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

Nutrition

Nutrient Nugget – Vitamin C

Why do we need vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, has a huuuuuge list of functions. It’s an anti-oxidant, which means it helps to keep your cells healthy and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and inflammatory diseases. Vitamin C is also required to make collagen; a type of protein found in connective tissue (skin and blood vessels), which makes vitamin C is essential for muscle maintenance. It activates many hormones and enzymes, including those linked with bile production and liver metabolism. Plus, vitamin C plays an important role within our nervous system, aids wound healing and helps our body absorb iron. See, I said it was a long list!

citrusWhere do we get it from?

Our bodies are unable to make vitamin C, so all of what we need has to come from our diet. Vitamin C is found in lots of fruit and vegetables; oranges and other citrus fruits, kiwi, mango, blackcurrants, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potato and brussels sprouts.

 

How much do we need?

Adults are recommended 40 milligram (mg) per day* (Department of Health, 1991). Pregnant women should intake an extra 10mg for the last trimester, and breastfeeding women are advised to aim for a total of 70mg per day. Recommended intakes for other ages are outlined below:
0-1 year: 25mg
1-10 years: 30mg
11-14 years: 35mg

*People who smoke regularly use up more vitamin C and so may require up to 80mg per day.

To put this into perspective, a small orange contains 50mg of vitamin C, a medium sweet potato has about 20mg and a cup of broccoli will provide you around 80mg. As you can see, if you eat fruit and vegetables, you should have no problem reaching your recommended intake!

What if we don’t get enough?

You may have heard stories of when sailors and pirates used to suffer from a disease called scurvy. This is the name given to the disease caused when we don’t have enough vitamin C. Luckily, it’s not very common anymore apart from those who do not consume enough fruits and vegetables. Symptoms include; feeling fatigued, muscle weakness, irritability, pain in joints, bleeding gums and red/blue spots appearing on your skin. The disease is treated by the person taking vitamin C supplements and eating foods high in vitamin C.

What if we get too much?

Having over 1000mg (20 oranges!) can cause abdominal discomfort, stomach pain, flatulence and diarrhoea. Some people take high doses of vitamin C because they believe that it can help prevent the common cold. There is little evidence to support complete prevention, but high doses may help reduce the severity of some symptoms. In addition, it is likely that anything over 500mg of vitamin C at any one time won’t be absorbed.

Where can I find out more?

NHS Choices – Vitamin C
NHS Choices – Scurvy
Vitamin C and the common cold

Department of Health (1991). Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom.

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.