Healthy Living, Nutrition

Red meat and cancer

You may have noticed that there’s been a fair bit in the news lately about how eating lots of red and processed meat causes cancer. This latest media frenzy was caused after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report in October stating that processed meat is a ‘definite’ cause of cancer, and red meat a ‘probable’ cause.

What are red and processed meats?
Red meat refers to all mammalian muscle meat, including, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat. Note that this list includes pork, and minced meat would also come under this classification.
Processed meats include any meat that has been salted, cured, smoked or other processes used to enhance flavour or preserve. For example; bacon, salami, sausages, ham and canned meats.

What did the IARC report investigate?
Actually, this report didn’t investigate anything new, it was an evaluation of existing evidence and research. They evaluated over 800 studies that involved the relationship between intake of red and processed meats and cancer. According to this evidence, they then worked on grouping foods into certain classifications.
(An important thing to note is that the categories in the infogram below represent how confident the IARC are that something causes cancer, not how much cancer it causes).

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Basically, what this chart is telling us, is that the IARC found sufficient evidence to conclude that high intakes of processed meats definitely cause cancer. The evidence for red meats was not as strong or clear, so is classified as a ‘probable’ cause of cancer.
Most of the evidence was linked to bowel (colorectal) cancer, and stems from a meta-analysis of 10 studies published in 2011. A key finding from this paper was that processed meat was more strongly linked to bowel cancer than red meat. They concluded that:
Every 50g/day of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
Every 100g/day of red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%.

However, this doesn’t mean that eating red or processed meats increases your risk of bowel cancer by 17/18%, as this is a measure of relative risk. In other words, someone who eats 50g of processed meat every day has a 1.18 times increased risk of developing bowel cancer when compared to someone who doesn’t eat processed meat. To put this into perspective, compare it with smoking (the most important avoidable cause of cancer in the world). Men who smoke 15-24 cigarettes a day have a 26 times higher risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers.

So should I still eat red meat?
Red meat is fine in moderation, and is a valuable source nutrients including protein, iron and zinc. But, what exactly is moderation? This is much harder to quantify.
In general, the Department of Health recommends that people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red meat per day should cut down to 70g or less. Try to keep processed meats such as sausages and salami as ‘occasional’ foods rather than things you eat every day. You could also try having alternative sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, lentils and pulses (kidney beans, chickpeas etc.)

In conclusion, having a diet that is high in red meat is not good for you, but the occasional bacon sandwich is still fine. And importantly, the risks are much lower than other things associated with cancer risk, such as smoking.

More info:
IARC Press release
IARC FAQs

Cancer Research, UK: Processed meat and cancer
NHS Choices: Red meat and bowel cancer
Cancer Research, UK: Smoking and lung cancer

Healthy Living

FAQs – session 1

I’m opening up my brain to you guys!
Do you have a burning question about food, diet or nutrition that you’ve always wanted to know the answer to?
No matter how random, get in touch and I’ll do my best to answer in my new series of FAQs.

Due to my hectic work schedule, I sometimes eat really late at night, will this lead to weight gain?
Research shows that it’s not the time at which you eat the food, but the total amount of food consumed throughout the day that matters.

It’s not like by eating just before you go to bed you’ll immediately store those calories all as fat because…(prepare yourself! Shock…horror…!)…you still burn calories when you sleep! I know, it’s great! If you think about it, it makes total sense. You still need your heart, your lungs and even your brain to work when you’re sleeping, right? All of these processes require energy.

The one downside of eating just before going to bed might be that some people get an upset stomach from going into a horizontal position so soon after eating, but in terms of weight gain, the balance of what you eat through the day is much more important.

Are carbs fattening?
I have lost count of how many times I have been asked this question.

First of all, scientifically speaking, the term ‘carbs’ or ‘carbohydrates’ doesn’t just apply to starches, it applies to all ‘sugars’, so this includes the sugars found in dairy products, fruits, vegetables and chocolate. Fibre is also a type of carbohydrate. However, when people ask me this question, most of them are referring specifically to starchy carbs such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice.

Starchy carbs are an important source of energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre – (fibre is important in disease prevention and some types have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, see my post on fibre for more details).Per gram, ‘carbs’ contain the same number of calories as protein, so no, they on their own are not fattening. Carbs have got their bad reputation because people often eat much more than they need, and because we tend to add fats to them. A large number of processed products are also carbohydrate based, and these often have fats added to them to enhance their flavour. Rice, pasta, potatoes, bread or cereals in sensible portions are healthy foods to include in your diet (select brown/wholewheat options to up your fibre intake).

I’ve heard that I shouldn’t eat fruit after a meal, is this true?
The short answer here is…..NO!

People have asked me this stating that they have read that eating fruit straight after a meal interferes with the digestion of food eaten.  Well I’m not quite sure where this comes from, but the truth is fruit may actually HELP with the absorption of some nutrients after a meal. As mentioned in my vitamin C post, fruits containing vitamin C may help absorb iron from foods, especially non-meat sources. Rich in nutrients, fruit is a completely healthy thing to have as a dessert.

Do I need to go gluten free to lose weight?
No. Unfortunately, the media has a big impact on what diet is perceived as ‘healthy’. Gluten free does not automatically mean less calories, sometimes it can even mean more…as well as more added sugar…!

Some people have a true intolerance to gluten and have to cut it out from their diet. Given that gluten free produce is (generally) more expensive, harder to get hold of, there is less choice available, I tend to advise people not to go gluten free unless they need to. That said, of course, health is about the bigger picture, so yes, it is possible to lose weight and be healthier by going gluten free, but do you need to do it? Certainly not.

How many eggs should I have in a week?
People are often concerned about the egg and cholesterol debate. Eggs are a great source of nutrients, quick to cook and easy to make a meal from. Egg yolks do contain cholesterol, in fact 1 egg contains around 55% of your daily recommended amount. However, it is not as simple as eating more cholesterol = higher cholesterol levels*. It has been found that saturated fats (fats that are solid at room temperature, mostly from animal sources) have a bigger impact on your total cholesterol level than cholesterol contained in foods.

There is currently no recommendation in place regarding a maximum number of eggs per week, but bear in mind that we should try and eat a variety of foods – so don’t rely on eggs as your sole source of protein.

*For people with familial hypercholesterolemia (a hereditary condition causing high-cholesterol), there is a recommended limit on eggs and other foods that contain cholesterol. For more information, download this comprehensive leaflet from the British Heart Foundation.

Healthy Living, Nutrition

How to gain weight

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday which reminded me of my initial idea I had months ago for this post. Dietitians don’t just work with people who want to lose weight or in health promotion. Actually, before I came to Belgium, a lot of my work was helping people gain weight. Especially for dietitians who work within hospital settings, a lot of the time we help build up those who are struggling, for whatever reason, to maintain weight.

Of course this doesn’t just go for ill people in hospital, some people find it difficult to maintain weight generally. For some, maintaining or gaining weight is as difficult as it is for others to keep it off.

Energy-dense foods such as chocolate, cake and pastries may help us gain weight, but they’re not going to be providing us with many other nutritional benefits. So, how does one go about gaining weight in a healthy way?

Little and often
Small frequent meals (or SFM, for those of us dietitians who like our acronyms!). This technique is particularly helpful if you don’t have a very big appetite, or aren’t able to manage a large meal. Some people naturally prefer to graze all day rather than concentrate calories into three meals, and that’s fine, whatever suits you and your stomach!
If you are already managing three meals per day, you should try and incorporate snacks between each meal to up your calorie intake (see below for some healthy snack ideas).

Snacking
Nuts, seeds and dried fruits are all healthy snacks that are easy to pick at and convenient to have at your desk. A handful of nuts will provide you with micronutrients, unsaturated fats, protein and those much needed calories, so get snacking! You can also add seeds or nuts to your meals, they taste great on porridge and in salads. Try having peanut butter on toast as a snack or, if you haven’t already seen, check out my healthy flapjack recipes.
Of course fruit is a healthy component of any diet, but dried fruit especially is useful when trying to increase your calorie intake. Not just because it’s easy to store in your desk drawer, but compare eating 5 plums to 5 prunes…I know which I’d find more manageable!

Think full fat dairy
Sweets, cakes and goodies aren’t the only foods that are fairly energy dense. Dairy products are convenient snacks and a good source of protein and calcium. A 30g portion of cheese contains around 100 calories. Sprinkle on top of your meal, snack on some cheese and crackers, add it to your salads…the choices are endless!
If you currently use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk switching to full cream could make a difference to your total calories. Half a pint of full cream milk contains around 100 calories more than skimmed. Incorporate into your diet through making fruit and vegetable smoothies or hot, milky drinks. You can also try adding full cream milk to soups, curries or other sauces (a little cream and coconut milk may also work well here, depending on the dish!)

Good fats
You may know that there are unsaturated/’good’ fats and saturated/’bad’ fats, but do you know that calorie wise, all fats are the same? Fats are the most calorie-dense nutrient, containing 9 kcals per gram. Naturally, it would seem more healthful that rather than upping your calorie intake using saturated fats, you increase your intake of unsaturated fats, right? Well I’ve already mentioned some sources of unsaturated fats (nuts above) but the fats found in avocado, oily fish and olive or rapeseed oils will provide you with the calories and a dose of other nutrients too. Try making a guacamole dip or adding avocado to your lunch, aim to have oily fish 1-2 times per week and add an olive oil dressing to your vegetables.

Cooking methods
When I’m talking health promotion, there are certain cooking methods that I recommend to reduce fat and calorie intake. For people who are struggling to maintain or gain weight, certain cooking methods will increase the calories found in that meal. Using unsaturated fat oils, such as olive or rapeseed, and adding them in when cooking will increase the amount of calories in that meal. For example, consider frying fish or roasting vegetables, rather than baking or boiling them.

Adding in
Think about your current routine, and reflect on where it may be possible for you to add something extra in. Think about your meals, snacks and drinks. Even making those 3 coffees milky ones could make a difference. You may be able to try something relatively simple such as increasing the portion sizes of the food you eat, topping it in cheese or serving it with a side of avocado, having a snack of cheese and biscuits or even introducing something for dessert.

Not all of these tips will be suitable for everyone, and if you’re really struggling to maintain your weight I’d recommend that you seek out personalised help from a dietitian.

Recipes

Roasted Chickpeas

I’ve been making these for a while, but not got round to posting a recipe. These are great for those people who like to nibble, they have the crunch of crisps, but less saturated fat. Chickpeas are also a great source of protein and soluble fibre, which helps keep you fuller for longer.
They’re super easy to make and you can change the flavour so you don’t get bored. They are slightly addictive though, and (unless you’re okay putting up with the repercussions of bean-overload)…I’d recommend only having a handful at a time!

Ingredients:roasted chickpeas
1 tin of chickpeas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon paprika
Salt & pepper to season

  • Alternatives:
    – S
    wap the paprika for pretty much any spice you like (curry, chili powder, you could even try mustard!)
    – Swap the olive oil for coconut oil and have with cinnamon and honey for a sweeter alternative (omit the pepper).

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200’c.
2. Drain the chickpeas and rinse under cold water.
3. Tip the chickpeas onto some kitchen roll and rub dry. This will remove some of the husks (that’s okay!)
4. Add the chickpeas into a bowl along with the oil and your choice of spices. Season as desired and mix well, ensuring every chickpea is coated.
5. Place onto a baking tray and into the oven.
6. Roast for about 30-40 minutes until the chickpeas are crispy. The longer you leave them, the crispier they’ll get – just don’t let them burn!
7. Allow to cool, and serve. Store in an airtight container and they keep well.

The nutritional information below is per 45g portion:
CALORIES: 90kcal
TOTAL FAT: 3.5g
SATURATED FAT: 0.5g
PROTEIN: 4g

Recipes

Lentil Patties

These are great for a quick lunch or dinner, low in calories and a good source of protein. They keep well in the fridge too for a ‘leftover lunch’ the following day. Team with a salad and a slice of wholemeal bread or some boiled new potatoes for a wholesome meal!

lentil pattiesINGREDIENTS:
70g lentils
2 eggs
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp olive oil

METHOD:
1. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Add 70g of lentils and simmer until lentils have softened.
2. In a bowl, mix together the eggs and spices.
3. Drain the lentils well and stir into the egg mix. Season if desired.
4. Heat a frying pan and add a tsp of oil. Drop a serving spoon of the mix into the pan and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. When one side is cooked, flip and cook the other side.

NUTRITIONAL INFO:
Calories:
116kcal
Fat:
7g
Saturated Fat:
1.5g
Protein:
7g
(This recipe should make around 6 patties. Nutritional info is per serving = 2 patties)

Photos of you making my recipes makes me very happy 😀

patties

Dietary Conditions, Healthy Living

How to be a healthy veggie

I’m not vegetarian, but I do enjoy vegetarian food. Every Monday, I experiment with a recipe that typically contains meat and try to make it with lentils, beans or another legume. I support ‘Meat Free Mondays’ for a couple of reasons; I like the taste of legumes and pulses, they’re lower in saturated fats than red meat PLUS I like the challenge of trying to make something where my boyfriend doesn’t notice the meat is ‘missing’!

If you’re thinking about becoming vegetarian or vegan though, it’s more complicated than just cutting meat and animal products from your diet.

First things first, a lot will depend to what degree you cut out meat. Is it just red meat (demi-vegetarian)? No red meat or poultry but you’ll eat fish (pescatarian)? No animals but still eat eggs and dairy (lacto-ovo-vegetarian)? Or no animals or animal products at all (vegan)?
All of these animal products contain nutrients that your body needs, so naturally, if you’re cutting them out then you need to find an alternative source.

Proteins are made up of tiny pieces called amino acids. Amino acids are required by the body to make hormones, enzymes and replace muscle tissue. Some amino acids are essential; the body cannot make them, so they need to be ingested through our diet. Most meats and animal products are called complete proteins, which means that they provide all of the 9 essential amino acids. If still consuming dairy products and eggs, these are valuable sources of protein too – with eggs being a complete protein.

Quinoa and soya beans are also technically complete proteins, although they do not contain as higher levels of these amino acids as animal products do. Therefore, it’s best to mix things up a bit! Quinoa, despite it being a complete protein, is not a rich source, so it should not be the only protein containing food vegetarians eat. Your diet should also contain rich sources, ie; eggs, chic peas, beans and lentils. However, most vegan sources of protein are not complete, meaning that in order to obtain all of the essential amino acids, a couple of protein sources need to be mixed. Legumes (lentils, chic peas, beans etc) are typically low in the essential amino acid called methionine. Grains (rice, cous-cous, brown bread etc), while containing methionine, are insufficient in lysine. By combining legume + grain, vegetarians or vegans can obtain a complete protein. For example; beans on toast, rice and black bean curry, lentil soup and bread or pita bread and hummus. Meat eaters and vegetarians should aim to have 2-3 servings of complete proteins per day.

Iron

Another nutrient to be aware of is iron. Women have a higher requirement of iron than men (due to menstruation) and intakes are typically below what is recommended, especially in adolescent girls. Iron found in meat is called haem-iron, and is more readily absorbed than non-haem iron. For this reason, female vegetarians especially, need to ensure that they’re having a couple of sources of non-haem iron daily. Iron can be found in beans and pulses, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables (like spinach, broccoli and swiss chard), wholemeal flour, dried apricots and seeds. As I said, these non-haem sources of iron aren’t so easily absorbed by the body, however, there are a few tips than can help enhance absorption. Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, peppers and sweet potato) helps improve the amount of iron we can obtain from food. So having a glass of orange juice with cereal or some sweet potato in your lentil soup will help up your iron intake. Also, avoid having tea and coffee alongside a meal as they contain tannins and phytates that bind with iron and make it more difficult for the body to absorb.

If vegan, good sources of calcium will be required to replace calcium obtained from dairy (see my nutrient nugget for more info on calcium). Calcium is found in green leafy veg like; kale, broccoli, rocket and watercress, beans, pulses, fish where you eat the bones (tinned mackerel/sardines), almonds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds and dried apricots. Some soya milks and tofu are also fortified with calcium. Vitamin D (obtained from sunlight) enhances calcium absorption, so those at risk of poor vitamin D status should eat a variety of the above foods daily and you should consider a vitamin D supplement. See my vitamin D post.

Vitamin B12 is found in animals and animal products. The requirement for this nutrient is small so deficiency is rare but strict vegans should consume a fortified food. For example; yeast extract (marmite), fortified soya products, breakfast cereals and vegetable stocks.

Finally, as milk is an important source of iodine, vegans are at risk of low intakes. If this is the case it’s recommended to use iodized salt or take a nutritional supplement.

In order to get all the vitamins and minerals we need, a large variety of fruits and vegetables should be eaten. Think about eating as many different colours as possible! This, alongside beans, lentils, grains and nuts will help ensure your vegetarian or vegan diet is adequate in all nutrients.

Recipes

Banana Pancakes

20140718_144950Who doesn’t love pancakes?!

These are fantastic; versatile, so easy to make AND they taste oh-so-good! One of your 5-a-day, a great source of protein and oats to keep those hunger pangs at bay!

Ingredients
One banana
Two eggs
Teaspoon of cinnamon
Two tablespoons of oats

Method
1. Whisk the two eggs in a bowl big enough to hold all the ingredients.

2. Slice the banana into the eggs and mash with a fork, masher or blender. Make sure both ingredients are well combined.

3. Add the cinnamon and oats and whisk until you have a smooth mixture.

4. Heat some oil in a pan (I use spray oil – you need very little) and add a small amount of mixture to the pan. (*TIP: Pour mixture slowly to keep a circle shape*)

5. Cook on a low-medium heat til the pancake is solid enough for you to flip it (around 2-3 minutes per side).

6. Keep going until you run out of mixture and top with whatever your preference!

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CALORIES: 300kcal
PROTEIN: 13g
FAT: 8g                                                                                                              

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If you have a sweet tooth, try making them with a ripe or overripe banana, these taste naturally sweeter and you won’t need any added sugar.

My favourite topping is low fat natural yoghurt and fresh fruit (making it 2 of your 5-a-day!). This morning it was blueberries!

Do let me know what you think!

I love receiving your pictures of my recipes, thank you!

pancakes

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