; fruit salad; meringue and berries; baked apple; low-calorie chocolate mousse. Instead of cream try half-fat crème fraiche or fat free Greek yogurt.
For snacks throughout the day, try to limit them to about 100 kcals such as a muesli bar, a pot of low-calorie yogurt, a piece of fruit, a portion of light cheese and a couple of oat biscuits, a small bag of baked crisps.
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
But remember, if you want to lose any weight you have gained over Christmas, you’ll need to take off a few hundred calories from your calorie requirements, but don’t go below 1200kcals a day without the supervision of a specialist. Also remember that slow & steady wins the race: gradual weight loss is more sustainable than rapid.
Question from Jenny Watts:
I have problems with arthritis and suffer in cold damp weather, what could I eat to help ?
Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints so make sure you are getting enough fish oils (omega 3s) which are anti-inflammatory. You should be having about two portions of oily fish per week such as sardines, mackerel, fresh tuna, salmon, herrings.
Additionally cutting down on saturated fats (mainly found in animal products such as meat & full-fat dairy) may help the pain as these fats can add to the inflammation. Cutting down on saturated fat is also good for another reason: sufferers of arthritis are at increased risk of other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, and cutting down on saturated fats can lower your cholesterol, reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular problems.
Eating a ‘Mediterranean Style’ diet has been shown to benefit people with rheumatoid arthritis, particularly lessening stiffness in the joints in the morning. This style diet means eating about 6 portions of fruit & veg every day; include nuts and seeds; choose fish rather than meat; eat plenty of wholegrain foods such as wholemeal bread & pasta and brown rice; and use oils such as olive oil rather than butter.
Getting enough calcium is also important so make sure you have plenty of low-fat dairy dairy in your diet and taking a vitamin D supplement will help your body absorb the calcium. There is also some evidence that vitamin D works as an anti-inflammatory – so a double-whammy!
Also, making sure you are the right weight for your height will mean that your joints won’t be under any unnecessary pressure – particularly important if you get pain in your hips, knees and ankles.
You could also try moving somewhere hot & dry!
I hope this helps,
Unlike the thing that stands in the laundry room next to a huge stack of washing, the iron in your blood is your friend! Iron carries oxygen around the body to the brain and other organs. Mums supply their babies with a good store of iron when pregnant, but this will start to run low at around six months old. It is important to give your baby iron-containing foods from this age so their body and brain can get on with growing into a walking, talking, little person. Your baby will need about 8mg of iron each day from when they are seven months up to a year old.
Types of Iron
There are two types of iron that come from food. Both do the same job but the way they find their way into the blood is slightly different:
The first is called haem iron and this comes from animal sources like meat and fish and eggs. This type of iron gets separated from food and is absorbed directly so can be put straight to work;
Non-haem iron comes from non-animal sources such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and pulses. This type of iron needs some odds and ends doing to it before it can be put to good use, which means it a little less efficient than it’s cousin.
The best vegetable sources of iron are beans and pulses like lentils (6mg per 50g) and the best fruits, are dried ones such as dried apricots (3mg per 50g). Dark-green leafy vegetables are all generally pretty good too like spinach as well as kale and broccoli. Cooked spinach has just under 1mg for every 50g.
Maximize the Benefits
Another thing to know about veggies is that they tend to have a lot less iron than animal sources but never fear, there are one or two tricks to keep up your sleeve to get maximum benefit.
Some foods interfere with the absorption of iron. Phytates are found in whole grains and their products such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, nuts and seeds. Now there’s nothing wrong with these healthy and tasty tidbits and they are a great addition to your little one’s dinner plate, but to make sure she’s getting enough iron, give them at different times to iron-foods most of the time.
Calcium containing foods such as milk and cheese are also a bit pesky when it comes to iron absorption. So again, if you are worried your child might not be getting enough iron, give these foods at different mealtimes. Tea is another one so it is best to avoid giving this as a drink.
You can help baby absorb non-haem iron by giving them foods that contain vitamin C alongside. Bell peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruit (or orange juice diluted 1:10 with water) are all perfect for this job.
The Composition of Foods; McCance & Widdowson
Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism 5th Ed; Wadsworth
British Nutrition Foundation: feeding your baby
Thanks for the tweet @HangingModifier. Please find the answer below!
“@LDNnutritionist Glad to see you recommend eggs. There was a story about eggs being as bad as smoking. Junk science and/or junk journalism?”
Eggs have been in and out of favour and plagued by controversy over the last few decades. A recent article in the Daily Mail insinuated that eggs may be two thirds as bad as smoking if you are at risk of heart disease. This came from a single study that was not conclusive and not appropriate for extrapolation to the entire population in any way.
Much of the controversy about eggs is down to the level of cholesterol in their yolks. A high blood-cholesterol level is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (among many others such as age, sex, smoking, lack of exercise etc.) but this is not the same as a high cholesterol consumption. Consumption of cholesterol has less effect on blood cholesterol than total fat intake. Additionally, owing to changes in chicken feed in the UK, eggs are lower in cholesterol these days than they used to be.
So eggs are lower in cholesterol, fat, saturated fat and calories than in the 1980s and, because of their amino-acid profile, they are one of the best sources of protein for a human. They are one of the few foods to naturally contain vitamin D and they provide folate, iodine and several antioxidants. They also contain selenium, a nutrient that is limited in plant foods by the levels in the soil they grow in. It is therefore difficult to predict the content of selenium in many foods.
Because high-protein foods promote satiety, people who eat eggs for breakfast have been shown to consume fewer calories throughout the day which is helpful if you are trying to watch your weight (adding butter and cream to scrambled versions notwithstanding).
What’s bad about eggs? Almost nothing really. And, unless you have quite a rare form of high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolaemia – check with your doctor), there is no reason to limit your egg intake at all: fill your cups.
So in answer to your question: junk journalism. The Daily Mail (apologies in advance for this) has eggsaggerated the study and over-egged the pudding.
NHS Choices Health News; Eating egg yolks as ‘bad as smoking’. available at: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/08august/Pages/Eating-egg-yolks-as-bad-as-smoking.aspx [Accessed 10/9/12]
Carrie Ruxten; Eggs with benefits. Dietetics today, September 2012
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:
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 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 (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 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.
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
Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism 5th Ed. Wadsworth
National Diet and Nutrition Survey
European Food Safety Authority
UK Office for National Statistics