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

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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.

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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……

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!!!!

A Short Cut Saviour Meal

Nutrition Nuts, Food Evangilisim, Nutritionally Holiness. These are all good descriptions for people who are absolutely convinced (and will try to convince you too) that their way of eating is the only way to health and happiness. Unprocessed whole foods may be the ideal, but in reality, life can get in the way.

A few weeks ago I was working on the cancer wards at Belfast City Hospital, filling a gap inIMG_0095-1 the staff shortage for a couple of months. At the same time I was single parenting three ‘lively’ children, shopping, cooking, cleaning, refereeing sibling rivalries, homeworks etc. etc. blah blah

Sometimes we need food that we can just throw together in minutes, pulling stuff from the cupboard and not requiring a recipe book. This pasta meal is one of my saviours.

 

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Cooked Pasta

Tin of tomato soup

Tin of tuna

Grated carrot, onion and cheese

 

In a frying pan with oil, soften the grated carrot and onion (and what ever extra veg you would like to chuck in). Add the tin of tuna, and the tin of soup. Stir in to the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

If I was a nutrition nut, I’d say that tinned tomato soup is loaded with salt and sugar. In reality, I use the reduced salt version, and the tin is divided between 4 of us. A wee bit of the ‘bad’ stuff can help the really good stuff go down more easily 🙂

 

 

 

7 reasons you’re exercising more and not losing weight

So you’ve started eating better, walking more, going to the gym, or you’re training for a 5km race. Brilliant! You expected the weight to drop off, so why aren’t you seeing RESULTS?

Here are 6 top reasons:

  1. You are ‘good’ all day with your eating and are distracted enough to avoid eating too much. But by the evening you are hungry and attack the bread, cheese, breakfast cereal, biscuits, ice-cream etc. This is the most common mistake I see my clients making. You need to eat more during the day to stop the evening over eating.
  2. Exercising can result in an increase in your appetite, so you eat more. If you are genuinely more hungry, ensure you are eating protein at each meal (eggs, fish, chicken, cottage cheese are great choices), lots of fruit/veg, a high protein yoghurt, milky coffee or tea, water. Consider bringing a meal forward by an hour if you are ravenous.
  3. You eat more before and/or after your session to fuel the exercise. One of the most common mistakes I see is someone having a milkshake drink after 40 minutes in the gym to aid recovery, often followed with in a few hours of a normal meal. A typical bottle of milkshake will provide 300-400kcal, essentially replacing the calories you’ve just burned off. If you are exercising to lose weight, then you need a calorie deficit ie. burning more than you eat/drink.
    Post exercise shakes have their place, but watch the extra calories!

    Post exercise shakes have their place, but watch the extra calories!

    Although extra food/drinks may be necessary for long and strenuous workouts, for shorter workouts less than an hour, the need isn’t as significant. Normal meal and snacks around exercise should be enough eg. snack of an apple or banana 1-2 hours before a workout, yoghurt after.

  4. You are trying to be too healthy – yes really! You’re think you’re doing all the right things – snacking on nuts or rice cakes with peanut butter; lots of avocado in salads; extra pumpkin seeds and flaxseed in your porridge. Thing is, even healthy fats are high in calories: a tablespoon of most nutty things  have about 120 kcal. Half an avocado has about 150 kcal. They all add up.
  5. You think you can eat what you want because you exercise – if only! A 3 mile run will burn approximately 300 kcal. Not an excuse to have 6 biscuits or a whole pizza. Rewarding yourself with high fat/calorie ‘treat’ food can cancel out the good work done. Even professional athletes who have multiple training sessions each day have to be careful with their diets.
  6. You need to change your workout – you run for 40 minutes three times a week, or sit on a exercise bike and do some crunches. Your body adapts to what you do day in day out. You need to challenge your body. If you want to change, you need to change what you are doing!
  7. You sit down for the rest of the day – You have an intensive workout for an hour, so you don’t feel so bad about taking the car for journeys that you could walk. You need to stay as active as you can, humans are born to move. If you feel too exhausted to do anything but sit down for the rest of the day, you are probably over doing the exercise.
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