Healthy Living, Nutrition, Weight Loss

Calories

Calories. The foundation of so many diets. The basis of the eat less, move more message. But can foods really be ‘ranked’ based on their calorie value? Is it necessary to count calories to lose weight?

What is a calorie?

A calorie (or kilocalorie/kcal if we are being technically correct) is a unit of energy. It is a value obtained in a lab by measuring how much energy is required to increase a kilogram of water by one degree celsius. Hence, scientifically speaking, all calories are the same. However, our bodies are not scientific laboratories. The way our body uses the food, and what it can get out of food, varies. This means that the calorie values stated on foods are an approximation of what our body will take from it.

How many calories do we need?

If we eat less calories than our body needs, we will lose weight. If we eat more calories than our body needs, we will gain weight. So how many calories do we need? You may know that the Government issue recommendations for daily calorie intake for men and women to maintain weight (2000kcals for women, 2500kcals for men). These are a guide. A very, very loose guide. It can be simple to look at the calorie value of a food, add up the foods eaten during the day and come up with a daily total. This is why it is used, but it does not cater for the individual. In reality, daily calorie need is different for everyone, and even individuals have some variance each day; depending on your body composition, how active you are, your age, whether you are healthy or unwell – just to name a few. So, aiming for a specific number and getting bogged down in the detail is not necessarily helpful.

Is counting calories helpful?

Understanding calories can be helpful when it comes to making choices. Having an awareness of whether something is high or low in calories is useful when considered as part of the bigger picture. Ask yourself; where are the calories in this food coming from? Is this food high in added sugar? What other nutrients does this food offer me? Will this food sustain me? Is this something I eat often?

Counting and/or reducing calories to lose weight can work, but it is a simplistic message. Scientifically, it is correct, but this doesn’t consider the quality of the diet or life. Lower calories does not equal more healthy. For example, if we were to look at calories in insolation, it would probably be possible for a person to lose weight having 3 KitKats a day. Obviously, they would be at significant risk of nutrient deficiencies and be quite unhealthy. Probably pretty hungry too!

Good nutrition is about more than calories!

When considering whether counting calories is helpful for you or not, think about how you are using it. Try not to get too fixated on a specific number, maybe have a range you aim to be between each day. Also think about the other nutritional properties and variance in the foods you eat.

For some people, counting calories can be really off-putting and trigger disordered eating thoughts. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, if counting calories takes the enjoyment out of eating for you – is it helpful? Try to think about how you can make your diet healthier in other ways. Could you eat more fibre? Ensure you are having enough protein? Eat a wider variety of vegetables?

Food is not just calories; fibre, calcium, vitamins, omegas…
all these nutrients play an important part in our overall health.

Healthy Living, Recipes, Weight Loss

Overnight Oats

20150624_081620

Rushed in the morning; no time to make breakfast?
Want something quick, convenient and tasty that will keep you going till lunch?
Enjoy porridge in the winter but not so keen on hot breakfasts through the summer?

It’s your lucky day!

This recipe can be prepared the night before, saving you loads of time in the morning! It’s healthy, tasty and can be varied by adding different toppings so you don’t get bored.

INGREDIENTS
Porridge oats (40g) (use gluten free oats if necessary)
Milk (120-150ml) (The nutritional values below are for semi-skimmed cow’s milk, but you could also use soy, almond or any other milk!)

METHOD
1. Put the oats into a bowl (or a sealable jar if you have one!)
2. Pour over the milk.
3. Cover with cling film or close the lid, and leave the oats in your fridge overnight.
4. The following morning, choose the toppings of your choice and enjoy. (You can also pop the bowl in the microwave for a minute if you prefer it warm.)

NUTRITIONAL INFO:
Calories
: 220kcal
Carbs: 33g
Protein: 11g
Fat: 5g
Saturated fats: 2g

20140730_083037 (2)Topping ideas:
– Banana (or just about any other fruit!)
– Frozen berries
– Chopped apricots
– Yoghurt
– Chopped nuts
– Seeds
– Honey
– Peanut butter

Healthy Living, Weight Loss

Portion Distortion

Did you know….?

  • Dinner plate size has increased an average of 6.5cm over the last 50 years – that increases the area on your plate by up to 70%!
  • Choosing extra thickly sliced bread over medium increases the amount you eat of it by 60%
  • Fast-food chains used to serve just one size of fries, this is now the portion size provided with the kids meals

Given these facts, it’s not surprising at how many people now struggle with obesity across the world. It has become the norm to expect larger portions when eating out, and this (together with increased plate size) often leads to eating more at home. Our bodies have not adapted and cannot keep up with the pace at which food technology and environments/situations in which we eat are evolving.

This is portion distortion.
The norm becomes bigger and bigger until the bigger is the new ‘normal’.

Obviously, everyone is different and will need different amount of foods depending on your appetite, body size, how active you are and your current situation.

However, there are some simple tips you can apply when cooking and when eating out that will help you get your portion sizes back in check – and there’s no need for weighing scales or any special equipment!

This reference guide groups food into different types to make it easy to see what a typical portion* should be.

Vegetables

Guiding-Hands-ArtWhen you’re looking at how much of what to put on your plate, the vegetable part of your meal should take up around 1/3 to 1/2 of your plate, and roughly fill your hands like the picture opposite.
Recommended portion size of vegetables is larger than other foods because they are low in calories and provide us with minerals, vitamins and fibre.

Guiding-Hands-ArtFruits

A portion of fruit would be what you could fit in one hand, or roughly the size of your fist. The exception here is dried fruit, in this case you need to think of it in its hydrated form to get the right portion size. For example, 2-3 apricots would fill your hand, therefore 2-3 dried apricots are a portion.

Starchy Carbohydrates

Guiding-Hands-Art

Starchy carbs include foods like; pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, cereals and cereal products. You should look at having a source of starchy carbs with every meal. Good choices are oats, wholewheat pasta, brown rice and wholegrain bread as these are higher in fibre and release energy more slowly. Depending on how active you are, you could have between 1-2 portions (or 1-2 clenched fists) of starchy carbohydrates with every meal.

ProteinGuiding-Hands-Art

The amount of protein someone needs can vary depending on their weight and what their aims are, but for the general population a portion is around the size of your palm. This would be equal to a small chicken breast, two eggs or a few tablespoons of beans/lentils. Aim to have 2-3 palm-sized portions every day.

Fats & Oils

Guiding-Hands-Art

As it’s the most calorie dense nutrient, a portion of fat or oil is considerably smaller than the other foods. There are some fats that are beneficial for heart health, but when it comes to calories a fat is a fat! More info
When you’re cooking with oils, spreading butter or using oil as a dressing, try to stick to no more than a thumb-print (or teaspoon) size portion.

In addition to the above, you should also try to have 2-3 portions of dairy products per day. A portion is a matchbox size of cheese, a standard yoghurt pot (~125g) or a 200ml glass of milk.

 *Serving or portion?

A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or 100mls of juice. A portion is the amount of food that you put on your plate to eat, you choose whether this is a big or a small portion. Take soft drinks for example, they will often quote a serving size on the label that is less than the amount within the bottle.

Healthy Living, Nutrition, Weight Loss

Fibre

Dietitians and other healthcare professionals can often be heard talking about how we should eat more fibre. You may understand that it is “good for you” to have fibre in your diet. But have you ever thought about why?

This post explains the different types of fibre, looks at some of its benefits and suggests how you can include more of it in your diet.

Types of fibre

Fibre-rich foodsAn easy way to remember foods that contain fibre is that they all come from plants. Meat, fish and dairy foods do not contain fibre.
Fibre can be split into two different types, soluble and insoluble. Both have different health benefits, so we should try to include both types in our diets.

  • Soluble fibre
    As the name suggests, soluble fibre dissolves in water. In the gut, this helps soften your stools. Consequently, if you suffer from constipation, gradually increasing your intake of soluble fibre can help make it easier to go. Soluble fibre can also help lower cholesterol levels.
    Foods such as oats, pulses, lentils, golden linseeds, potatoes and vegetables are all good sources of soluble fibre.
  • Insoluble fibre
    Insoluble fibre cannot be digested, instead it is used as a ‘food’ source for good bacteria we have in the gut, helping keep our gut healthy. Insoluble fibre also acts as a sponge, helping keep us fuller for longer and move food through our digestive system.
    Good sources of insoluble fibre include; bran, wholegrain and wholemeal foods, skins of fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds.

To help differentiate between the two different types, think about making porridge (or oatmeal) on the stove, the oats ‘dissolve’ into the liquid. When cooking brown rice, the rice does not dissolve, but rather absorbs the water and goes soft. This is because the oats are high in soluble fibre, whilst brown rice is high in insoluble fibre.

Benefits

As fibre can help you feel full for longer, it can be a useful tool when trying to manage your weight. It can also help control your blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Having a diet high in fibre can also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

How much?

According to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) adults should be aiming for around 25g of fibre per day. The British Guidelines recommend 30g a day. Most people aren’t eating enough. On average, people manage to eat around 14g of fibre per day.

Increase your fibre intake

If you want to increase your intake of fibre, it is important that you do so gradually. Increasing your intake too rapidly can result in stomach cramps and leave you feeling bloated. You should also make sure you drink plenty of water, aim for 6-8 glasses per day.

You can increase the amount of fibre in your diet by ensuring your diet contains plenty of fruit and vegetables, opting for wholegrains (brown rice/bread/pasta over white), leaving the skin on potatoes and adding beans or lentils to your soups and salads. Ensuring a vegetarian meal once per week is a great way of upping your fibre intake #meatfreemonday!

What does 25g a day look like?

fibre in a dayIBS

People who have digestive problems or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) may need to adjust the type and amount of fibre they have in their diets depending on their symptoms. This is something that needs to be assessed on an individual basis. You should see your doctor or dietitian for more advice regarding this.

More information

Fibre-rich foods
General information on fibre from patient.co.uk
NHS information on constipation
NHS information on diarrhoea
NHS information on IBS

Healthy Living, Weight Loss

Hydration, hydration, hydration!

As featured in my April newsletter, this is a post all about the importance of keeping hydrated.

Sooo many clients I see tell me “oh, I know I need to drink more” or “I don’t drink enough”. Consequently, we often focus one of their goals around finding a way to get more water into their day.

Of course, drinking enough water is important all year round, but as the weather gets warmer, the amount of water your body loses increases, which means that more needs to be replaced.

waterWhy do we need water?

It is very easy to take the humble tap, hose or water cooler for granted. We typically use water for so much of our daily routine; watering the garden, washing clothes, showering, cooking and drinking. Water plays an important role in many aspects of life, and our body is no exception; we could not live without it.

Most of our body is made up of water; our cells, muscles and blood all contain it. Water plays a part in controlling our body temperature, metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure as well as removing waste products and ensuring the concentration of minerals in the blood stays balanced. When this balance is disrupted, processes in the body cannot function properly.

As well as the critical role water has in our general health, drinking plenty can also help with weight management. This is because occasionally our brain mistakes the signals of thirst for hunger. So next time you feel peckish, think about when you last had a glass of water before reaching for food.

What happens when we don’t drink enough?

If you lose more fluid that you drink, you will eventually become dehydrated. You lose fluid through breathing, sweating and urinating. However, the amount of fluid that you lose can vary a lot depending on how active you are, your environment and your current state of health.

Signs that you are not drinking enough may include: dark coloured urine, not needing to urinate as often as usual, dry mouth, thirst,  tiredness and lack of ability to concentrate.

How much to drink

This varies depending on how much water you are losing. The hotter it is and more active you are, the more you will need to  drink.

A loose guide is around 1.2-1.5 litres (or 6-8 glasses). However, the best way to tell if you are drinking enough is by the colour of your urine. It should be a light, straw colour.

NB: Try not to wait until you are thirsty to drink as by this point you are already dehydrated!

What to drink

Water is always best to rehydrate you. Milk, diluted squash, fruit juice and soft drinks also count, but watch out for the calories and sugar in juices and sugary sodas and the caffeine in teas and coffees (which can have a diuretic effect). Green or herbal teas are a good choice if you prefer something warm.

How to drink more

Sometimes, people are well aware that they should be drinking more, but it is a habit that is difficult to get in to. People find different ways that work for them but here are some suggestions:

  • Drink from a big bottle
    This is a handy way of measuring exactly how much water you are getting through on a daily basis. If you are sat at a desk and have the bottle handy, you are much more likely to take sips throughout the day. It is surprising how far away the water cooler is when you are in the middle of writing that report…!
  • Always carry water with you
    If you are often out and about it is very easy to go hours without drinking. So, it is always a good idea to take a bottle of water with you, especially when on holiday somewhere warm.
  • Have large glasses with meals
    If you really struggle to get into the habit of drinking water through the day, having a large glass of water with every meal is a good start.
  • Develop a schedule
    Start the day with a large glass of water, drink every time your kids do, set a reminder on your phone to leave your desk every hour for a drink…Find something to set a schedule to and stick to it. It will soon become a habit.
  • Mix it up!
    If you get bored with the taste of normal water, try adding a slice of lemon, lime or even mint leaves! Green teas taste great too!
Healthy Living, Weight Loss

How to keep healthy on holiday

Firstly, know that a few weeks away from normal routine is not going to mean that you suddenly become ‘unhealthy’. Actually, relaxing is an important thing to do for our health! However, if you know that your regular routine and habits help when it comes to keeping you in a good place, then it’s normal to wonder about how to continue these habits when you’re away from your normal environment.

I’ve put together my 5 top tips, so you can relax whilst not feeling like you’ve totally forgotten how to best look after yourself.

1. Have breakfast

bfast

Breakfast helps set you up energy wise, kick-starts your metabolism and prevents you getting peckish through the morning.

Healthy options include; fruit, yoghurt, oats, muesli or granola. Or, if you’d like something warm; scrambled eggs on toast, smoked salmon and toast, or an omelette. Try and have a source of protein (milk, eggs, yoghurt) mixed with a source of carbohydrate (bread, oats, muesli) as this combination will help keep you fuller for longer and prevent those mid-morning munchies. Make it even better by adding in some fresh or dried fruit for one of your 5-a-day!

2. Get active

tennis

Most holiday destinations provide guests with ample opportunities to get active. Whether it be a swim, a gym session, tennis, a walk, whatever your preference. Look into what the place you’re staying offers before you go, and make a daily goal that feels doable for you.

Why not try something you don’t usually do!

3. Make sure you drink enough

water

Normally, an average adult should be drinking 35mls of fluid per kg of body weight. So, for a 70kg individual, that’s (35 x 70) 2450mls, or nearly 2.5 litres per day. Add in the heat and sight-seeing, and you’re likely to need even more than that. The easiest way of telling if you’re hydrated enough is by checking the colour of your urine, anything darker than a pale straw colour and you need to drink more.

I would always suggest carrying round a bottle of water. It’ll help keep you cool and hydrated. In addition, the brain can confuse hunger and thirst signals. So, when you think you’re hungry, you may just be thirsty. Have a drink, and if you still feel hungry 30 minutes later, then it’s probably time to have something to eat.

4. Take some snacks

nuts

Don’t go hungry and then pick something that you didn’t really want just because it’s more convenient! If you know you’re going to get hungry, be prepared and take some snacks with you. Fruit and nuts are great things to nibble on to see you through to the next meal.

Or, if you’re off for the day, see if you can take something for lunch from the breakfast buffet!

5. Portion sizes

Try to eat similar portion sizes to what you do at home. Stick to a similar dietary pattern too if you can; if you have 5-a-day at home, aim for 5-a-day on holiday too.

If you know you’re going to be eating out regularly, do some research on what dishes are popular for your destination and plan ahead. It’s a great excuse to try some of the local cuisine! Also, don’t be afraid to ask waiting staff for more information about a dish. Most restaurants will oblige if you ask for the fish to be grilled rather than fried.

Need something to cool you down? Some ice lollies are less than 100 calories (check the packet). Really want that ice cream? Have it! Enjoy it!

Don’t deprive yourself completely. Holidays are an important time to forget the stresses of work and enjoy company of your loved ones so it’s important to have a little bit of what we enjoy. Good news is this is possible without it having a negative impact on health!

I hope you find my tips helpful. Please comment with any added suggestions you may have!

Nutrition, Weight Loss

Fats: which ones should we choose? (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my post regarding fats, see part 1 here.

What are omega-3 and omega-6?

Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids found in polyunsaturated fats. They are essential because they cannot be made by the body and are required for good health, so it’s important that we get these fatty acids from our diet.

Omega-3, or alpha-linolenic acid, can be found in rapeseed oil, dark green leafy vegetables, walnuts and seeds. Some eggs are also fortified with omega-3. Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring) are a rich source of a specific type of omega-3 that can help reduce inflammatory responses and blood clotting, thereby reducing risk of heart disease. Current recommendations state 1-2 portions of oily fish per week. Omega-6, or linoleic acid, is found in vegetable and nut oils such as sunflower and peanut oil.

There is growing evidence to suggest that omega-3 and omega-6 can help lower our risk of heart disease and some studies show reduced risk of type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Coconut oil; good or bad?

There have been a lot of health claims about coconut oil recently, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Firstly, it should be noted that coconut oil is around 92% saturated fat. As you can see in the graph below, this is extraordinarily high and, using the general ‘rules’ regarding saturated fats coconut oil should be avoided. However, the composition of coconut oil is unusual. A large proportion of the fats found in coconut oil are medium chain fatty acids.

Oil fat content

…What are medium chain fatty acids?

Fatty acids are the bits attached to the glycerol backbone (go back to the structure of a triglyceride explained in part 1). Short, medium and long are terms used to indicate the length, or number, of carbons present in the fatty acid chain. Short (0-6 carbons) and medium chain (6-13 carbons) fatty acids are digested, transported and metabolised more quickly than long chain fatty acids (14+ carbons). This could mean that the high concentration of medium chain fatty acids found in coconut oil results in it behaving differently within the body to most saturated fats.

It may also be that the length of the carbon chain changes the impact the fat has on blood cholesterol levels. For example, research suggests that long chain fatty acids increase total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol while medium chain fatty acids increase the HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and have a neutral effect on LDL. However, more research is needed to confirm this.

What about the other health claims of coconut oil?

About 49% of the medium chain fatty acids found in coconut oil is lauric acid. It has been suggested that lauric acid has special antibacterial properties. However, many of the health claims that exist around coconut oil and it’s antimicrobial properties are not yet proven. There are also claims suggesting coconut oil increases metabolism therefore aiding weight loss. Unfortunately, very few studies investigate health benefits of coconut oil, especially when compared to the substantial evidence backing health benefits of mono and polyunsaturates (see part 1). Plus, it is consumed in such low quantities that any impact on microbes or metabolism is likely to be minimal.

Having said this, coconut oil is fine to use in small amounts or as a replacement to other oils in cooking. It can add a tasty nutty flavour to food and the presence of medium chain fatty acids may have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol. Coconut oil, in particular, is a fat that requires lots more research!

So what fat should I choose?

There are lots of different types of oils and spreads available, and people may use different types for different things.

The biggest difference between butter and different types of spread is the saturated fat content. The graph below demonstrates the amounts of fat present in different types of spreads. (Values have been averaged from commonly used brands but can vary).

Fat spreads comparison image

Which oil and spread you choose is likely to depend on lots of things; taste preference, health benefits, cost, habit etc.

In summary, to choose a fat low in saturates with higher proportions of mono and polyunsaturates is best for heart health, i.e rapeseed/olive oils and spreads. However, if used sparingly (as any fat should be anyway!), fats with higher amounts of saturates (such as butter and coconut oil) can be incorporated as part of a balanced, healthy diet.

It’s important to remember that all oils and spreads are fats, so whatever ones you use should be in small amounts, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.

Nutrition, Weight Loss

Fats: what, why and how much? (Part 1)

At times, it seems like the media change their mind on a daily basis about whether fat is good or bad, which ones are better and which ones to avoid. So, to clear it up, I’m going to start at the beginning…

What is a fat?

In chemistry, fats are called lipids. There are three main types of lipids; triglycerides, phospholipids and sterols. Most of the fat we eat is in the form of triglycerides, so for this blog post I’ll be looking specifically at these.

Triglycerides are made up of 4 components; a glycerol backbone and 3 fatty acid chains. They look a bit like this;

Paint fat

Fat structure

OR

 

 

 

 

 

The fatty acid chains can be saturated or unsaturated, this describes how the molecules in the fatty acid are joined together. Saturated fats have no double bonds, unsaturated fats have at least one double bond (as seen in the bottom fatty acid chain above). Generally speaking, saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature and are from animal sources. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and tend to come from vegetable or plant sources.

Why do we need fats?

Fat provides energy; around 9 kilocalories (kcals) per gram. It’s important that we have some fat in our diet because it’s needed to transport and aid absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Fat also provides vitamins A, D and essential fatty acids that cannot be made by the body. However, too much fat can lead to weight gain and put us at risk of health problems in later life.

What are the different types of fat?

There are three main types of fats; saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Most foods contain a mixture of all of these, but usually one type of fat is present in larger quantities than the others. There are also trans-fats, these are a specific type of unsaturated fatty acid. Trans-fats are found in low levels in some foods but are also formed in food manufacturing.

Saturated and trans-fats are less healthy, because they bring about an increase in overall blood cholesterol levels. Foods high in saturates include; fatty cuts of meat, butter, cream, cheese and pastries. Trans-fats are formed when oil undergoes a process called hydrogenation, the hydrogenated fat can then be used for frying or as an ingredient in processed foods.

We should all try to have less saturated and trans-fats in our diet. Saturated fat can be reduced by choosing leaner cuts of meat or trimming off the fat, using low fat dairy products and grilling or poaching foods rather than frying or roasting them. As the negative effects of trans-fats have become more evident, their use in food manufacturing has declined. As a result, most people eat under half the recommended maximum of trans-fats, so saturated fat presents a much bigger problem. However, it is still worth checking labels and choosing oils that do not contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Mono and polyunsaturated fats are better for us as they can help lower blood cholesterol. Sources of monounsatured fats include olive oil, nuts and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, oily fish and nuts.

However, a fat is still a fat and to prevent gaining too much weight and increased risk of diseases in later life we shouldn’t eat too much of any type of fat – even the ‘good’ ones!

So how much fat should we eat?

Current recommendations state that no more than one third of our daily energy should come from fats. This works out at between 50-100g of fat per day depending on your nutritional requirements. Of this, less than 10% of our daily total energy intake should come from saturated fats (around 20g for women and 30g for men) and no more than 5g per day of trans-fats. Fat and saturated fat content of most food items can be found on the food labels.

Generally speaking, choosing plant sources of fat that contain mono or polyunsaturates where possible is best for heart health. But we should try to prevent over-consumption of any type of fat in order to prevent weight gain.

 

…Part 2 of ‘FATS’  explores fat makeup of different oils and spreads; which ones we should choose? I’ll also be looking at omega-3, omega-6 and the facts behind coconut oil.