Coronovirus and your Immunity

With the overwhelming threat of Corona Virus and self-isolation, most of us have a lot of time on our hands to think about ‘stuff’. In the last few weeks I’ve had a lot of clients anxiously contacting me to ask about what food they should be eating and what supplements they need to take to boost their immune system.

It is generally agreed in scientific and medical spheres that you have a better chance against Corona if your immune system is functioning well.

Rather than feeling like a sitting duck waiting for Corona to get you, here is a cheerily impressive collection of things that you can do for yourself and your family……

Social distancing and hand hygiene. Not my area of expertise, but these are the most important ones Government guidance

Food

There are many, many nutrients that are involved with the normal functioning of the immune system. There is no one super food or super vitamin that you need to max out on. I know it may be boring, but I maintain my consistent message that a healthy balanced diet is fundamental for your immune system to function well. Here’s a link to the Eat Well Guide. You will be doing very well if you can get these foundations of good, solid nutrition consistently in place.

There are some nutrients that you can make sure you are including that are specifically important for the immune system. I sympathise that supermarket and shop shelves can be sparse at the minute, so it doesn’t matter if these come from fresh, frozen, tinned or dried.

Vitamin C – citrus fruit (lemons, oranges, grapefruit), kiwi, red pepper, broccoli, potatoes.
Zinc – meat, fish, nuts and seeds, lentils, eggs, dairy
Vitamin D – the main source is sunlight, with smaller amounts coming from food. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, egg yolks, mushrooms, fortified foods (breakfast cereals, milk & dairy). If you can’t get outside, then I recommend a vitamin D supplement 1000IU per day.
Beta-carotene/vitamin A – carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, red and orange peppers
Folate – broccoli, spinach, breakfast cereal, frozen peas
• Iron – breakfast cereal, red meat, dried fruit

Other important points:
• Taking mega doses in the form of supplements doesn’t provide extra benefits, and in some case can be detrimental. If you are worried that you aren’t able to get these nutrients from food then you could take a Complete Multivitamin – I will elaborate on this in a future post.
• Try not to become hyper focused, obsessive or overly worried about nutrition. Anxiety increases stress hormones in the body which negatively impact the immune system.
• Under-eating or over-eating can negatively impact the immunity (aka being underweight or overweight). Try to keep within a healthy BMI weight range check your BMI

Microbiome – our gut bacteria are essential for a healthy immune system. The healthy gut bacteria are found in the last part of the digestive system (the colon). To feed your gut flora eat a varied diet with lots of high-fibre foods. The more plant foods you consume, the better, it really likes fruit, vegetables, oats, wholemeal bread, beans, lentils and yogurt.

Alcohol – I know, I know, I’ll try not to get all preachy about this – I enjoy a drink as much as the next person. The fact is that boozing through the coronavirus crisis isn’t a great idea, because drinking depletes our immune cells. Daily drinking can lead to a reduction of the lymphocytes, so if Corona virus gets into you, you’re not going to be as good at fighting it off. Alcohol also has a negative impact on your sleep (see point 6)

Move – exercise mobilises the white cells of the immune system by increasing your blood flow. The NHS says adults should be physically active in some way every day. If you are lucky enough to be in a country that is not in complete lock down (yet!) aim for about an hour outside – this has the added benefit of getting vitamin D from daylight. Exercise also releases happy hormones.
Be careful not to over exercise, I regularly see elite athletes who over train and become very susceptible to coughs and colds. This is because too much intense exercise can produce stress hormones which are bad for your immune system. If your exercise leaves you feeling energised, then you’ve probably got it right, but if your exhausted and worn out, then you may be over doing it.

Sleep – Exercising and eating well will have the likely knock-on effect of helping you sleep better, which is a bonus because a tired body is more susceptible to bugs. Lack of sleep impaired the disease-fighting ability of lymphocytes.

Over the coming weeks and months I’ll elaborate on a lot of the points above. If there are any specific topics that you would like me to write about, leave me a comment below!


Thanks for reading xxxxxx

Chia Seeds – too good to be true?

I’m a bit slow to join the Chia Seed Party. Any health foodie worth their Instagram followings is raving about virtues of this little seed, with beautifully styled photos to match. Food bloggers and writers are telling us that they are “the most nutrient dense food in the natural world”, “high in protein”, “an omega-3 superfood”, “high fibre”. Are these claims too good to be true?

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There will always be little alarm bells ringing in my head with the claim of a particular food being ‘super’. All health professionals, including dietitians, need to be cynical about sensationalist headlines for any food. It is our job to question everything we read – from published scientific research to online food blogger articles.

There are hundreds of potential ‘super foods’ – mostly fruit, vegetables, whlolegrains, fish, nuts, seeds…….and the more variety of these you can get, the better. Focusing on any one food as having specific effects on long term health is usually not supported by good enough scientific evidence. I’m thinking chia seeds, goji berries, acai, wheatgrass etc. As well as some outlandish health claims, there is often the price tag to match. Their popularity is usually more to do with great marketing & PR, magazine and newspaper editors looking for ‘the next big thing’ to grab readers’ interest, and of course, celebrity endorsements.

Chia Seeds – worth the hype?

Here are some of the health claims:

Gluten free – true, so good for people with Coeliac Disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.

High in Omega-3 fats – true, but not the ‘best’ kind. Chia seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in plants. This is not the same as the very beneficial omega-3 fats that are found in oily fish. Our bodies cannot use the chia seed version of the omega-3 very well, so won’t have the same health benefits.

High in Protein – falseChia seeds are 16% protein and do have a good range of essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein). However, they are not high in protein per se. To obtain a decent amount of protein from chia seeds, you would need to eat a lot of them. One portion of chia, about 30g dry weight, only has about 5g of protein. To get a decent 20g of protein, you would need to eat 4 portions which would give you over 500kcal.

High in Fibre – true, there’s no disputing the excellent fibre content. A whopping 13g per portion. The seeds absorb a high volume of liquid, and become quite gelatinous (just like flaxseeds), so fabulous for helping with constipation, and they are low FODMAP so shouldn’t cause bloating.

High in calcium – true, however.…………the vitamin and mineral content of chia seeds may be misleading, because of the seed’s indigestible hull that likely prevents the absorption of many of these micronutrients. Ground chia seeds may overcome this limitation, but no studies have investigated the bioavailability of chia seed nutrients.

So although many of the health claims are sensationalised, chia seeds can benefit health and are great to be included in a healthy diet.

So what do they taste like? I tried them out for the first time in a popular recipe which has nine thousand likes on social media (see below). I asked my friend Aileen what she thought: “Chia seeds? Never heard of them” she said. “They look like frog spawn”. To me, they tasted like it too. But loads of people seem to love them!!!!

You can also use them like flaxseeds: sprinkle them over muesli, add in to porridge, or blend in to smoothies, yogurt or soup.

Chia Seed Banana Breakfast

IMG_2978
Ingredients
  1. 300ml vanilla soya milk
  2. 1 banana, ripe
  3. 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  4. 1/4 cup Chia Seeds
Instructions
  1. In a medium size bowl mash or slice the banana.
  2. Add the remainder of the ingredients and stir until combined.
  3. Cover and put in the fridge overnight – or at least 2 hours
  4. (Try to) enjoy!

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KFC – can fast food be fit food?

Call it a mid life crisis, but I’ve recently started stoking up the social life with a night out every fortnight or so. With only weeks to go until my 39 turns to in to forty, and with significantly more childcare on hand (thank you parents, sister and cousins!) it would be silly not to.

Usually a conversation in the pub eventually gets to “what do you do?”, or hilariously (well, it seemed the funniest thing I’d ever heard after a few Bushmill Mojitos): “What is your role in life?”

When I tell people that I am a dietitian, a lot of people ask the ‘Which Is Better’ question e.g.  “gin with slimline or fat tonic?”, “Guinness or beer?” or “what’s the least bad thing to have from the take-away”.

So takeaways: can fast food be fit food?

Purely for research purposes, today, I attended one of the best fast food joints Bangor Ring Road has to offer: KFC@Balloo.

What was the healthiest/least ‘bad’ thing on offer?

I had been slightly terrified that I was going to have to get one of those great big buckets that used to be advertised on TV in the 80’s. How things have changed! It felt like a chorus of angels had descended when I spotted the KFC Rice Box. It looked remarkably similar to the boxes you can get in Leon – a healthy fast fast food mecca in snazzy London.

 

 

Original Recipe Rice Box: in a box, there was a large portion of rice, a crispy chicken fillet, some salad (lettuce and tomatoes), a dollop of tomato chutney on the rice, and a splash of creamy dressing on the lettuce.

 

KFC Rice Box Adult Recommended Intake per day
Calories 500 2000
Fat 17 70
Saturated Fat 2.3 20
Carbohydrates 64 260
Protein 28 50
Salt 2.5 6

 

  • Taste: It was quite tasty indeed. The chicken wasn’t at all dry, the rice was flavoursome, the lettuce was crispy and the tomatoes great too (I am clearly not a food critic with extensive foody vocabulary!)
  • Nutrition:
    • the rice provides a good source of carbs (although there was a bit too much for me so I left about half).
    • great amount of protein from the chicken
    • the chicken has been deep fried so higher in fat than a grilled fillet, unfortunately KFC doesn’t have this option. I guess that’s reasonable as the joint is has ‘fried chicken’ in it’s name.
    • the salad provides about one of your five a day of fruit/veg
    • Horribly high in salt, giving you almost half of your recommended daily salt intake. The salt is probably what makes the rice so tasty.

KFC Nutrition Guide

How to ‘health it up’:

  • add a bottle of water
  • add a side of corn on the cob to double your veg intake
  • only eat half the rice, unless you’re very hungry or have just been working out
  • remove the crispy skin from the chicken
  • DO NOT add any more salt
  • DO NOT add chips or Coke

As a post sport/exercise/workout recovery meal, this is pretty good. It provides a decent amount of carbs, protein, and veg. The salt can be a good thing if you are a heavy sweater.

So how does it compare to healthy restaurant Leon’s box? Well, Leon has lots of different versions, but typically, there isn’t a massive amount of difference when comparing calories and overall fats. The KFC one is higher in salt and carbs (probably due to the big portion of rice), but as a positive KFC is higher in protein. Leon’s usually also contain healthy fats from avocado, olive oil and seeds.

Would I get this again from KFC? Yes, sure I would. Thumbs up 🙂

Smoothie Bowl

6216be92664c268834e07ac1a29edd4aThis is something I make in seconds for my kids as a very healthy pudding. They love it. It’s somewhere between ice-cream and a smoothie. For me, I sometimes have it as a breakfast. I add a handful of oats, and if I’ve just had a bike or run, a scoop of protein powder.

Why it’s great:

Yogurt: calcium, protein, good bacteria for the digestion Berries: antioxidants,
phytonutrients and fibre. Oats: for slow release energy, soluble fibre, B-glucan cholesterol lowering, carbs for replacing muscle glycogen stores post workout. Protein powder: 20g extra protein post workout for muscle recovery and maintenance, also keeps you feeling full up for longer. 

Ingredients:

  • frozen berries: 1 big handful per person
  • Oats: 1 small handful per person (about 30g)
  • Natural yogurt: 3 tablespoons per person
  • Honey: 1/2-1 teaspoon per person

Method: whizz up in a blender, in my blender I’ve to give it a shake every few seconds to get all the ingredients down to the bottom.

Eat with a spoon!img_1066.jpg

If you use a flavoured yogurt, there’s no need to add honey as it should be sweet enough already.

 

Here’s what I used this evening……

5 of the best pasta sauces

Tales of sinister goings on inside pasta sauce jars are rife. If you are to believe the Daily Mail, they are full of sugar and they may, basically, kill you. I say “Really???” In true dietitian style I’m going to challenge that. To be fair, most tomato based pasta sauces are a good choice, but if you are concerned about levels of sugar and salt, some are better than others.

So what should you look for when buying a pasta sauce?

  • tomato based, rather than creamy or with mascarpone
  • low sugar: less than 5g per 100g
  • low salt: less than 0.3g per 100g

The Sugar Issue: yes, most tomato pasta sauces have some sugar added to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. The tricky thing here is that even a whole tomato, straight from the plant, has naturally occurring sugars. So on the jar label if it says 5g of sugar, this does not mean that there is 5g (about a teaspoon) of white sugar added. About 3g of this will be natural sugar from the tomato. The remaining 2g may be from added sugar.

The Salt Issue: it is very hard to find a tomato pasta sauce than is low in salt (the ones marketed for kids usually are). Most of the jars that I have suggested below are ‘medium’ for salt.

You can of course make your own pasta sauce from scratch with tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, and some herbs, but sometimes that feels like a bit too much effort. One good tip to add more nutrition oomph and to reduce the concentration of salt is to open an extra tin of chopped tomatoes and add it to the jarred sauce.

 

Here are 5 great choices:

All figures are per 100g (roughly a portion)

001665.jpgLoyd Grossman Pasta Sauce – Tomato & Basil. 61 calories, 4.8g sugar, 0.8g salt Sugar is pretty low, the salt is a bit high but not terrible. There are no strange sounding ingredients – it’s all proper food. Ingredients: Tomato (61%), Tomato Purée, Garlic, Basil (2.6%), Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Concentrated Lemon Juice, Ground Black Pepper.

 

001640.jpgDolmio Low Fat. 33 calories, 4.2g sugar, 0.8g salt.                                                        Don’t let the name of this Dolmio sauce put you off. To be honest, I’m perplexed that it’s called ‘low fat’ as the Dolmio Original is also low in fat. The difference is that the ‘Dolmio Low Fat’ is a bit lower in sugar.

Ingredients: Tomatoes (81%), Tomato Paste (10%), Onion, Cornflour, Lemon Juice, Salt, Basil (0.3%), Sugar, Garlic, Parsley, Herb, Spices.

 

IDShot_110x110Tesco Goodness For Kids Pasta Sauce 51 calories, 3.6g sugar, 0.2g salt. Ohhh I’m loving this one. It has lots of different extra vegetables. It’s marketed for kids, but grown ups don’t let this put you off. Great ingredients, low in sugar and salt. 

Ingredients: Tomato Purée, Carrot (20%), Red Pepper (10%), Lemon Juice From Concentrate, Yellow Pepper (5%), Onion (4%), Cornflour, Apple Juice from Concentrate,    Garlic Purée, Sea Salt, Rapeseed Oil, Pepper

 

024019.jpgSainsbury’s Light Tomato & Herb Pasta Sauce 28 calories, 4g sugar, 0.6g salt                       This ‘light’ version of Sainsbury’s own brand sauce is much lower in sugar than the standard ones. 

Ingredients: Tomatoes (80%), Tomato Purée (13%), Water, Onions (1%), Onion Purée (1%), Maize Starch, Salt, Concentrated Lemon Juice, Sugar, Basil, Oregano, Garlic Purée, Olive Oil, Acidity Regulator: Citric Acid, Ground Black Pepper.

 

 

267339ASDA Good & Counted Bolognese Pasta Sauce 27 calories, 4.1g sugar, 0.6g salt   This ‘light’ version of Asda’s own brand sauce is much also much lower in sugar than the standard ones. 

Ingredients: Tomatoes (80%), Concentrated Tomato Purée (14%), Lemon Juice from Concentrate, Water, Concentrated Apple Juice, Salt, Dried Onions, Basil Leaf, Garlic Purée, Oregano Leaf, Rapeseed Oil, Ground Black Pepper

 

 

This isn’t an exclusive list and there are many many other good ones out there. My aim is to take the confusion and indecision away when trying to choose.

Trans Fats – what do I need to know?

I’m always being asked about fats…….”which fats are good” or “which fats are bad”. While it is clear that we all need to include some fat in our diets to remain healthy, not all fats are equal.

What are trans fats?

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Trans fats are the baddies, the grizzly little gremlins of the food world. They are:

  • Artificially produced as an ingredient for biscuits, pies, cakes and fried food
  • Produced when vegetable fats are subjected to a very high temperature e.g. takeaway foods
  • Naturally occurring in small amounts in dairy e.g. cheese and cream

Health concerns about these fats has recently led to many UK manufacturers reducing the amounts of trans fats in foods. In 2006 United Biscuits, who produce McVities, KP and Jacobs ranges, removed trans fats from their products. Marks & Spencer, as well as many other supermarket chains, also banned the use of trans fats in own brand products.

Why are trans fats bad for me?

Trans fats raise levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and reduce the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also increase levels of another form of blood fat called triglycerides. All of these effects of trans fats can raise your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Trans fats appear to increase risk of CHD more than saturated fats, and so are potentially worse for our health.

How do I know if a food is high in trans fats?

ConfusedYou need to check ingredients lists for partially hydrogenated fats.

A ‘hydrogenated fat’ does not contain trans fat, only ‘partially hydrogenated fats’ contain trans fats. If a food product contains partially hydrogenated fats or oils, it will almost certainly contain trans fats too, and the higher up the list the fat or oil appears, the more trans fats the product is likely to contain.

Many manufacturers now avoid using hydrogenated fats or have reduced the amount of trans fats in their products to very low levels.

 Unfortunately for takeaway food in can be harder to tell as nutrition labelling may not exist. Big takeaway companies like McDonalds have removed artificial trans fats from their menus, however, small takeaway outlets may still use trans fats for cooking.

Take home message……

The good news is that in the UK intakes of trans fats are on average lower than the guidelines. In the last 20 years, levels of trans fat in food have reduced considerably.

However as part of a healthy diet, you should aim to keep the amount of trans fats to a minimum. In general trans fats may be found in takeaways, cakes, biscuits, hard margarines, pastry, pies and fried foods, all of which are the types of foods to limit when choosing a healthy, balanced diet.

Idiot Proof Poached Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods that you can eat: high in protein, omega 3 fats, lutein, choline, all the B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, and iron.

Poached eggs should be one of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest meals. But it can be hard to not end up with a watery pile of mush. There is a lot of advice out there on how to achieve the perfectly poached egg: the freshest eggs possible, adding vinegar to the water (am I the only one to end up with vinegary eggs?!) or the ‘swirling the water’ method.

For the first time in my 39 years, I came across this genius method for the perfect poached egg. Or for 10 poached eggs if you need that many!! It’s idiot proof, which is a stroke of luck for me.

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Location: a big family brunch at my cousin Wendy’s house in Holywood – that’s Holywood in N. Ireland; rather than Hollywood, California :). There were 13 of us so that’s a lot of eggs to poach! I was a bit skeptical as this clingfilm escapade unfolded in the kitchen, but trust me…..

 

Here’s what you need:
egg(s)

cling film

any cooking oil4820A52D-F11E-49D0-B839-BDF5C02AA2B7

Ramekin, or small bowl

  1. Boil some water in a small sauce pan. Once boiling reduce to a simmer

 

  1. Tear some cling film, about double the width of the ramekin

 

  1. Oil the cling film by dribbling in a few drops of the oil. Spread around with your fingers or a pastry brush

 

  1. Break the egg in to the cling film

 

  1. Gather up the edges of the cling wrap and twist, making sure that you have the egg enclosed well. You can secure it with a little elastic band or something similar.F593DFC8-DBA5-40ED-ACE0-CAEF8944851B

 

  1. Place in the simmering water until the egg white has set. Put as many of these little parcels in the water as needed (use an appropriately sized saucepan to fit them in obvs)

 

  1. Lift the egg out of the water using a spoon and cut away the cling film

TA DA!!!!

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