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Optimum Nutrition - April 2018

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Optimum Nutrition magazine
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With warmer weather on its way, it’s time
to bring out the salad spinner. For some,
however, raw food is a year-round way of
life. Jenna Sinclair writes
Japan has the highest life expectancy in
the world, and diet is a big part of this.
Food writer Nancy Singleton Hachisu told
us what makes Japanese cuisine special
When bowel movements for your child
are difficult or distressing, it is time to
take action. Catherine Morgan writes on a
problem that is not exclusive to children
If you are looking for something fresh and
vibrant to liven up your lunch, why not
try one of these recipes from LEON Happy
Salads, by Jane Baxter and John Vincent
Spring, when the trees begin to bloom,
is the perfect time to take up ‘forest
bathing’, the practice of immersing
oneself in nature to calm the senses
Catherine Morgan considers ways to
shake up breakfast, and we find out how
some experts think we should be tackling
childhood obesity
So many of us are struggling to get
through the day that ‘TATT’ has
now become a common acronym
used by GPs. Jackie Lynch, a
registered nutritionist and author,
looks at how to use nutrition to
get back your va va voom
If you’re looking to cut back or cut
out alcohol or fizzy drinks, read on.
Louise Wates writes why alcoholfree wine is now a regular tipple
of choice, and Ellie Smith looks at
how cutting down on fizzy drinks
could benefit our health
Max MacGillivray knows a thing
or two about fresh fruit and
vegetables and wants the UK’s
children to know about them too.
So last year, he toured Africa on a
motorbike just to show children at
home a world of fresh food
We look at why environmental
campaigners are concerned about palm
oil, and whether we should be worried
about the nitrites in our bacon
As a nation, we love sandwiches. We look
at the rise and rise of the high-street butty
and ask if making some swaps could be
better for our guts — and the environment
Alice Ball investigates the debate
surrounding what macronutrients — carb,
protein, or fat — are best for powering up
before a workout
Find out how studying with the Institute
for Optimum Nutrition changed Catherine
Jeans’ career
From the editor
Louise Wates
Deputy Editor
Catherine Morgan
Art Director
Salman Anjum
Maria Noble
Alice Ball
Christian Billinghurst
Maggie Charlesworth
Nicola Moore
Lisa Patient
Hannah Robinson
Jenna Sinclair
Ellie Smith
Catherine Morgan
Chris Mansi
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Views expressed by authors are not those of
ION or Optimum Nutrition, nor does ION or
Optimum Nutrition endorse any of the thirdparty products advertised or mentioned.
Optimum Nutrition aims to report up-to-date
research on nutrition and health-related
issues. Articles are not intended to be
used as health recommendations, and ION
and Optimum Nutrition do not advocate
implementing dietary changes without
consulting a qualified health practitioner.
love a bit of satire and that includes the
Daily Mash, which occasionally pops
up on my social media (I just love the
word “mash” too... can’t think why...). And
recently, I think the Mash got it all too
right with its spoof headline: “All burgers
now impossible to eat” followed by a joke
article on how “Restaurants have become
obsessed with towering burgers held
together with a giant toothpick...”
While clearly making fun of the growing
trend for burgers to be so ridiculously
large that it’s impossible to eat them by
hand, as nature intended, the Mash also
— perhaps unintentionally — threw a
spotlight on a real problem. Portion size.
I am not anti-burgers (meat or veggie),
with chips, melted cheese/melted vegan
cheese, or any of that type of thing. But
I can’t fail to notice that as I have aged
(obviously like a fine wine), just as police
officers, doctors, and dentists seem so
young now, fast food has ballooned in
size. (A friend once commented during
a fried chicken advert “No food should
come in a bucket”. Wise words indeed.)
The UK now has the unhealthiest diet
in Europe. We are also Europe’s fattest
nation. That isn’t surprising — we’ve been
told this for years. We could joke about
it: well done us, we don’t win Eurovision
anymore so at least we’re good at
something. But it really isn’t funny.
And what scares me about this is
that our NHS, which is so important, is
struggling. Yet by allowing ourselves as a
nation to become obese, are we helping to
kick it to death as it tries to survive?
Recently, I watched as four very
overweight women (one of whom was
following Slimming World) rounded off
a beige food buffet lunch with two large
bars of chocolate each. If this sounds
judgemental, rest assured that in the past
I have been a couple of pounds away
from being classed as obese, so I do
understand the struggle that weight can
be. But forget body image for a moment
and just think about health. Who was
responsible for their weight? Were they
or even their parents? What about the
very slim woman who offered them yet
another large bar of chocolate as an act
of ‘kindness’? Or the manufacturers for
making the chocolate in the first place?
Or I — who knew better but said nothing?
I’m not suggesting that somebody should
have wrestled the chocolate from their
hands, but when it comes to the obesity
crisis, don’t we all play a part?
Recently, the Centre for Social Justice
(CSJ) produced Off the Scales, a report
compiled by people who are passionate
about reversing childhood obesity. It cites
a project from Amsterdam which, by
bringing people together under political
leadership, has begun to see positive
results in tackling the city’s own child
obesity problem. What the Amsterdam
initiative shows is that great things can be
achieved when people work together.
But as this issue’s interview with Max
MacGillivray also shows, we can’t sit
back and wait for politicians to make it
all better. It was known for 50 years that
smoking was harmful before governments
took action; so at that rate, by the time
anything meaningful happens, another
generation will have grown up with a
shortened life expectancy. MacGillivray, a
businessman in the fresh produce sector,
wanted to get children interested in eating
fresh food. On his own he can’t expect to
reverse the obesity crisis, but he’s a good
example, in that he is doing what he can.
As for the towering burgers held
together with a toothpick… when did
we start to believe that food that is
impossible to eat neatly before it starts to
collapse is a good deal? Maybe we were
influenced by food-troughing programmes
such as Man versus Food, which showed
TV presenter Adam Richman take on
food-eating challenges around America.
It was an incredibly successful series with
(so I read) 96 episodes in all. That’s a lot
of airtime, and a lot of over-eating.
Yet why would so many of us get
pleasure out of watching someone eat,
say, a burger the size of their own head
when it is only going to make them sick?
Eating by proxy, maybe? Obviously the
concept of extreme eating existed long
before Richman put his health on the line
in the name of quality telly — he only rose
to the food challenges, he didn’t create
them... I have known Tibetan monks who
would boast about how many momos
(dumplings) they could eat, just like lads
down the pub boasting about how many
pints they can knock back.
It shows how important people around
us are when it comes to influencing
habits. A recent study published in
The BMJ concluded that school-based
programmes aimed at preventing obesity
were “unlikely to have much impact on
the childhood obesity epidemic” and that
wider influences such as families, local
communities and the food industry may
be more effective. So, over to all of us?
Louise Wates
EATING SLOWLY along with cutting
out after-dinner snacks and not eating
within two hours before going to bed are
all habits that are strongly associated
with lower obesity and weight, and
smaller waistlines, according to research
published in The BMJ. The findings were
based on insurance data for nearly
60,000 people with diabetes in Japan.
People were asked about their eating
speed, and it was found that those
who ate slowly tended to be healthier.
A LOW-CARB DIET during pregnancy
may increase the risk of neural tube birth
defects, according to a study from The
University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, US. Published in Birth Defects, the
research found that women with a
low-carbohydrate intake were 30 per
cent more likely to have babies with
neural tube defects such as spina bifida
(a malformation of the spine and spinal
cord) or anencephaly (absence of major
portions of the brain and skull). Folate or
folic acid (the synthetic form of folate)
are essential for foetal development. (dx. The NHS
recommends women who are trying
to conceive take a daily supplement
of 400 micrograms of folic acid and
continue taking it for the first 12 weeks of
YO-YO DIETING is closer to being
understood following the discovery of
a molecular switch in the brain that
regulates fat burning. Scientists at
Monash University, US, identified in mice
a protein called carnitine acetyltransferase
(Crat) in hunger-processing brain cells
which regulate fat-storage after dieting.
One of the reasons why many of us will
pile on the pounds after weight-loss is
that, as in times of famine, our brains try
to conserve energy, so once food becomes
available, it switches from burning fat
to storing it. Having identified the Crat
protein, scientists developed mice that
had the protein genetically switched off.
When fasted, or when fed after being
fasted, these mice lost fat reserves at a
greater than normal rate.
Associate professor Zane Andrews said
that repeated dieting may lead to weightgain because the brain interprets it as
short famines. “Manipulating this protein
offers the opportunity to trick the brain
and not replace the lost weight through
increased appetite and storage of fat,” he
Be: Fit London
The Business Design Centre, London
4-6 May
Surrey Food Festival
Old Deer Park, Richmond
22 April
Balance Festival
The Old Truman Brewery, London
11-13 May
Free From Festival 2018
Old Spitalfields Market, London
28 May
The Pinetum, Sevenoaks, Kent
20-22 July
Soul Circus
Hollow Farm, Elmore, Glos
17-19 August
Herbal extract may help improve brain recovery after stroke
he herbal extract gingko biloba may be an effective addition to treatment with
aspirin when it comes to boosting memory and the brain’s “command and
control” function in stroke survivors, according to the findings of a clinical trial
published in Stroke & Vascular Neurology.
Stroke survivors, particularly if they are not treated quickly, are at heightened risk of
failing brain power, which can include symptoms such as impaired memory, a decline
in organisational and reasoning skills, and dementia.
Researchers wanted to see if gingko biloba extract — which has traditionally been
used in Chinese medicine for a range of conditions including depression, memory
loss, and confusion — might help to lessen or halt the cognitive decline associated
with the aftermath of a blood clot in the brain (ischaemic stroke). They randomly
assigned 348 people with an average age of 64 to daily treatment with either 450
mg of gingko biloba extract, given in three doses, plus 100 mg of aspirin, or 100 mg of
aspirin alone for six months. All subjects (18 of whom later dropped out of the trial)
started their treatment within seven days of being admitted to one of five different
hospitals after having had an ischaemic stroke.
Participants also took a validated neuropsychological test (Montreal Cognitive
Assessment score or MoCA) at the start of the trial, and then again at 12, 30, 90, and
180 days later to check for any cognitive impairment.
The test results at 12, 30, 90 and 180 days showed that those given the
combination treatment had higher scores for cognitive skills than those given aspirin
alone. They also had a greater degree of functional capacity 12 and 30 days after the
start of treatment, indicating a greater improvement in neurological deficit — such as,
for example, muscle weakness, impaired reflexes, and speech problems — following
their stroke.
During the six-month trial, few side effects were reported, indicating that gingko
biloba plus aspirin was safe.
Despite these positive findings, however, monitoring of the subjects for nearly two
years revealed little difference in the vascular health of trial participants from both
groups: 16 people in the combined treatment group and 20 in the aspirin group had
further problems including recurrent stroke, mini-stroke, aneurysm, and abnormal
heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation).
The researchers point to some caveats. Both the clinicians and the patients knew
which treatment they had been assigned to, which may have skewed the results, and
the monitoring period was not very long.
It was suggested that further longer-terms studies looking at stroke severity would
be needed before any more definitive conclusions could be reached. Nevertheless,
they concluded that gingko biloba may protect against nerve cell death associated
with blood clots in the brain, possibly by increasing blood flow in the cerebral arteries.
1. Zhang LS et al (2017). Ginkgo biloba extract improved cognitive and neurological functions
of acute ischaemic stroke: a randomised controlled trial. Stroke and Vascular Neurol. 2(4),
Good gut bacteria alters genes to help fight disease
esearch is increasingly revealing how the bacteria in our gut affects our health. Now, according to a statement from the Babraham
Institute near Cambridge, a team from the institute, in collaboration with scientists from Brazil and Italy, has discovered how “good”
bacteria in the microbiome can control genes in our cells.
The study, which was published in Nature Communications, found that chemical messages from bacteria produced from the digestion of
fruit and vegetables can change the location of key chemical markers throughout the human genome. It is thought that by communicating
in this way, the bacteria may help to fight infections and even to prevent cancer. It was found that molecules called short chain fatty acids,
produced from the bacteria, can move from the bacteria and into our own cells. Once inside our cells, they can trigger processes that
change gene activity and that ultimately affect how our cells behave. Dr Patrick Varga-Weisz, who led the team, said: “Our intestine is
the home of countless bacteria that help in the digestion of foods such as plant fibres. They also act as a barrier to harmful bacteria and
educate our immune system. How these bugs affect our cells is a key part of these processes. Our work illuminates how short chain fatty
acids contribute to the regulation of proteins that package the genome and, thus, they affect gene activity.”
1. Fellow R et al (2018). Microbiota derived short chain fatty acids promote histone crotonylation in the colon through histone deacetylases. Nature
Comms. 10.1038/s41467-017-02651-5.
Elderly more likely to have deficiencies in essential micronutrients
study of blood tests from more than 1,000 adults aged 65-93 has revealed that one in two elderly adults has suboptimal levels of
vitamin D, and one in four has suboptimal levels of vitamin B12.
Conducted by researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, as part of the
population-based KORA-Age study in the region of Augsburg in Germany, the study found that 52 per cent of subjects had vitamin D
levels below 50 nmol/L and thus had a suboptimal vitamin D status. Other deficiencies in micronutrients were also observed; 27 per cent
of subjects had vitamin B12 levels below the cut-off. Additionally, 11 per cent had suboptimal iron levels, and almost nine per cent did not
have enough folate in their blood.
The majority of subjects with micronutrient deficiencies tended to be very old, physically inactive or frail, so the authors recommended
that special attention be paid to these higher-risk individuals.
The KORA Cooperative Health Research platform has been examining the health of thousands of people living in the greater Augsburg
area in Southern Germany for more than 30 years. The aim of the study is to understand the impact of environmental factors, lifestyle
factors and genes on health. In this particular analysis, the researchers focused on levels of four micronutrients: vitamin D, folate, vitamin
B12 and iron.
1. Conzade R et al (2017). Prevalence and predictors of subclinical micronutrient deficiency in German older adults: results from the population-based KORAage study. Nutr. DOI: 10.3390/nu9121276.
Camelina oil improves blood lipid profile
he use of camelina oil reduces overall and LDL cholesterol levels in people who have impaired glucose metabolism, according to
scientists at the University of Eastern Finland.
A study at the university, the results of which were published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, analysed the associations of
camelina oil, fatty fish, and lean fish with lipid and glucose metabolism, and low-grade inflammation. Camelina oil, which comes from the
seeds of Camelina sativa and is commonly known as false flax, is rich in alpha-linolenic acid — a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid.
Earlier research has shown that fish protein and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have beneficial effects on several risk
factors associated with cardiovascular diseases. However, the team said that research evidence relating to the effects of alpha-linolenic
acid on these risk factors remains scarce.
The study involved 79 Finnish men and women aged between 40 and 72, with impaired fasting glucose concentrations. Study
participants were randomly divided into four groups: the camelina oil group, the fatty fish group, the lean fish group, and the control group.
Depending on their group, participants were instructed to eat either fatty or lean fish four times a week, or to take a daily 30 ml dose of
camelina oil for a period of 12 weeks.
People in the control group were allowed to eat fish once a week, and the use of camelina oil or other oils containing alpha-linolenic acid
was prohibited.
The researchers found that while camelina oil had a positive effect on blood cholesterol levels, no similar effects were observed for fatty
or lean fish. Moreover, there were no significant differences in glucose metabolism or low-grade inflammation between the groups.
Lead author of the study Professor Ursula Schwab told Optimum Nutrition it was not surprising that no difference was observed
in the cholesterol levels of subjects who consumed fish. “This result is supported by previous evidence,” she said. “Fish oil is not
hypocholesterolemic [cholesterol-lowering]. It has been shown to be hypotriglyceridemic [triglyceride-lowering], but our subjects were
not hypertriglyceridemic, so the lack of effect is not surprising.”
She said that camelina oil served as a source of plant-derived alpha-linolenic acid, and that the team had plans for further research on
plant-derived alpha-linolenic acid.
1. Schwab US et al (2017). Camelina sativa oil, but not fatty fish or lean fish improved serum lipid profile in subjects with impaired glucose metabolism — a
randomized controlled trial. Mol Nutr & Food Res. DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201700503.
Do you fall out of bed, crash around 3pm, and sofa snooze before supper? Registered nutritionist
Jackie Lynch and author of Va Va Voom* explains how you can put the spring back into your step
here seems to be something of a
low-energy epidemic going on in the
UK; so much so, that TATT (tired all
the time) has become a popular shorthand
amongst doctors, often used to describe
patients who consistently complain of
tiredness when tests reveal no apparent
medical cause.
In my nutrition clinic, I constantly see
people who simply put up with their fatigue
as if it’s completely normal to be dragging
themselves out of bed in the morning;
kick-starting themselves with coffee;
wilting at their work-station; struggling
with the dreaded mid-afternoon slump and
snoozing in front of the TV in the evening.
If they think about it at all, they usually put
it down to their age and a busy life, but
whether they’re 29 or 69, in most cases
diet and lifestyle are the main culprits.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way,
because it really is possible to make a big
difference to energy levels in a very short
space of time with the right nutrition and
lifestyle. We already hold the key to our
energy ignition — we just need to know
how to switch it on and keep the engine
running effectively.
In my clinic I have seen different types
of tiredness, so it was important for me
to explore how tiredness can vary. In Va
Va Voom, readers can take quizzes to help
discover their energy weak point: lack of
strength and stamina; energy highs and
lows; loss of focus and concentration; or
a constant feeling of exhaustion are all
different ways that people experience
fatigue. Understanding the nature of your
tiredness is the first step to finding the best
diet and lifestyle solution.
In my clinical experience, there are four
key areas that most commonly contribute
to lack of energy, once medical conditions
...there are four key
areas that most
commonly contribute
to lack of energy...
such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, coeliac
disease or iron deficiency anaemia have
all been ruled out. The principles behind
my 10-day energy diet relate to these four
• Chronic inflammation. Studies have
shown that a constant state of lowgrade inflammation can contribute to
a general state of tiredness, as well
as specific fatigue-related conditions,
such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
Blood levels of inflammatory markers
such as C-reactive protein and proinflammatory cytokines have been seen
to be raised in individuals with fatigue.1
• Blood sugar balance.
• Ensuring optimum levels of the macro
and micronutrients required for energy
supply and production.
• Limiting the factors that deplete energy,
including alcohol, sugar, excess caffeine
or dehydration.
Of course, there are numerous potential
It really is possible to
make a big difference
to energy levels in a
very short space of
imbalances, deficiencies or biochemical
factors that can impact energy levels but
there are always a few obvious suspects
to target as a first step in a clinical
Blood sugar balance
Any nutritional therapist will tell you that
one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to
a therapeutic approach, but there is one
area that will make a difference to almost
anyone struggling with tiredness and so
it’s usually my first port of call while I’m
waiting for any test results.
Balancing blood sugar is the equivalent
of Energy 101 — in other words, the basics
in maintaining energy levels. Not only
will it make a big difference to anyone
who experiences energy highs and lows
throughout the day and help to regulate
sleep patterns, but as the approach
includes increasing energy-boosting foods
such as wholegrains and vegetables and
avoiding some key robbers such as sugar
and alcohol, the overall benefits can be
How does blood sugar impact energy?
Glucose is a primary source of quick
energy for the body, which means that
low blood sugar will leave you feeling
tired, irritable, and unable to focus or
concentrate. The infamous mid-afternoon
energy slump is all about low blood
glucose and is usually a result of relying
on sugary foods or refined carbohydrate
to keep you going. High blood sugar
releases the hormone insulin as an
emergency response, with its highly
efficient hoovering of the blood which will
send the sugar off to be stored in the liver
or in fat cells. As the blood sugar drops,
stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline
are released, generating powerful cravings
for a quick sugary fix and starting the
whole rollercoaster process all over again.
This battle of the hormones throughout
the day can be exhausting and if the blood
sugar drops overnight due to unwise food
or drink choices in the evening, sleep will
be restless and disrupted, leaving you
tired and unrefreshed in the morning.
How to regulate blood sugar
The solution is simple: a combination of
complex carbohydrate, (e.g. wholegrains
and vegetables) and protein, (e.g. meat,
fish, eggs or pulses) with every meal
and snack. This provides slow-release,
sustainable energy for the body which
will help avoid the cravings for sugar
and refined carbohydrate that lead to
trouble. It also has the secondary benefit
of featuring foods that are also rich in iron,
B vitamins and magnesium, which are all
essential for optimal energy production.
That may sound relatively simple, but in
my clinical experience, women tend to be
very poor at eating enough protein and
will often plough on through a busy day
without any protein at all until the evening
meal. They’re also far more likely to skip
meals than men, which will lead to further
blood sugar issues, as the body starts to
run out of fuel. It can take quite a bit of
coaching and encouragement to address
these ingrained habits.
The role of magnesium
When I observe a client experiencing
tension headaches, a sense of clinging
on by the fingertips or feeling tired but
wired so that it’s difficult to switch off
and relax, I think about magnesium. It’s
the multi-tasker of the minerals and
is discreetly responsible for over 300
essential chemical reactions across the
body, which is why a deficiency can cause
a range of different potential symptoms.2
Magnesium helps to regulate muscle
function, supports our response to stress,
influences blood pressure and nerve
impulses, promotes a healthy digestion, is
important for bone health, and even plays
a role in DNA production.3
In energy terms, magnesium starts
your engine. If you have a deficiency,
ALCOHOL might help us to relax but
it can affect the quality of our sleep.
According to Drinkaware, a UK-based
alcohol education charity, although
alcohol can help us get off to sleep
quickly it can cause sleep disruption,
leaving us more tired. Not only might
we need to make more trips in the
night to the toilet, because alcohol
is a diuretic, but we may also spend
less time in deep sleep and more time
in the rapid eye movement (REM)
stage, which means we can feel less
rested in the morning.
Drinkaware recommends avoiding
drinking alcohol before bedtime, to
give the body time to process any
alcohol — with an hour needed on
average to process one unit.
• Leafy, green vegetables such as
• Nuts
• Brown rice
• Bread (especially wholegrain)
• Fish
• Meat
• Dairy foods
Taking high doses of magnesium
(more than 400 mg) for a short time
can cause diarrhoea.
you’re likely to feel as if you’re running on
empty all the time because it’s absolutely
essential in the energy production process,
activating the enzymes that spark the
entire chain reaction. I find magnesium
very helpful when I’m working with clients
whose tiredness stems from the stress of a
very busy life, because it helps to calm the
nervous system. It can be very supportive
for anyone suffering from chronic fatigue
syndrome because of its core role in
energy production and the part it plays
in supporting muscle function, and it can
also make a big difference to anyone who
suffers from insomnia.4
How to boost magnesium levels
Good food sources of magnesium
include wholegrain foods, leafy green
vegetables, and sunflower seeds. Including
these in your diet every day can help
to keep magnesium levels topped up.
Supplements should not exceed 400 mg
per day without the advice of a health
professional and, to avoid the risk of
potential harmful interactions, you should
speak to your doctor if you’re taking any
medication. One very relaxing way of
increasing magnesium levels is to try an
Epsom (magnesium) salts bath — add
two to three handfuls of salts in the bath
and relax for at least 20 minutes. The
magnesium will absorb through the skin,
relaxing the muscles, relieving tension, and
setting you up for a good night’s sleep.
B vitamins
A group of individual nutrients, B
vitamins work as a team to support a
range of different functions in the body.
A deficiency of one B vitamin is likely
to indicate a deficiency of another and
because they are so vital for our energy
levels, this can have a domino effect
leading to tiredness and fatigue, which is
why it’s always an area I’ll explore in my
While most B vitamins are found in a range of everyday
foods, they can easily be depleted by regular alcohol
consumption — and because they’re involved in the stress
response, we may use up large amounts when we’re under
pressure. Studies suggest that B vitamin supplementation may
help to regulate stress levels.5
B vitamins and energy levels
Vitamins B1 and B5 kick-start what is known as the citric acid
cycle of energy production. Vitamins B2 and B3 are required
for the effective functioning of the electron transport chain
which is the part of the process that produces the most ATP
energy molecules. Low levels of these vitamins means that the
energy production process won’t get started and you won’t
have the resource you need to keep going.
Vitamins B6, B9 (folate/folic acid) and B12 support energy
in a different way because they’re involved in the production
of red blood cells, the transport of oxygen around the body,
and the optimal absorption of iron, ensuring that our energy
levels remain topped up at all times. A deficiency in any of
these can leave you struggling with weakness and lack of
Boosting B vitamins
Most B vitamins are found in a broad range of vegetables and
pulses, but your choice of cooking method is vital because
they’re water soluble and you could lose 30-40 per cent of
the B vitamin content if you boil them. Lightly steaming your
vegetables is the best way to preserve the content when
cooking. Vegans may be at particular risk of vitamin B12
deficiency6 because it’s usually only found in animal food
sources, although it may also be in some fortified products
such as nutritional yeast or Marmite.
The synergistic nature of B vitamins means that it’s
probably wise to opt for a B vitamin complex if you decide to
supplement. It’s important to respect the dosage on the bottle
to ensure you remain within safe limits and always check with
your doctor if you’re taking any medication to avoid potential
harmful interactions.
The impact of stress on energy levels is such that I believe
proactively managing wellbeing is a crucial part of the energy
equation. Our 21st century lifestyle and the communication
explosion means that we’re often operating under extreme
pressure. During their working day, many of my clients barely
leave their desk and struggle to remember what they had
for lunch because they’re glued to their screen so there’s no
question of eating mindfully.
My specialism, by definition, is food; but experience has
taught me that if I don’t address the broader issue, it doesn’t
matter how many B vitamins I recommend!
Improving wellbeing
Two key areas that can also make a big difference in relieving
stress and supporting energy levels are exercise and
The impact of regular exercise on reducing stress levels is
well-documented, and although it may seem counter-intuitive,
moderate exercise can actually help improve energy levels
when you’re feeling tired.
I encourage clients to take a 15-minute walk at lunchtime
because just stopping work for a short time can help to reduce
the stress levels which inhibit energy production. I also advise
stepping away from the desk every couple of hours to take
Rice and curry using wholegrain rice (B6) and chickpea
daal (B9)
Liver (B9) and onions with sweet potato mash (B6) and
spinach (B9)
Omelette (B3, B6, B12) with steamed asparagus (B9)
Cod (B3, B6, B12), sweet potato chips (B6) and peas (B9)
Whole oats (B6) porridge made with milk (B3)
Roast pork (B6, B12) with broccoli or Brussels sprouts
Broccoli (B9) soup with nutritional yeast (B12)
10 slow, deep breaths in and out. This will help to enhance
the circulation of oxygen around the body as well as calming
the nervous system and reducing stress levels. This can also
be a helpful first step towards mindfulness meditation which
encourages being in the moment and paying attention to the
action of your breath. Studies have shown that mindfulness
can contribute significantly to stress reduction and wellbeing.7
Smart phones and digital devices have allowed our work life
to invade our home space with significant consequences for
our stress levels. I recommend clients put away digital devices
at least one hour before bedtime, to allow the body time to
calm down and recognise that it’s time for bed. I also suggest
leaving all digital devices outside of the bedroom because
studies have shown that the blue light can disrupt production
of melatonin, the hormone that governs our sleep cycles.8
While it’s advisable to seek advice from your GP if you
experience regular fatigue which is unrelieved by rest, there’s
much you can do from a diet and lifestyle perspective to
address everyday energy issues. Even if you need more
specialist advice from a nutritional therapist, focusing on
blood sugar balance, eating more vegetables, and practising
mindfulness would be a very good start.
Jackie Lynch serves as chair of the board of trustees at the Institute
for Optimum Nutrition. *Va Va Voom: the 10-Day Energy Diet is
available in paperback and for Kindle.
1. Louati K & Berenbaum F (2015). Fatigue in chronic inflammation: A link
to pain pathways. Arthritis Res and Ther. 17:254.
2. Schwalfenberg G & Genius S (2017). The importance of magnesium in
clinical healthcare. Scientifica; Sep 2017 (Online ahead of print).
3. Gruber U et al (2015). Magnesium in therapy and prevention. Nutr.
4. Abbasi B et al (2017). The effect of magnesium supplementation on
primary insomnia in the elderly: A double-blind placebo controlled
clinical trial. J of Res in Med Sci. 17(12):1161-1169.
5. Camfield D et al (2013). The effects of multivitamin supplementation on
diurnal cortisol secretion and perceived stress. Nutr. 5(11):4429-4450.
6. O’Leary F & Samman S (2010). Vitamin B12 in health and disease. Nutr.
7. Gu J et al (2015). How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and
mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and
wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies.
Clin Psy Rev. 37:1-12.
8. Schechter A et al (2018). Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: A
randomized control trial. J of Psy Res. Jan 2018 (Online ahead of print).
There are plenty of jokes about so-called man flu, even comedy sketches on YouTube dedicated
to the subject. But could biological sex really affect how hard we fall ill? Lisa Patient writes
an flu is defined in the Collins
English Dictionary as “a case of
the common cold as suffered by
a man, implying that he is exaggerating
the debilitating effects of the illness”;
but a recent article in The BMJ suggested
that men may be justified in objecting to
this description — as research reveals
that men actually have more chance than
women of being admitted to hospital and
dying as a result of flu.1
Dr Kyle Sue, a Canadian GP who found
that men were more likely to suffer from
respiratory disease and find it harder
to shake off a common cold, wrote the
article following observations in his
own practice. He speculated that the
difference in response to the influenza
virus was due to the predominantly male
hormone testosterone, which suppresses
the immune system, whereas the female
hormone oestrogen boosts the immune
However, emerging research also
highlights the important role played by the
billions of bacteria that live in our guts,
both in hormone synthesis and immunity,
and begs the question as to whether
the microbiome (the full genetic makeup of the microbes in the gut) makes
a difference to how men and women
respond to bacterial and viral infections.
Male vs. female gut bacteria
Back in 2013, when scientists realised that
there was a difference in the species and
quantity of bacteria in the microbiomes
of men and women, this area of research
was nicknamed: the ‘microgenderome’.2
One study focused on autoimmune
diseases such as type 1 diabetes, a disease
in which the body’s own immune system
destroys the pancreatic cells that produce
the hormone insulin.3
Led by Toronto-based microbiome
researcher Janet Markle and carried out
on mice, the study set out to determine
whether different bacteria in the guts of
male and female mice had any impact on
their risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
When the mice were manipulated to
have sterile guts (i.e. no bacteria), the
risk of developing diabetes was the same
between the sexes. However, once the
mice had bacteria-populated guts (a
process that occurs naturally from birth),
female mice had a greater risk of diabetes
than male mice.
To find out if this had anything to do
with gut bacteria, the team performed
faecal transplants, transferring stool from
the male mice to the colons of the female
mice. With the new ‘male’ microbiome,
the female mice started producing fewer
of the antibodies that are the cause of
type 1 diabetes and had less inflammation
of the pancreas. This, Markle concluded,
was a result of increased amounts of
testosterone in the female mice, which
was metabolised by the new bacteria
transferred from the male mice.
Markle went on to conclude
that alterations in the microbiome,
particularly when we are young, could be
sufficient even to overcome any genetic
predisposition that we may have to
autoimmune diseases. Further research
following this line of thought would be
needed, but could potentially lead the
way for new approaches to prevention of
chronic diseases. with higher
levels of Streptococcus
bacteria tended to have
more pain, worse sleep,
more gastrointestinal
symptoms, less energy,
and more severe
symptoms overall...
1. Sue K (2017). The science behind “man flu”.
BMJ, 359, j5560.
2. Flak MB et al (2013). Welcome to the
microgenderome. Sci, 339(6123), 1044-1045.
3. Markle JG et al (2013). Sex differences in the
gut microbiome drive hormone-dependent
regulation of autoimmunity. Sci, 339(6123),
...In each case, scientists
found that there
were sex-dependant
differences in the
microbiomes despite the
diet being exactly the
same for both sexes...
be three times the number of men. Even
considering the accepted reluctance of
some men to see the doctor, this is still
a big difference. And according to one
study, women were much more likely to
have constipation, bloating and abdominal
pain as part of their IBS symptoms,
whereas men were more likely to have
diarrhoea-related symptoms. Whether
this is because there are different
species of bacteria in the gut is yet to be
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
In the same year as Markle’s study
(2013), a team in Australia also made a
fascinating discovery into how different
species of gut bacteria could influence
the symptoms experienced by men and
women suffering from CFS.4
This study was a human trial, and
focused on three specific bacteria. After
measuring symptoms and taking stool
samples, it was found that women with
higher levels of the bacteria Clostridium
had more severe symptoms of CFS,
including poor sleep and a weakened
immune system. Conversely, men fared
better with higher amounts of Clostridium,
leading to better mood and energy.
But the reverse situation occurred with
the Lactobacillus bacteria. Men with more
Lactobacillus had more severe symptoms
overall, whereas women appeared to be
Finally, men with higher levels
of Streptococcus bacteria tended to
have more pain, worse sleep, more
gastrointestinal symptoms, less energy,
and more severe symptoms overall,
whereas women with higher levels of
Streptococcus bacteria experienced less
pain, and less impaired immunity.
We could possibly conclude from
this that men with CFS should take
great caution when taking probiotic
supplements, particularly those
containing Lactobacillus cultures.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
The microgenderome may also explain
why there are differences between men
and women in the frequency and severity
of IBS.
The number of women seeking
medical advice for IBS is estimated to
Diet and the microbiome
Looking at the research, there seems
to be little understanding of how the
microbiomes of males and females could
end up being different. A comprehensive
review of diet and the microbiome
published in the British Journal of Nutrition
in 2015 found evidence that type of
birth (vaginal or caesarean) and breast
feeding all impacted the diversity of the
microbiome, as did interacting with a
family pet, and that it is from birth to
three-years-old when our microbiome
develops.6 After the age of three, the
microbiome stabilises and variation of gut
species is influenced by long-term dietary
But one study that may provide some
clues as to how male and female gut
bacteria could be influenced by diet
described an experiment carried out
on two species of fish, on mice, and on
humans.7 In each case, scientists found
that there were sex-dependant differences
in the microbiomes despite the diet
being exactly the same for both sexes.
For example, it was observed that when
mice were fed a high-fat diet, the male
mice developed a wider range of different
species in the microbiome than the female
mice. This suggests the possibility that
the microbiome of males and females may
respond differently to fat or carbohydrate
in the diet.
However, there is a long way to go
before we fully understand the complex
relationship between biological sex, the
microbiome, and immunity. However,
one study has pointed to an interaction
between gut microbes and DNA. Could
the microbiome’s clever bacteria just
read our DNA and adjust their behaviour
4. Wallis A et al (2016). Support for the
microgenderome: Associations in a human
clinical population. Sci Rep, 6.
5. Anbardan SJ (2012). Gender role in irritable
bowel syndrome: A comparison of irritable
bowel syndrome module between male &
female patients. J of Neurogast & Mot, 18(1), 70.
6. Xu Z & Knight R (2015). Dietary effects on
human gut microbiome diversity. Brit J of Nutr.
113(S1), S1-S5.
7. Bolnick DI et al (2014). Individual diet has sexdependent effects on vertebrate gut microbiota.
Nat Comms. 5, ncomms5500.
8. Bonder MJ et al (2016). The effect of host
genetics on the gut microbiome. Nat Gen.
48(11), 1407.
As the temperature climbs during spring and summer, salads start to look much more appealing.
For some, however, a ‘raw food’ diet is a way of life all year round. Jenna Sinclair writes
f you have never heard of the concept,
‘raw food’ (in the context of a lifestyle
diet, and not just the contents of the
veggie drawer in your refrigerator) is
food that has never been heated above
40–48C. It might sound like nothing
more than a plate-full of crudités, but
it can be much more adventurous
than that, with some restaurants even
specialising in it as a type of cuisine,
using alternative preparation methods
such as juicing, sprouting, blending,
dehydrating and soaking — some of
which are necessary with some foods to
ensure proper digestion.
Fans of raw food claim that there
are many associated health benefits
including higher energy levels, clearer
skin, improved digestion, and reduced
risks of cancer, heart disease and
diabetes. It is also claimed that following
a raw food diet can stabilise blood
sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and
help promote weight-loss — although,
arguably, such health benefits may
simply be due to the fact that it entails
eating a large amount of fruit and
vegetables and no processed foods.
Registered nutritionist Minna Wood
explains that part of the benefit of a raw
food diet comes from taking in beneficial
enzymes that are released from plant
cells when vegetables are cut. These
enzymes “play a role in the production of
certain phytochemicals with anti-oxidant,
anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour or other
beneficial activities,” she says.
“The main argument for not cooking
food above 47C is to preserve enzymes
and nutrients that higher temperature
cooking destroys or decreases.”
Conserving nutrients
And there is evidence that cooking does
affect the nutrient content of food. For
example, one study on the effects of
cooking on the vitamin C content of
broccoli, spinach, and lettuce found
steaming to be the least destructive
method, and boiling the most — resulting
in a higher loss of vitamin C (see table).1
Some nutrients, however, need cooking
to help us absorb them. Beta-carotene
(provitamin A), found in vegetables such
Percentage of vitamin C
lost through cooking
Cooking also helps
remove substances that
can impact nutrient
absorption or affect
as butternut squash, peppers, spinach,
carrots, kale and sweet potato, and which
is an essential carotenoid beneficial
for eyesight, skin health and protecting
the body from free radicals, is better
absorbed when cooked.2
Cooking also helps remove substances
that can impact nutrient absorption or
affect digestion. Wood says that raw
food diets are high in foods such as nuts,
seeds, and raw cacao; and that some
raw foodists also consume grains and
beans which contain substances such
as phytates and lectins. “Anti-nutrients
are present in a lot of foods,” she says.
“These substances are compounds
produced by plants to protect themselves
from insects, and require inactivation by
cooking to avoid possible undesirable
“Enzyme inhibitors can cause poor
digestive function, due to the inhibitory
activity of these compounds on the
enzymes needed for the digestion of
This is backed up by evidence. Found
in cereals, legumes, oil seeds and nuts,
phytic acid is the major storage form
of phosphorous which seeds need to
grow. However, phytic acid also inhibits
absorption of micronutrients such as
vitamins and minerals. This is where
preparing methods such as sprouting,
soaking, or fermenting are used.3
Most people who follow a raw food
diet will also keep to a plant-based diet.
Wood says: “Although eating raw meat is
less common and not always advisable,
raw fish is a common inclusion in many
diets worldwide, e.g. sashimi in Japan,
ceviche in Latin-America, carpaccio in
Italy and gravadlax in Scandinavia.
“Polyunsaturated omega oils in oily fish
can be easily damaged by heat, therefore
raw fish or fish that is still moist and
slightly uncooked inside will have more
of the beneficial oils intact.”
However, eating raw fish is not without
risk. Recently it was widely reported that
a man in California went to A&E after
passing a 5’ 6” (167 cm) tapeworm. It
was believed that he was infected with
the worm after eating sashimi (raw fish).
Public perception
Whether raw food grows in popularity
remains to be seen. Rob Trounce,
who runs Purezza, a vegan pizzeria in
Brighton, East Sussex, says he and his
colleagues are passionate about raw food
but that raw food businesses “have an
uphill struggle” to convince the public.
“We find people’s perception of raw
food is sometimes a negative one. We’ve
all heard the stereotype of vegan food
being ‘rabbit food’ but we think that
stereotype has moved to raw food now.
“It’s sad, because when we see people
try raw food, the reaction is ‘that was
actually really good’ — as if they were
going in with expectations of it being
Trounce says businesses must ensure
that raw food gives a good impression
from the start. “People may only try raw
food once, and we have to make sure it’s
a positive experience,” he says. “Balance
the meal well with hearty plant-based
fats like avocado to ensure it feels
indulgent and not like, well, rabbit food.”
Trounce adds that removing the word
‘raw’ can also help overcome negative
perceptions. “It’s also interesting to us
how simply not using the word ‘raw’ can
...what the concept of the
raw food diet may do is
to get us to rethink how
we cook our foods...
change someone’s thoughts around a
food. Our sharing cheese platter is one of
our biggest selling items, and almost no
one realises it’s made with raw nut-based
cheeses unless we mention it.”
In reality, however, to get balanced
nutrition from a raw food diet requires
time, thought, and lots of preparation
— possibly more preparation than
normal cooking needs. And once
winter reappears, will it really keep us
satisfied throughout the colder months?
Nevertheless, what the concept of the
raw food diet may do is to get us to
rethink how — or whether — we need to
cook our foods.
Anyone thinking of radically changing
their diet should speak to a healthcare
professional such as a doctor or
registered nutritional therapist.
Minna Wood can be contacted through:
1. Zeng C (2013). Effects of different cooking
methods on the vitamin C content of selected
vegetables. Nutr & Food Sci. 43(5), 438-443.
2. Talcott ST et al (2000). Antioxidant changes
and sensory properties of carrot puree
processed with and without periderm tissue. J
of Agr and Food Chem. 48(4), 1315-1321.
3. Gupta RK (2015). Reduction of phytic acid and
enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients
in food grains. J of Food Sci and Tech. 52(2),
The growing range of alcohol-free wines, beers and ciders means there’s more choice beyond
fizzy drinks and sugary mocktails. Louise Wates writes why she has become something of a fan
ast Christmas, for the third year in a
row, I was the designated-driver. But
what made me really sulk (for the
third time) was the fact that one of my
passengers doesn’t even drink alcohol
— she just doesn’t like driving in the
mid-winter dark. So, yet again, a glass of
Christmas bubbly was out of bounds. But
this time, instead of grumping about it all
December, I took action and investigated
my options. Soft drinks would be on offer...
and colas and juice were my designateddriver go-to choices for years... but having
experienced too many restless nights after
getting tanked up on the sugar, sweeteners,
and caffeine in colas, I rarely touch them
now — they were only a convenient option
anyway. And more than one orange juice
was always too sickly for my taste — no
surprises that it is as sugary as fizzy pop.
So, deciding to visit the concept of
alcohol-free wine, I found myself staring
at a row of unfamiliar bottles in my local
supermarket. Eventually, after getting a
recommendation from a total stranger
(whose word, I decided, was as good as
anyone’s), I chose a bottle of fancy-looking,
low-alcohol sparkling stuff.
Did it do the job on Christmas day? Yes,
and here’s how...
While it was sweeter than I’d expect
from bubbly, it looked like bubbly, popped
its cork like bubbly, and — for me — filled
a psychological and taste gap. It was also
(for me) more palatable than cola, more
exciting than juice or water, and more
celebratory than a cup of tea. It also cost
less than four quid. So, when there was a
glass or so left in the bottle, it didn’t break
my heart to pour it away.
Since then, I quite like an occasional
what my partner calls “wine with the fun
taken out”. A glass of alcohol-free Cabernet
Sauvignon does not taste like a glass of
full-welly Cabernet Sauvignon but can taste
pleasant and has the same beautiful colour.
So, it may be the drinks version of a veggie
sausage, but speaking as a meat-eater,
I’d say there are some darn good veggie
sausages out there, too.
Lizzie, a friend who I recently discovered
prefers her booze booze-free, agrees.
“I started drinking them out of a not
unreasonable concern that alcohol was
playing too frequent a role in my life —
whether at home or socialising, it was
everywhere,” she says. She likes low- and
alcohol-free drinks because she “wanted
to have the relaxing taste and feeling of a
grown-up drink without the hangover”.
Yet being an occasional or total teetotal
is not easy because it seems it’s not just
teenagers clustered around a bottle of
cheap cider who drink to impress their
mates. Last year, a Drinkaware/YouGov
survey found that even adults will give in
to peer-pressure. Almost half (47 per cent)
of men aged 35-75 drank alcohol “to fit in,
be liked or to not feel left out”. The same
applied to 36 per cent of women surveyed.
Whilst Lizzie’s friends have been
supportive, she has been teased for staying
sober. As we sit in her car judging the
merits of an alcohol-free sparkling wine
that we quaff out of green, plastic wine
glasses, she explains how people who have
laughed at her for not drinking alcohol have
then asked her to drive them home at the
end of the evening.
Lizzie isn’t anti-alcohol; if she were at
“I started drinking
them out of a not
unreasonable concern
that alcohol was
playing too frequent a
role in my life”
an event like a wedding and only alcohol
were on offer, she would drink it. But we
are convinced that if the sparkling wine
we are drinking were offered at a wedding
and nobody said it was alcohol-free, many
people wouldn’t notice the difference.
Pour it into a Champagne flute and pop in
a strawberry, and (we decide) it would be
pretty indistinguishable from the real thing.
At least, that is what we think.
And there is certainly something
pleasurable in the ritual of alcohol. The
pop of a cork, whether it be from a bottle
of Champagne or sparkling pressé, can be
very satisfying, as can sipping something
summery from an elegant glass. There is
also evidence to show that we don’t have to
drink alcohol to behave as if we have. One
study found that people who drank tonic
water but were told that it contained vodka
had impaired judgement and memory
afterwards.1 Even our own office tasting of
a selection of alcohol-free wines created a
party atmosphere.
Like Lizzie, I had bought low-alcohol wine
because I wanted a ‘grown-up’ drink when I
couldn’t drink alcohol. Lizzie, however, was
motivated by health and wanting to wake up
in the morning feeling refreshed. “I just feel
better for not drinking alcohol,” she says.
Evidence on the impact of alcohol
is mixed. Although moderate alcohol
consumption (e.g. a small glass of wine a
day) has long been reported to have health
benefits such as being protective against
heart disease and stroke, last year the
findings of researchers at the University of
Cambridge and University College London
resulted in recommendations for a “more
nuanced approach”, as moderate and heavy
alcohol consumption did not carry the same
risk for all cardiovascular diseases.2
The evidence is also mixed when it
comes to brain health. While low levels
of alcohol consumption may be beneficial
...low-alcohol sparkling
wine I took to a New
Year’s party was
immediately banished
to the garden, never to
be seen again...
for preventing Alzheimer’s,3 last year a
30-year observational study reported that
even “moderate drinkers” (14-21 units a
week) “had three times the odds of right
sided hippocampal atrophy” [degeneration
of the hippocampus, which is important
for memory].4 However, more research is
needed on types of alcohol, differences
between the sexes, and other lifestyle
Regardless, however, hopping on the
wagon, even occasionally, can be difficult
without support. One bottle of alcohol-free
sparkling wine I took to a New Year’s party
(with a view to alternating it with Prosecco)
was immediately banished to the garden,
never to be seen again.
One Year No Beer (OYNB), a programme
started by former professional footballer
Andy Ramage, advises its members on
ways to “stealth” drink — and gives tips on
how “to survive ANY (sic) booze session
completely alcohol-free without anyone
A spokesperson for OYNB said: “People
are still under the impression they need
alcohol to be successful, to have a good
time, to celebrate anything — and going
against that is hard.” And this is where lowand alcohol-free versions can help.
“Placebos have been proven to work 33
per cent of the time,” he says. “So alcoholfree alternatives are crucial to those early
stages of going alcohol-free. You are trying
to re-wire your brain to go against years
of social conditioning and peer-pressure,
which is tough and why having a [low- or
alcohol-free] beer in your hand at the bar
will dramatically reduce that peer-pressure.
Reaching for a cold [low- or alcohol-free]
beer from the fridge on Friday will help you
overcome those weekend cravings.
“Very quickly you get all the benefits
of having a refreshing drink without the
negatives of alcohol and you realise you just
don’t need it. Most people use alcoholfree drinks in the early days and then
reduce down to only having them in social
occasions or when they are really triggered.”
He added that the growth of the
alcohol-free industry was “a clear sign” that
times were changing, and why OYNB was
Ironically, however, there seems to be
more resistance to alcohol-free wine than
to sugary soft drinks; and a comment
I frequently hear — sadly even from a
child quoting her parent — is: “What’s
the point?” But I would argue there is as
much point in an alcohol-free beer as in
any soft drink choice when alcohol is not
appropriate. And because alcohol-free
booze can be lower in sugar and calories
than their alcoholic versions, or compared
to many fizzy drinks and juices, there are
potential health benefits to be had — at
least to our waistlines and blood sugar
levels. (Always check the label. Alcoholfree does not mean sugar-free or caloriefree!) Although, as for whether alcohol-free
wine retains properties associated with
health benefits, such as resveratrol and
tannins, we asked one major producer but
had not received a reply when going to
Finally, with some alcohol-free drinks
costing much less than a pint in the pub,
they could be worth experimenting with. If
the taste isn’t entirely to your liking, a bit
of mixology can make all the difference,
such as adding soda water or ice to reduce
sweetness (as we discovered with a sugary
but tasty fruit cider), or berries, cucumber...
even a paper umbrella to make it more
And if all else fails, a jug of cold water
with some fresh mint leaves can be lovely
too. So shall we all raise a glass to that?
Further information can be found at:
One Year No Beer:
• Alcohol is shown as a percentage
of the whole drink, with ABV
(alcohol by volume) on the label.
E.g. beer labelled as “5% ABV”
contains 5 per cent pure alcohol
• ‘Low-alcohol’ refers to drinks with
an ABV of 0.5 to 1.2 per cent
• ‘Reduced alcohol’ means a drink
has an alcohol content lower than
the average strength of a particular
type of drink. For example, wine
with 5.5 per cent ABV is a reducedalcohol wine, rather than a lowalcohol wine
• By UK law, alcohol-free drinks can
contain a very small amount of
alcohol (less than 0.05 per cent)
1. Assefi SL & Garry M (2003). Absolut®
memory distortions: Alcohol placebos
influence the misinformation effect. Psy Sci,
14.1: 77-80.
2. Bell S et al (2018). Association between
clinically recorded alcohol consumption
and initial presentation of 12 cardiovascular
diseases: Population based cohort study using
linked health records. BMJ 356: j909.
3. Lundgaard I et al (2018). Beneficial effects of
low alcohol exposure, but adverse effects of
high alcohol intake on glymphatic function. Sci
Reports 8.1 (2018): 2246.
4. Topiwala A et al (2017). Moderate alcohol
consumption as risk factor for adverse brain
outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal
cohort study. BMJ, 357: j2353.
We tried 14 alcohol-free (0.05 per cent) and low-alcohol wines (0.5 per cent) that can
be found on the highstreet. Here are our top seven ranked in order of preference.
Optimum Nutrition tip: When choosing a soft drink option, you may want to consider the
sugar per serving. As a comparison, 100 ml of orange juice has 44.7 kcal and 10 g/10 g
of carb/sugars. A cola has around 42 kcal and 10.6 g/10.6 g carb/sugars.
Kcal per 100 Carb/
Sugars (g
Sainsbury’s Alcohol Free Sparkling
Sainsbury’s Aromatised Low Alcohol Chardonnay
Sparkling Wine, Taste the Difference
Söhnlein Brilliant Sparkling White
Tesco Low Alcohol Sparkling White Wine
Natureo De-Alcoholised Wine Muscat
Sainsbury’s Low Alcohol Sauvignon Blanc
Taste the Difference
Rawsons Retreat Cabernet
(as ranked by our taste testers)
per 100 ml)
Trying to make positive changes to our diet can often be overwhelming, so sometimes it can be
helpful to deal with one habit at a time. Ellie Smith looks at how fizzy drinks can impact health
here’s nothing quite like an ice-cold
can of cola on a summer’s day — so
the advertisers tell us. The sound of
the can clicking open, the sweet sugary
taste, the fizz slipping neatly down the
throat, that little burst of energy from
the caffeine. But have you thought about
what’s happening to your body?
According to British pharmacist Niraj
Naik, writing on his website The Renegade
Pharmacist, after just 10 minutes: “Ten
teaspoons of sugar hit your system (100
per cent of your recommended daily
intake). You don’t immediately vomit from
the overwhelming sweetness because the
phosphoric acid cuts the flavour allowing
you to keep it down.”1
Actually, Naik isn’t completely correct.
Ten teaspoons of sugar are more than
100 per cent of the recommended daily
intake... however, in an infographic based
on research by health writer Wade
Meredith, Naik says that after 40 minutes,
your pupils will have dilated and your
blood pressure will have risen. Then, at 45
minutes: “Your body ups your dopamine
production stimulating the pleasure
centres of your brain” which, Naik adds,
“is the same way heroin works”. Within an
hour, Naik concludes, you’ll have a sugar
crash, and might end up feeling irritable
and sluggish.
Hearing this, it’s no surprise that
fizzy drinks have become public health
enemy number one in recent years. We
are increasingly warned against them
as more and more evidence surfaces
demonstrating how detrimental they can
be to our health.
Yet so many of us are still drinking
them: it is estimated that overall in the UK
per year, we consume 100 litres of fizzy
drinks per person, while 1.8 billion bottles
of Coca-Cola are sold around the world
every day. For some of us, fizzy drinks are
that one habit that we can’t quite kick. But
should we be working harder to change
Health impacts
There are a plethora of health concerns
surrounding fizzy drinks, some of which
stem from their notoriously high-sugar
content. The war on sugar has soared
into full force in the past few years, with
fizzy drinks being top of the firing line.
As a result, the British government has
introduced a tax on sugary drinks, which
comes into force this April.
According to Cancer Research UK, a
20 per cent sugar tax could prevent 3.7
million cases of obesity in the next 10
years. And in a recent review of 30 studies
involving almost a quarter of a million
people, almost all found a link between
fizzy drinks and weight-gain.2 This is
particularly worrying at a time when
obesity figures are so high — more than
a quarter of adults in Britain are obese,
which is higher than any other country in
Western Europe.
Studies have also linked fizzy drink
consumption with an increased risk
of diabetes. In a Scientific Advisory
Committee on Nutrition report, sugar
and sugary drinks were highlighted as
significant contributors to type 2 diabetes.
And there’s evidence to support this — a
2016 Swedish study, for instance, found
two fizzy drinks a day was associated
with an increased risk of developing the
disease.3 The study on 2,800 adults,
carried out by the Karolinska Institute,
found that those who consumed at least
200 ml servings of fizzy drinks daily were
2.4 times as likely to suffer a form of type
2 diabetes. The authors said that soft
It has also been
suggested that just the
fizz itself might be a
drinks may influence glucose metabolism
and insulin sensitivity, resulting in an
increased risk of latent auto-immune
diabetes, a form of type 2 diabetes.
Of course, there are the ‘zero-sugar’
diet versions of our carbonated favourites
to give us the sweet taste without the
calories, but is this really a guilt-free
alternative? Weight-loss clubs such as
Slimming World and Weight Watchers
have typically classified diet drinks as
‘free foods’ alongside water and green
vegetables, which means members
don’t need to track how much of it they
consume. But research suggests this
position might be unhelpful. Yes, diet
fizzy drinks don’t contain any sugar, but it
seems that the sweet taste doesn’t come
without a catch.
What the Karolinska Institute study
found was that, regardless of whether
fizzy drinks were sugary or artificially
sweetened, the increased risk of type 2
diabetes was the same. While the authors
stated that further research was needed,
the findings did flag up diet drinks as
being potentially no better than so-called
‘full-fat’ versions.
Studies have suggested that artificial
sweeteners may stimulate and distort
appetite, increasing food intake and
encouraging a sweet tooth, which can
lead to weight-gain. But it has also been
suggested that just the fizz itself might be
a problem. Last year, it was reported that
a small study (on 20 men) carried out by
scientists at Birzeit University in Palestine
had found that just drinking carbonated
water raised blood levels of the hunger
hormone ghrelin.4
This potential for fizz to affect appetite
was also recently explored in the BBC’s
documentary series Trust Me I’m A Doctor,
in which a small study compared the
effects of a sugary fizzy drink, a flat glass
of the same drink, a glass of fizzy water,
or a glass of still water. Results for the
carbonated drinks showed approximately
50 per cent higher ghrelin levels than the
combined results for the non-carbonated
drinks. There was also a slight increase in
ghrelin levels in volunteers who had only
drunk plain carbonated water.5
Phasing out the fizz
But how easy is it for habitual drinkers
to cut ties with their favourite fizz? Jane
Ogden, professor of health psychology
at the University of Surrey and author of
The Psychology of Eating, suggests adding
something to fill the void. “Brew a herbal
tea, or infuse a jug of water with chopped
cucumber and mint,” she says.
Registered nutritionist Elspeth Lee says
that to help a client reduce or cut out fizzy
drinks, she would work with them initially
to find out what they most enjoyed about
it “...the general taste or sugary hit, the
social environment in which they are
drinking it, or relaxation at the end of a
busy day”.
Lee says she would explain the effects
that sugary or caffeinated drinks have on
blood sugar balance, and how they can
lead to over-consumption of other sugary
drinks or foods, but reducing or cutting
them out would depend upon the client.
“I’d do some goal-setting that suited
where they were at, and readiness and
desire to reduce.” If there was one drink
that they got more pleasure from she
would encourage them to drink it slowly
and savour it — in the short-term at least
— but to try alternative drinks at other
Lee would also encourage clients to
avoid caffeinated drinks after the morning,
and would encourage drinking water
“perhaps with lemon, lime, cucumber,
strawberry slices etc., as they like” before
“Do you really want
what is in the can or...
do you just want some
fresh air — or some
time to pause?”
they reach for the fizz to reduce their
thirst. But when clients do want to drink
a sugary drink, she says she might also
encourage a small protein/fat snack to
reduce the blood sugar balance hit, or
suggest they drink them with meals.
Withdrawal symptoms
Whilst there are long-term benefits in
giving up the fizz, initially people who
drink many in a day and who try to give
up might expect to experience headaches,
irritability, and even poor sleep. Because
of this, Lee advises to reduce the habit
Ogden also advises us to think about
the context in which we drink fizzy drinks.
“Do you really want what is in the can or,
instead, do you just want some fresh air —
or some time to pause?” she says.
So perhaps try that the next time you
reach for a can of the sweet stuff. Your
body will thank you for it.
Carbonated drinks are the “biggest
factor” in tooth erosion in children.
In 2016-17, the number of hospital
operations to remove children’s teeth
in England increased to nearly 43,000
with doctors saying many of the tooth
extractions were caused by children
consuming too many sugary drinks.6
Regular and diet fizzy drinks often
contain phosphoric acid, which can
cause tooth erosion — meaning zerosugar drinks can be bad for our dental
health too.
Artificially-sweetened drinks may not
be a good choice for your gut health.
A study on mice found that artificial
sweetener consumption induces
glucose intolerance by functionally
altering the microbiome.7
A large study in the US of couples
trying to conceive has found daily
consumption of sugar-sweetened fizzy
drinks to be associated with lower
fertility. No association was found with
diet drinks.8
1. Naik N (2015). What Happens One
Hour After Drinking A Can of Coke.
2. Luger M et al (2017). Sugar-sweetened
beverages and weight gain in children and
adults: A systematic review from 2013 to 2015
and a comparison with previous studies. Obesity
Facts; 10(6):674-693.
3. Löfvenborg JE et al (2016). Sweetened beverages
increase the risk of autoimmune diabetes. Euro J
of Endocrin. 175.6: 605-614.
4. Eweis SD et al (2017). Carbon dioxide in
carbonated beverages induces ghrelin release
and increased food consumption in male rats:
Implications on the onset of obesity. Obesity Res
and Clin Prac. [Published online 19.02.2017.]
6. Milosevic A et al (2004). Epidemiological
studies of tooth wear and dental erosion in 14
year old children in North West England. Part 2:
The association of diet and habits. British Dental
J, 197: 479-483.
7. Suez J et al (2015). Non-calorific artificial
sweeteners and the microbiome: Findings and
challenges. Gut Microbes, 6(2),149-155.
8. Hatch EE et al (2018). Intake of sugarsweetened beverages and fecundability in a
North American preconception cohort. Epidem,
(Cambridge, Mass.).
Tired of seeing the children in his village becoming overweight and unhealthy, Max MacGillivray
wondered how to get them interested in eating fresh food. He spoke to Louise Wates about how a
trip through Africa got kids talking — and in the case of one child, eating an apple for the first time
n November 2016, Max MacGillivray
and his friend Gareth Jones got on
their motorbikes to take British school
children on a virtual journey through
Before they left, they set up a website
and put trackers on the bikes so that kids
at home could follow them throughout
their journey, and ask questions along the
way. So simple so far.
Why did they do it? “To cure obesity,”
says MacGillivray. So, maybe not so
Obviously going to Africa can’t cure
obesity in the UK. But what it did, as
intended, was to get British children
interested in fresh fruit and vegetables;
something MacGillivray believes is the
first step towards fighting obesity.
“There’s too much fudging around the
edges as to why we’ve got a huge obesity
rate and why we’ve got a huge diabetes
issue,” he says. “To me the answer is
straightforward. Exercise more and eat
more fresh produce. We don’t have to
overcomplicate it.”
With nearly two decades of
experience in the fresh produce sector
(he heads Red Fox Executive, which
recruits management to the industry),
MacGillivray understands the problems
that producers face in getting their
products into our children’s tummies — a
major one being financial.
“There are 50 leading companies in
fresh produce in the UK,” he says. “They
turn over eight and a half billion pounds
but, unbelievably, they don’t make
enough margin to be able to create any
form of marketing.
“If you compare that to the likes of
energy drinks — without naming any
— because they are a brand, they can
command leverage with retailers and
customers, and so they get a very high
Being able to make a decent profit, he
says, also means that those companies
can then afford to sponsor athletes and
celebrities, generating further marketing
power for their product.
“You’ve got these energy drinks
which are full of caffeine and sugar, and
you’ve got international sports stars
being sponsored by them to excite
kids into drinking energy drinks.” It’s
not an unfamiliar concern — recently
because of health concerns, most major
supermarkets banned sales of energy
drinks to under-16s. He says the ban
is “fantastic” and hopes that it will
eventually lead to restrictions similar to
those imposed on tobacco.
“I see the frustration of my clients,”
says MacGillivray. “One sells all the
Max MacGillivray
“There’s too much
fudging around the
edges as to why we’ve
got a huge obesity rate
and why we’ve got a
huge diabetes issue”
oranges to UK supermarkets and they
make a one per cent, two per cent
margin... they don’t make enough money
to create any marketing campaigns to
get kids, schools and the families excited
about eating fresh produce. So we
thought ‘we’ll do it’.”
Anything that gets people eating
more fresh produce can only be good
for MacGillivray’s clients, but he also
believes that when it comes to the
obesity crisis, there is too much talk and
too little action.
“On my route to work every morning,
I go past the village post office, and I see
the same kids going into that village post
office and buying two cans of energy
drink for their breakfast, and going onto
the coach, and I see them ballooning, just
getting bigger and bigger.”
MacGillivray found himself wondering
how he could help.
“It was three years in the making and
we thought we had to do something
different. The likes of the five a day
campaign are very grey — they don’t
excite anyone. To me, for kids, you’ve got
to do something that’s a bit crazy, a bit
disruptive, a bit dangerous, a bit exciting.
So we thought we’d create an adventure.
And where is exciting and full of smiles?
MacGillivray got in touch with business
contacts in Africa to find out if they
could help, and was overwhelmed with a
positive response. “We got a tsunami of
support and it suddenly came alive.
“We put the word out through our
networks and very quickly it got picked
up because of the excitement we
generated. We did lots of TV and press,
trade press, and also set up a competition
through one of our main sponsors, Pink
Lady apples, that if the schools followed
us we would have a lottery at the end
of the trip. Three schools would gain
me to come to the school with my trip
motorbike to present to them about my
trip through Africa, and the school would
win a Pink Lady apple for every kid in
the school. So we managed to create
that buzz, that excitement, and get the
schools to follow us.”
Finally, in November 2016,
MacGillivray and Jones set off from New
Spitalfields market — the largest fresh
produce market in the UK — waved off by
around 250 people. It took three months,
18,000 kilometres and 16 countries to get
all the way through Africa to Cape Town.
“We had 500 schools — so that’s quarter
a million of kids in the UK following
us. We gained 100,000 likes on our
Facebook page, and very good numbers
on the likes of Twitter and Instagram. And
since we’ve been back we’ve presented to
30 schools and appeared at Chris Evans’
Aided by social media, the website, and
the motorbike trackers, children in the
UK were able to follow MacGillivray and
Jones and ask them questions along the
way. Even geography teachers were using
the trip as a way to engage children’s
interest, getting pupils to ask questions
about the countries that MacGillivray and
Jones drove through.
“We got some amazing questions
because, like me, most of these children
had never experienced Africa. We got
some really in-depth questions all the
way through to ‘Max are you wearing
a bullet-proof jacket?’. They asked
questions like what products were we
seeing, what were the locals like, how
do they get the fresh produce to the UK,
what were the schools like, what was the
weather like? There was a lovely level of
“... 50 leading
companies in fresh
produce in the UK...
turn over eight and
a half billion pounds
but... they don’t make
enough margin to be
able to create any form
of marketing”
questioning all the way through.”
When it came to his own learning
experience, MacGillivray says that what
stood out for him was how little many
children knew about fresh produce — and
how many children do not eat it on a
regular basis.
“I think it’s probably six out of 10
children have no understanding of
where fresh produce comes from,” he
says. “Fifty per cent of teenagers don’t
have any form of fresh produce on a
daily basis.” So for him, it was valuable
“to educate them in a fun manner as to
where spring onions come from, where
radishes come from, where grapes come
from, where coconut comes from... rather
than them thinking it just comes from a
supermarket and not understanding the
fantastic breadth of growing, the families
Once back home, MacGillivray headed
out to see some of the schools and
children that had been following the trip.
“It was fascinating when I was doing the
presentations back in the UK... getting
these kids excited about produce and
then handing them something like a Pink
Lady apple, and seeing them eat that.
“The response that we got from both
Pink Lady and the schools was that the
children were wanting to eat and explore
more fresh produce because of what they
had learnt through us.”
Yet it is one child that MacGillivray
particularly remembers. “I was handing
out an apple to each kid and asking them
what their veg [of choice] is going to
be and what’s their favourite exercise.
Halfway through this line-up of kids,
there was a nine-year-old boy who
refused to take an apple. I could see
there was something up with him. After
we got through all the kids I asked this
child — Anthony — ‘Anthony why did you
not want to eat this apple?’. So this child,
aged nine, stated he’d never eaten an
apple. So out of curiosity I said ‘Anthony,
tell me have you ever had one of these?’,
and I held up a can of energy drink — I
“...probably six out
of 10 children have
no understanding of
where fresh produce
comes from. Fifty per
cent of teenagers don’t
have any form of fresh
produce on a daily
“...the average kid
has to walk past 23
takeaways from their
front door to school.
Takeaways are selling
pizza at a pound a
use it in my performance to show how
much sugar is in one of these cans. This
is a Tuesday, 10.30 in the morning ‘Yes
Max, I had one of those for breakfast.’
‘Anthony will you have another one of
these today?’ ‘Yes I’ll have another one
with my tea later on’.”
MacGillivray mentions energy drinks
several times during our conversation,
and this incident in particular made a
deep impression on him. He says that
through the school and Pink Lady apples
it was arranged to have two boxes
of apples — about 180-200 apples
— delivered to Anthony’s home the
following week. He says that later that
week, the mother came into the school
“in tears” to see the head, and said that
she was going to make a change. “I still
can’t believe it today,” he says, “that this
child had never eaten an apple, aged nine,
but was merrily drinking sugary drinks.”
But even if parents are willing to feed
their children healthy food, families
still have to contend with the local
“I was recently contacted by a special
needs teacher in Tolworth in South
London. She was saying they have a huge
obesity problem in Tolworth because the
schools don’t have any playgrounds for
exercise and the average kid has to walk
past 23 takeaways from their front door
to school. Takeaways are selling pizza at
a pound a slice, no fresh produce — and
don’t start me on the energy drinks again
— so these kids are just being drip-fed
this horrible mix of products and getting
ill on the back of it.”
The problem with dealing with the
obesity problem today, he says, is that
public policy works too slowly. And even
then, he believes that health campaigns
are usually too dull to engage the
children. “When I’ve met [policy makers]
before, my direct question to them has
been ‘how may schools have you gone
into to present to kids to get them excited
about eating properly?’. And I get a
blank expression from the bulk of them
and they say ‘it’s not our job to do so’ —
which it’s not.
“My view is that they all have to be
more disruptive, that the only way to
get kids to stop drinking energy drinks,
to start eating more fresh produce, is to
show them a different way.
“I’ve been to many of these talking
shops but no one is going in and sticking
an apple in front of Anthony and saying
‘Anthony, eat this instead of drinking
that’. There’s too much talk and not
enough action. So we just got on with
what we did.”
And when it comes to convincing
parents to take an interest, MacGillivray
says that it is “pester power” that will
make the difference.
“If we are directly giving kids amazing
fresh produce to enjoy… like when we
gave kids a Pink Lady apple... kids who
haven’t had a Pink Lady apple, when they
bite into it for the first time and feel that
fizz in their mouth for the first time — and
I’ve shown them the great story about
the family in South Africa that has grown
that apple — the feedback that we’ve had
from teachers and parents is that these
kids... when they wander into whatever
retailer it is, they are running into the
fresh produce section looking for Pink
Lady apples, grabbing them and putting
them in Mum and Dad’s shopping basket.
So it’s pester power. It’s being disruptive,
get the kids to do the work for us rather
than having to educate the parents who
might not be as interested in buying fresh
But it isn’t possible to reach all the
UK’s children and still hang on to the day
job. “It’s fantastic but it’s inefficient,”
says MacGillivray. So he is now looking
at other ways of reaching children to
educate them about fresh produce.
Webinars are mentioned, as are
competitions and link-ups with schools
around the world.
“If there’s a school in London that’s
growing potatoes in a bag in the
playground, and they can hop onto the
website and see what’s happening in
Kenya or Tanzania or America as to how
the other kids are growing [food] it’s just
going to make the world a much smaller
place and get these kids all excited about
fresh produce,” he says. “Mr Red Bull
can’t do that, Mr Monster can’t do that,
Mr jam doughnut can’t do that.”
When they came back from Africa,
MacGillivray and Jones received an
award from the prime minister for
promoting fresh produce “which is
great,” he says. “But there just needs to
be more of that lobbying for everyone
to enjoy and consume fresh produce
rather than [junk foods and drinks]
which, worst case, are going to kill us as
a nation.”
As the days get lighter and warmer, it’s time to throw
off the hats and gloves and embrace lighter, cooling
lunches. These choices from LEON Happy Salads by Jane
Baxter and John Vincent should be a great start
Leon Happy Salads by Jane Baxter and John Vincent is published by Conran
Octopus, £15.99. Image credit: Tamin Jones
Jane and John say: “In Lebanon, where this
salad originates, national tabbouleh day is
celebrated every year on the first Saturday of
July. It’s one of the most popular dishes in the
Middle East, and in both our households too.”
TIME TAKEN 20 mins (plus soaking)
“John makes his with quinoa when he doesn’t
fancy gluten.”
• 50 g (1¾ oz) bulgur wheat
• 50 g (1¾ oz) fresh flat-leaf parsley,
• 20 g (¾ oz) fresh mint, chopped
• 100 g (3½ oz) tomatoes, cored and
• 6 spring onions, chopped
• 2 tbsp lemon juice
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• Pinch of allspice
• Pinch of sumac
• Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Put the bulgur wheat into a bowl and pour
over 100 ml (3½ fl oz) of boiling water. Cover
tightly with clingfilm, leave for 30 minutes (or
until fluffed up), then uncover and leave to
cool. Place the soaked bulgur in a large bowl
and add all the other ingredients. Mix well
and season.
Optimum Nutrition tip
Tabbouleh can act as a delicious base for a
balanced meal. Add your choice of protein for
a satisfying lunch.
PREP TIME 40 mins (plus salting)
COOK TIME 10 mins
• 150 g (5½ oz) mackerel fillets, pinboned*
• 1 tsp salt
• 50 ml (2 fl oz) water
• 50 ml (2 fl oz) white wine vinegar
• 25 g (1 oz) brown sugar
• 50 g (1¾ oz) cooked peas
• 10 small gherkins, sliced
• 1 shallot, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
150 g Israeli couscous, cooked
Handful of lamb’s lettuce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Dry the mackerel well with kitchen paper
and sprinkle with the salt. Leave for about 20
Wipe any excess salt from the fillets and
dry them again. Put them into a bowl. Heat
up the measured water and vinegar with
the sugar until the sugar has dissolved and
the liquid is hot. Pour it over the fish and
leave to ‘cook’. Remove the fish from the
liquid after a few minutes, when it has just
cooked (this will depend on the thickness
of the fillets), and dry well on kitchen paper.
Slice into pieces on the diagonal. Mix the
peas, gherkins, shallot, oil and dill together
and season well. Fold in the mackerel. On a
plate, arrange the couscous and the lamb’s
lettuce. Top with the mackerel and peas and
drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
* “Fried or smoked mackerel can be used in
this salad for speed. Other cooked oily fish
can be used too.”
TIME 15 mins COOK TIME 8 mins
• 100 g (3½ oz) chestnut mushrooms,
• Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
• 2 tbsp mustard mayonnaise
• 1 tbsp chopped chives
1 chicory head, finely sliced
¼ of a radicchio head, finely sliced
1 leek, finely sliced
200–250 g (7–9 oz) sirloin steak
(or another cut)
• 1 tsp olive oil
Mix together the chicory, radicchio and
leek in a large bowl. Heat a griddle pan
until it’s very hot. Brush the steak with
a little olive oil, and season well. Cook
for a couple of minutes on each side and
remove to a plate to rest, uncovered. Add
the mushrooms to the same pan, brown
them for a few minutes, then set to one
Dress the chicory mix with the
mustard mayonnaise, then add the chives
and season. Toss through the cooled
mushrooms. Slice the steak and pop on
top of the dressed salad.
SERVES 4 / PREP TIME 30 mins
COOK TIME 10 mins
(dairy-free/use rice noodles to make
wheat-free/gluten-free — soba (buckwheat) noodles may contain wheat.)
• 4 salmon fillets, about 100 g (3½oz)
• 1 tbsp sesame oil
• 200 g (7 oz) black rice noodles (or
soba noodles)
• 50 g (1¾ oz) spinach, cooked and
• 50 g (1¾ oz) samphire, blanched
• ½ a cucumber, cut into long strips
• 4 spring onions, chopped
• 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
• 1 tbsp black sesame seeds
• Fresh coriander leaves
• Salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 2 cm (¾ “) piece of ginger, finely grated
• 1 clove of garlic, crushed
• Juice of 1 lime
• 2 tsp runny honey
• 50 ml (2fl oz) sunflower oil
• Salt and cayenne pepper
Heat a large griddle pan. Brush the salmon
with the sesame oil and season well. Grill
for 2 minutes on each side, depending on
the thickness of the fillets, until almost
cooked through.
Remove the salmon from the grill and
leave it to rest. Make the dressing by
blending all the ingredients together to
make an emulsion. Cook the noodles in
lots of salted boiling water for 4–5 minutes
and drain well. Refresh with cold water
and toss in a large bowl with the spinach,
samphire, cucumber and dressing.
To serve, place the salmon on top of the
noodles and top with the spring onions,
sesame seeds and coriander leaves.
For knobbly bits of ginger, try using a
teaspoon to peel.
Hannah Robinson puts a spring in her step by experimenting
with nutritious and delicious edible flowers. #nofilterneeded
ecently, it seems that no salad or
smoothie shared on social media
is fully dressed unless it’s artfully
garnished with edible blooms. But
resourceful chefs were cooking with flowers
long before Instagram existed, and a little
dig reveals some fascinating historical
recipes. Aromatic thyme was thought to
cure hangovers and cowardice in medieval
soldiers, while the Tudors drank daisyinfused wine as a cure for insanity.
Though I can’t vouch for the effectiveness
of these cures, I was inspired to throw some
blooms into an everyday meal. The first
question was where to source them. You
can grow or forage of course (but do your
research, as many are highly toxic). Or if it’s
mid-winter, you can always buy dried petals
(Turkish shops have a good selection) or
head to a farmer’s market, where you can
check your blooms are pesticide-free. Prep
fresh by washing and drying on a kitchen
towel. Properly stored, they can keep for
about five days in the fridge.
So, what to make? I was inspired by the
Tansie, a renaissance era omelette that
was often coloured purple with violets or
orange with calendula. Also known as ‘pot
marigold’ or ‘poor man’s saffron’, calendula
has traditionally been used to treat
everything from conjunctivitis, to cramps,
burns, coughs, and even snake bites! Its
reputation as a cure-all might spring from
the fact it’s high in antioxidant and antiinflammatory flavonoids.
The dozen eggs and quart of cream
involved in the traditional Tansie put me
off, so I kept things light and simple. I made
a quick-infused oil, adding a cup of dried
calendula (you can also use fresh petals)
into a jar of olive oil. I then wrapped the
jar in a tea-towel and let it sit inside my
crock pot at the lowest setting for six hours.
The oil has a delicate saffron-like flavour,
which works in a range of recipes (and as a
soothing skin salve). I mixed a quarter of a
cup of grated goat’s cheese, a little salt and
pepper, a tablespoon of my infused oil, and
two whisked eggs, and let the mixture set
for three minutes in a hot, oiled pan.
A good omelette goes perfectly with
salad, and I was itching to try pansies in
mine. With their antimicrobial properties,
pansies have historically been used to treat
everything from cystitis to epilepsy. They
are also all over my insta feed, possibly
because (unlike most edible florals) you
can eat the whole, beautiful bud. The base
of my salad was kale, which I softened by
rubbing with a little oil and salt. I added
toasted sunflower seeds, a lemon and
calendula oil dressing, and the pansies on
top. It looked too good to eat, but when I did
it had a peppery, fresh flavour. So there we
go: a simple dish made extraordinary with
a few everyday blooms. Now even summer
doesn’t seem all that far away.
Tips on using edible flowers
If in doubt, do not eat!
For intense colour and flavour, pick
young flowers and buds on dry
mornings, before the sun becomes too
For best result, use immediately or
refrigerate in a bag for a couple of
Dried or frozen flowers are best used
in infusions or cooked.
Source: RHS. For more tips visit:
ith only two ingredients, the video
of Chickpea and Chocolate Clusters
Recipe — Vegan, Healthy and Easy by Nest
and Glow (@nestandglow) was intriguing.
It was also incredibly easy. Drain and
rinse two cans of chickpeas, spread said
chickpeas on a tray, and bake for 50-60
minutes at 180C/350F, giving them a
shake every 15 minutes. This is to dry out/
crisp the chickpeas. Remove from oven
and place in a pan or bowl with chocolate
(Nest and Glow used what looked like
dark chocolate buttons), using the heat
from the chickpeas to melt the chocolate.
Spoon onto parchment to make little
clusters and leave to set. In the video, the
end result is reminiscent of puffed rice
crispy cakes — bobbly and chocolatey.
I have now used this recipe several
times; settling on 100 g of 85 per cent
cocoa chocolate. I have learnt that it is
wise to give the chickpeas a good rotation
every 15 minutes so that they brown
evenly, and after about 45 minutes pick
out any that have cooked more quickly
before they burn. Burnt chickpeas don’t
taste nice, and under-cooking results in
chewy clusters, which aren’t great. As for
using the heat of the chickpeas to melt the
chocolate... Nest and Glow must live in
a warmer country or have better heating
because in my end-of-winter kitchen,
very little was happening and I had to pop
the bowl into the still-warm oven to let
physics take its course.
Visually, once melted, mixed, and
spooned onto baking parchment, my
little chocolate chickpea clusters looked
remarkably like rabbit droppings. Nest and
Glow’s didn’t, but maybe that’s because
the final image in the video is a sideways
view, and I don’t think I have ever seen
rabbit droppings sideways-on before.
(A thought for anyone wanting to post
an image of their chickpea clusters onto
Instagram. Sideways = yummy. Bird’s eye
view = rabbit droppings.)
For taste and mouthfeel, these have
become a new favourite for me. Nest
and Glow recommends a sprinkling of
sesame seeds, and that really does take
the taste to another level. Just remember
to toast the seeds on the hob first. I also
congratulated myself for adding a few
sultanas into the mix, while pistachios
didn’t seem to make a difference. Not
everyone has loved them, but that means
there is more for me. I have also signed up
to see more from Nest & Glow.
For the full recipe and video, go to:
Louise Wates
Christian Billinghurst looks at the arguments for and against this versatile but controversial fat
ound in products ranging from soap to
snacks and labelled under AKAs such
as palmate or sodium lauryl sulphate,
palm oil is a controversial vegetable oil.
Not only have great swathes of Indonesian
and Malaysian forests been destroyed
to make way for palm oil plantations,
but subsequent deforestation has also
endangered the orangutan.
Along with its environmentally
unfriendly reputation, the health impact
of palm oil has also been questioned. As a
versatile saturated fat, palm oil is found in
various foods including peanut butter, ice
cream and biscuits. In fact, it is responsible
for 30 per cent of the world’s vegetable
oil supply.1 Despite this, however, some
products such as nut butters are now
being specifically manufactured and
marketed as “palm oil free”. Consumers
could be forgiven for wondering why.
It is easy to assume that any move
away from palm oil is driven by health
concerns; usually when a product is free
from any ingredient it is for health reasons.
However, the companies we spoke to
said that the move had been to support
sustainability. This has been, in part, due
to a significant push from environmentallyaware consumers. One manufacturer of
palm oil-free peanut butter explained that
while palm oil can make the end product
more consistent, as a company they were
aware of environmental concerns and so
now produce two types of peanut butter:
one made with sustainable palm oil and
one that is palm oil-free.
Health benefits
A rich source of saturated fat (called
palmitic acid), palm oil has, perhaps
unsurprisingly, divided opinion as to
whether it can be considered a healthy
choice. However, it does contain
micronutrients with associated health
Palm oil contains tocotrienols, powerful
antioxidants with anti-inflammatory
properties, that belong to the vitamin E
family — although red palm oil (which
has not been bleached) contains more
antioxidants because of its colour.
Consumption of tocotrienols is thought to
lower risk of cancer, stroke and oxidative
stress. For the palm oil industry this
potentially bodes well as palm oil’s total
vitamin E content is made from 70 per
cent tocotrienols.2
In addition, one human trial has
demonstrated that red palm oil helps
down-regulate inflammation in patients
with liver cirrhosis,3 indicating other
possible health benefits.
Because of its colour, red palm oil is
high in carotenoids. These are pigments
that are associated with a reduced risk of
cancers and eye disease, because of their
light-absorbing properties.4 Furthermore,
certain carotenoids can be converted to
vitamin A, and so it has been suggested
that red palm oil supplementation could
be a potential intervention in reducing
the incidence of vitamin A deficiency at a
global level.5
Red palm oil is also high in phytosterols;
which are occasionally known as plant
cholesterol. This compound has been
shown to be remarkably similar to
cholesterol at a chemical level, and studies
have found that it can regulate cholesterol
metabolism by increasing absorption
efficiency, biosynthesis and excretion
of LDL (so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol),
although these findings were limited to
supplements and have not been shown
to have cardio-protective effects.6 Other
research has been dedicated to finding the
effect of red palm oil on sperm motility in a
diabetic population. The results have been
rather encouraging in animal models and
is another example of the possible health
benefits of red palm oil.7 the Western diet
palm oil is almost
exclusively found in
processed foods which
may also contain
other less healthy
Health deficits
However, there is conflicting evidence
too, as other research has indicated that
palm oil could actually increase the risk of
inflammation. One study on mice found
that when different oils were added to
mouse feed, when compared to intake
of milk fat, rapeseed oil, or sunflower
oil, palm oil resulted in higher levels of
inflammation.8 It is worth noting that
this particular study was on fat-rich diets
(the lipid content of each diet, apart from
the control which was a low-fat diet, was
set at 22.4 per cent), but the findings
were enough to flag up palm oil as being
potentially more harmful than the other
fats tested. However, this was one study
with one set of conditions, and so further
studies would be needed before drawing
any conclusions.
In the meantime, however, it is worth
noting that in the Western diet, palm oil
is almost exclusively found in processed
foods that may be less healthy overall —
as it is heavily-processed foods that have
been associated with diseases such as
cancer. But it is for the possible association
with inflammation that the Human Food
Project writes: “In either case, thinking
twice about palm oil might please the
5. Rice AL & Burns JB (2010). Moving from
efficacy to effectiveness: red palm oil’s role in
preventing vitamin A deficiency. J of the Am
Coll of Nutr, 29(3), 302-313.
6. Racette S B et al (2015). Natural dietary
phytosterols. J of AOAC Int, 98(3), 679-684.
7. Ayeleso AO et al (2014). Effects of red palm
oil and rooibos on sperm motility parameters
in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.
African J of Trad, Compl and Alt Med, 11(5),
8. Laugerette F et al (2012). Oil composition of
high-fat diet affects metabolic inflammation
differently in connection with endotoxin
receptors in mice. Am J of Phys-Endocrin and
Metab, 302(3), E374-E386.
9. Leach J (2013). Palm oil: maybe not such a
good idea after all.
2. Meganathan P & Fu JY (2016). Biological
properties of tocotrienols: evidence in human
studies. Int J of Molec Sci, 17(11), 1682.
3. Catanzaro R et al (2016). Beneficial effect of
refined red palm oil on lipid peroxidation and
monocyte tissue factor in HCV-related liver
disease. Hepat & Panc Dis Int, 15(2), 165-172.
4. Johnson EJ (2002). The role of carotenoids in
human health. Nutr in Clin Care, 5(2), 56-65.
Nitrates and nitrites have long been linked to cancer. We look at how they are part of a chain
reaction that may not always be harmful to human health... So what’s the case with bacon?
he launch of a nitrate- and nitritefree bacon by Northern Irelandbased company Finnebrogue created
more than a rumble of interest recently,
as it hinted at the possibility of worry-free
bacon butties.
Why worry-free? Because in 2015, the
World Health Organization’s International
Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
had classified bacon as “carcinogenic to
humans”. The cancer link wasn’t exclusive
to bacon though; the classification
included all processed meats that had
been “transformed through salting,
curing, fermentation, smoking, or other
processes to enhance flavour or improve
preservation”, so ham, hot dogs, salami,
and canned meats were on the list too. So
for bacon-lovers, any product that is free
from one of the cancer-causing nasties
has to be good news indeed; but why had
processed meats been given such a bad
rap in the first place?
Cancer risk
To evaluate any cancer risk from red or
processed meats, the IARC reviewed more
than 800 studies on cancer in humans;
out of these, more than 400 were on
processed meat. What the IARC found was
that eating processed meat was associated
with small increases in the risk of cancer.
Following analysis of 10 studies, it was also
estimated that for every 50 g of processed
meat eaten every day, the risk of colorectal
(bowel) cancer increased by about 18
per cent. To put this into perspective, a
couple of rashers of bacon could weigh
between 30 and 60 g, depending upon
their size. The NHS points out that a
cooked breakfast containing two typical
British sausages and two rashers of bacon
is equivalent to 130 g.1
As a result, processed meat was
classified as a Group 1 carcinogenic — a
category that includes smoking and
asbestos. This doesn’t mean that it carries
the same risk as smoking or exposure
to asbestos, only that the evidence was
strong. In comparison, red meat was
classified as Group 2A because it was
considered “probably” carcinogenic to
Nitrates and nitrites
One of the risk factors for processed meats
is the curing process, in which added
nitrates or nitrites are used. At the time
Finnebrogue launched its Naked Bacon,
Denis Lynn, Finnebrogue’s chairman, said:
“For more than a decade I have insisted we
not touch bacon until such time as we can
make it better and safer — and now we
Elsewhere in the UK, there are other
companies also making their own nitrateand nitrite-free bacon, albeit using different
methods to Finnebrogue.
Matt Cockin of The Fruit Pig Company
in Norfolk told Optimum Nutrition that
the Fruit Pig team has been making
nitrate- and nitrite-free bacon for about
three years, after responding to requests
from customers who wanted “paleo/
keto-friendly cured bacon”. So consumer
demand has already shown that customers
have been looking for ways around the
nitrate and nitrite problem.
In themselves, however, nitrates and
nitrites are not carcinogenic. As part of
the nitrogen cycle, both are naturallyoccurring ions that are found throughout
the environment. And because they are
effective preservatives, they are also
used in meat processing. Not only do
they prevent bacteria from growing, they
also contribute to the colour and taste of
processed meats — which means that
making a nitrate- and nitrite-free bacon
that tastes like bacon isn’t necessarily easy.
The human nitrogen cycle
But we don’t just ingest nitrates and
nitrites from bacon and ham. Processed
meat is not the only source — and, in fact,
is not the main source. Most nitrate is
ingested through food and drink, including
leafy green vegetables, before reacting
with bacteria in the mouth and gut to
become nitrite. This is what the IARC calls
“a dynamic interchange — the human
“Eighty per cent of the
nitrite and nitrate we
get from food comes
from vegetables, 15 per
cent from swallowing
our own saliva, and five
per cent from cured
nitrogen cycle”2 — with approximately five
to eight per cent of ingested nitrates being
reduced by oral bacteria to nitrite.3
Rich sources of nitrate include
vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, and
kale. According to the IARC: “The main
potential contributors to ingested nitrate
are vegetables, especially leafy vegetables.
Other food sources include bakery goods,
cereal products and cured meat.”2 Despite
this, however, no warnings have been
issued against leafy green vegetables.
Dr Nathan Bryan, an industrial
researcher and assistant professor at the
Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, USA,
told Optimum Nutrition: “If nitrite caused
cancer, then vegetarians would have higher
incidence of cancer than meat eaters and it
is exactly the opposite.”
This is because vegetables also contain
helpful antioxidants that prevent nitrites
from becoming harmful. Once ingested,
nitrates and nitrites will convert in the
human body into different chemical forms.
But whether these new forms have the
potential to harm or help depends upon
other factors such as antioxidants and the
bacteria that live inside us. Nitrates and
nitrites, in themselves, do not cause cancer.
A healthy reaction
When the right factors are present, such
as antioxidants and the right gut bacteria
to do the job, nitrites are converted
into nitric oxide (known as NO) which,
because it helps blood vessels dilate, is
increasingly suggested to be important in
regulating blood pressure and preventing
cardiovascular disease. According to Bryan,
nitric oxide “is one of the most important
molecules produced in the human body”.4
Bryan, a leading expert in the role of
nitric oxide in the human body, even
co-founded HumanN, a company that
produces nitrite-based supplements
designed to help the body produce nitric
oxide. He explained where the problem
occurs with nitrites. “Eighty per cent of
the nitrite and nitrate we get from food
comes from vegetables, 15 per cent from
swallowing our own saliva, and five per
cent from cured meats,” he says. “Nitrite
and nitrate are not the problem. It is the
formation of N-nitrosamines that can
cause cancer.”
A nitrosamine is a compound that
is formed when nitrites go through a
chemical reaction called nitrosation.
Yet nitrosation is not inevitable; it is
prevented or reduced by the presence
of antioxidants such as vitamin C. (The
IARC refers to vitamin C as an inhibitor of
nitrosation.) This is why, even though we
might get more nitrates from vegetables,
which then convert into nitrites, these are
not considered to be a risk — because
vegetables also naturally contain
nitrosation-inhibitors such as vitamin C.
Bryan states that antioxidants could also
be beneficial when added to processed
meats. “Antioxidants naturally present in
vegetables and erythorbate [a synthetic
version of vitamin C] added to cured
meats inhibit and prevent nitrosamine
formation,” he says. All of HumanN
nitric oxide products, he explained,
were “formulated to provide sufficient
vitamin C and polyphenols to inhibit and
prevent any nitrosamine formation. The
other consideration is that there are no
secondary amines present in any of our
products to nitrosate.”
What this indicates is that although we
may be right to view nitrates and nitrites
with caution, they are only one part of
a more complex chemical reaction. For
nitrites to convert into nitrosamines, there
need to be other factors at play: what
bacteria are present in the mouth or gut,
what amines (compounds) are present in
the food, and whether nitrosation inhibitors
such as vitamin C are also present.
Recently, Bryan even proposed that using
mouthwashes could disrupt the formation
of nitric oxide, by altering the microbiome
in the mouth.5
So does this mean that nitrate- and
nitrite-free bacon offers the metaphorical
get out of jail free card? Going back to
the 2015 IARC classification, nitrites
were only one reason for processed meat
being given a Group 1 classification.
The IARC stated that meat consisted of
multiple components, including haem
iron, and that it could also contain
chemicals that form during processing or
cooking — heterocyclic aromatic amines
and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
(which, the IARC stated, are also found in
other foods and in air pollution). It said:
“Some of these chemicals are known or
suspected carcinogens, but despite this
knowledge it is not yet fully understood
how cancer risk is increased by red meat
or processed meat.” This begs the question
as to whether removing nitrates and
nitrites makes bacon a completely risk-free
product. But, as mentioned earlier, even
unprocessed red meat, which does not
contain nitrates or nitrites, is considered to
be “probably carcinogenic”.
However, on the launch of Finnebrogue’s
Naked Bacon, commenting in an
accompanying press release, Professor
Chris Elliott, who chairs the Institute
for Global Food Security at Queen’s
University Belfast, said: “…Nitro containing
compounds, used in the manufacture of
traditional bacons, are known to cause the
formation of chemicals that have negative
“If nitrite caused
cancer, then
vegetarians would
have higher incidence
of cancer than meat
eaters and it is exactly
the opposite”
health impacts.
“To have a bacon produced naturally,
that doesn’t require such chemicals to be
added or formed during processing, is a
very welcome development.”
Despite this, until more is understood
about how processing and cooking affects
other chemicals and compounds in
processed meat there may be good reason
for erring on the side of caution. Some of
our non-vegetarian team members did
try — and enjoy — both Finnebrogue’s
and The Fruit Pig Company’s nitrate- and
nitrite-free bacon; both of which, it was
reported back, did indeed taste like bacon.
But until the health impact of processed
meat is better understood, it may be
prudent to eat it according to current
guidelines: no more than 70 g a day of red
and processed meat1 — in total, that is,
not 70 g of each. And if we are going to
bring home the bacon, maybe combining
it with vitamin C-rich tomatoes in a BLT
is an option, in addition to making sure
there is plenty of gut-friendly fibre in the
diet — as antioxidants, along with healthy
oral and gut microbiomes, appear to be the
key when it comes to mitigating potential
For further information visit:
2. WHO (2010). IARC Monographs on the
evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans.
Vol 94. Ingested Nitrate and Nitrite, and
Cyanobacterial Peptide Toxins. monographs.iarc.
3. WHO (2016). Nitrate and nitrite in drinking
4. Bryan NS et al (2017). Oral microbiome and
nitric oxide: the missing link in the management
of blood pressure. Current hypertension rep. 19.4
(2017): 33.
5. Bryan NS (2017). How the nody makes nitric
April sees the start of ‘golden week’ in Japan, with a cluster of much-anticipated bank holidays.
To celebrate our own bank holidays Japanese-style, try a recipe from Nancy Singleton Hachisu,
an American-born food-writer, who told us what makes Japanese cuisine so special
How has Japanese food culture changed
your approach to food?
“I originally came to Japan because of my
love of raw fish and the iconic clear fish
broth (arajiru) that is served in Japanese
restaurants abroad. I have always loved
pristine, bright food. What has changed
my approach to food is eating only organic
home-grown or locally-grown vegetables
for the last 30 years. Conventional
vegetables have no taste now.”
What do you enjoy about Japanese food
“There is an inherent generosity to the
food culture of Japan, in other words, the
act of preparing food is at the very core,
a selfless one. One should prepare food
respecting the ingredients and where
they come from, always using every part
and avoiding waste. And one should be
thinking about the mind and spirit and
body conditions of the people for whom
one is cooking. Will they want to be
warmed, or cooled? What will make your
guests feel soothed and sated? There
are also several foods that are prepared
table-side as a communal experience such
as nabe (one-pot dishes) and teppan-yaki
(grilled meats and vegetables).
“There is a duality in Japanese food,
which reflects the duality of the country
itself. There is a vast range of funky,
sometimes (appealingly) stinky fermented
foods. Chewy textures and delightfully
slimy consistencies are highly valued.
These unusual elements are juxtaposed
against the elegant, spare Japanese
foods that Westerners find most easy to
understand: raw fish, salted vegetables,
tofu, clear soups, and dashi broths. But it
is the whole compendium of foods, from
funky to elegant that truly comprises
Japanese food culture.”
What makes Japanese cuisine unique?
“There is also an element of clarity to
many Japanese foods, that is because
Japanese food is shaped by a specific
combination of simple ingredients that
work well together in harmony as well as a
strong reliance on using the fermentation
process. Because Japan is an archipelago
of many narrow islands, with much of
its population living in coastal areas,
Japanese food is inextricably based on
ingredients which come from the sea such
as fish, shellfish, and sea greens.”
How do Japanese and American cuisines
“It would be impossible to compare the
two because they are completely different!
“But actually, the main difference is
that Japanese food is based on rice as the
main starch, whereas our food is anchored
by bread.
“When I was first in Japan, this was a
common comment, to which I responded:
‘no, our starch of choice is potatoes!’.
I have come to realise however that it
actually is bread: If I have bread, I can
cobble together some sort of sandwichbased meal. But for my husband, he just
needs rice and a few side dishes. Without
the rice, there will be no meal.”
Vending machines are found on almost
every corner in Japan. Do you think that this
has replaced street food, or is there still a
street food culture in Japan?
“Vending machines are for drinks, not
food, so really have no bearing on the
current food culture. And although there
are food carts (yatai) set up in busy
foot traffic areas or at night to entice
the people who have been drinking, the
culture of small eateries with only a few
seats is more pervasive — there are
millions of these all over the country.
But these small eateries are in danger
of attrition because of the growing
popularity of buying ready-made meals at
the convenience stores that seem to be on
every corner of Japan.”
Which staples/spices do you always have
at home?
“Japanese artisanal ingredients: soy
sauce, miso, mirin, rice vinegar, umesu,
fish sauce, sea salt, white, gold, and black
sesame oil and sesame seeds, ichimi
togarashi, shichimi togarashi, yuzu kosho,
katsuobushi, konbu, wakame. Western —
my brother-in-law’s amazing organic olive
oil from California: Frantoio Grove.”
What would be your go-to dish that you
would cook at home, and why?
“For Japanese food: clear fish broth
(arajiru) and kelp-wicked sashimi
(kobujime); a simple katsuobushi-konbu
dashi–based miso soup; salad!
“Also dressed vegetable dishes
(aemono) such as shira-ae (smashed
tofu with sesame) or goma-ae (ground
roasted sesame).”
How important to you are the health
benefits of food?
“Food is medicine. Period. I never put
anything in my body that is not carefully
sourced. Except very occasionally as
a teenager, I have never eaten fast,
convenience, or processed food. I would
rather not eat.
“I travelled extensively with my three
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) asparagus
1 tbsp rapeseed (canola) oil
2 tsp gold sesame seeds
2 tsp black sesame seeds
2 tsp white sesame seeds
3 tbsp brown rice vinegar
3 tbsp mirin
sons and always brought food for the
airplane trips and always planned where
I would source ingredients or eat out. I do
not set out and leave food to chance. In
our modern world there is less and less
honest, well-made food — even in Japan
— despite what you hear. Knowing what
you are eating is crucial. In the last 30
years I have had a fever less than a dozen
times and this is true for my children as
“We cannot change the air we breathe
or the water we drink (to an extent), but
food is a choice we can make for ourselves
and our families for long-term health.”
How would you describe hanami (page 34)
and what kind of picnic would you choose?
“Hanami? I went to hanami once the very
first year I was in Japan and never again.
“It is not something country people
commonly do because we have flowering
• 1 tsp soy sauce
• 1 pinch of flaky sea salt
A trio of sesame seeds brightens up
asparagus with its subtle flavour and
pretty combination of colours.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over
high heat. Snap the bottoms off of the
asparagus where they naturally want
to break. Blanch until crisp-tender, 2–5
minutes depending on the thickness.
Refresh under cold, running water. Pat dry
ume and sakura trees in our gardens
and in the temples and shrines in our
neighbourhood, so we can enjoy the
blossoms over the course of them
budding, blossoming, and falling like
snow flakes. This is a few day period and
not easily gauged. These days hanami
is an excuse for urbanites to get drunk
in a crowded park where the trees are
“What would I pack for a Japanese
picnic (bento)? — aemono (dressed
things), grilled meat or fish, pickles, rice
balls (onigiri) — nothing goopy, soupy, or
oily — food that holds up well and is still
tasty at room temperature.”
If you had to choose one recipe to pass on to
others, what would it be?
“Miso soup.”
in a clean tea towel. Cut on the diagonal
into 2 cm (3/4 “) pieces.
In a small frying pan, heat the oil over
medium-low heat. Add the sesame seeds
when you can feel some heat rising from
the pan. Cook, stirring until you can smell
the aroma of sesame, about 1 minute.
Scrape into a small bowl to cool.
Toss the asparagus pieces with the
cooled sesame seeds, vinegar, mirin,
soy sauce, and salt. Serve at room
temperature, or cold the next day as a
salad or vegetable side dish.
Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton
Hachisu, features more than 400 recipes.
Published by Phaidon Press, (£29.95)
If you are feeling stressed and grumpy, head for your nearest green space writes Louise Wates
f you ever think of going to Japan, try
to plan your visit for springtime when
(if you time it right) you can enjoy the
atmosphere of the hanami — the cherry
blossom festival, or ‘flower viewing’. I
have been lucky enough to experience
the cherry blossom season a couple of
times, to see the trees showing off their
magnificent displays of delicate flowers,
and (importantly, it could be said) to taste
wonderful, delicate, seasonally-themed
cakes that (so I was told) were only
available for as long as the fleeting season
lasted. Japanese cherry blossom, when
there are avenues of trees, is certainly a
sight worth seeing. But because Mother
Nature doesn’t follow a strict timetable,
it can be devilishly tricky to time your trip
right — and if you do it will probably be
down to more luck than design.
Dating back to the fifth century,
hanami celebrates the arrival of spring.
Symbolising clouds, the cherry blossom,
called sakura, represents the transient
nature of life. Although only in full bloom
for about a week, the trees are a welcome
sight, especially in a grey, urban setting,
so it is hardly surprising that people will
get together to share picnics under the
trees to enjoy the beauty of sakura while
sharing food, sake (rice wine) or tea, in
the company of friends and family. It is
a simple act that should take little more
than an agreement of where to meet, and
could be a pleasurable way to mark the
end of the long winter.
But if you want to fully-immerse
yourself in nature, Japanese-style, take
yourself off to a forest — ideally where
there is a canopy of trees. Being in a
forest, breathing consciously and walking
in a relaxed way is known in Japan as
‘forest bathing’ — or shinrin-yoku. It’s
a practice that has been growing in
popularity even outside of Japan, with
shinrin-yoku groups cropping up in
Europe and the UK, and one that could
have benefits beyond simply relaxing the
Boosting bacteria
Recently in Optimum Nutrition, we have
been extolling the benefits of getting our
children into the big outdoors, but the
same rules should apply to grown-ups too.
Being close to nature not only exposes us
to a variety of bacteria, which can boost
our gut microbiome, but it is also good for
our mental wellbeing. Studies have shown
that getting out and about not only helps
lower stress levels and improve mood, but
can even improve short-term memory.1,2
And, apparently, it is Mother Nature
who makes all the difference, as research
reveals that subjects who walk in urban
settings do not experience the same
benefits to mood or memory as those
who walk in a natural setting. Other
research has also found that spending
time in nature has therapeutic effects on
individuals suffering with hypertension,
and improves inflammation levels.3
Additional potential benefits may even
include helping our eyesight — at least in
children and teenagers — as it has been
found that getting outside, even during
break-time at school, reduces the risk of
developing myopia (short-sightedness).4
What we can learn from both the
cherry blossom picnics and forest bathing,
however, is that spring and summer offer
an excellent opportunity to get out of the
house and blow the cobwebs away. If you
have felt a bit like a bear emerging from its
winter snooze in a cave, then poking your
nose into the light (even if the day is a bit
grey with clouds), appreciating nature,
and getting a change of microbes in your
system could help lower your stress levels
and improve your mood just by taking
time to — quite literally — look at the
Where to go
Here in the UK and in other countries, we
might not have access to the fantastic
displays of cherry blossom that some
Japanese take for granted, but there are
plenty of other blooms that herald the
arrival of longer days and warmer weather.
If you are looking for inspiration, the
National Trust website has a page dedicated
to information on where we can see tree
blossoms, from Acorn Bank in Cumbria, all
the way down to Cotehele in Cornwall, with
varieties of fruiting trees on display across
England and Wales. The same website also
lists places of natural beauty, including
ancient woods where we can enjoy glorious
displays of bluebells or daffodils.
The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society)
website is also worth looking at for
forthcoming events. A spokeswoman told
us that a perfect place to enjoy spring
is “the beautiful orchard at RHS Garden
Wisley [in Surrey] which will put on a lovely
display of cherry, pear and apple blossom in
the spring, and can be appreciated from the
viewing mount which gives a view across
the orchard”.
If you want something closer to home
and free of charge, consider local beauty
spots, parks, and riverbanks. Some places
of interest also offer free entrance during
certain times. For instance, if you want
to see the gardens at Hampton Court,
South West London, the palace offers free
entrance to the East Front Gardens between
9am and 10am throughout the year — just
enough time for a morning walk among
the flowers before enjoying the larger
surrounding parklands or walking along the
nearby river for free.
And don’t let the British weather hold
you back. One perceived disadvantage in
the UK is that our spring weather is both
unkind and unpredictable, with strong
winds and heavy rain. But, from what
I recall, the spring weather in Tokyo —
although maybe a little more settled —
isn’t very different from that in London.
I still recall walking with a friend down
an avenue of cherry blossoms before we
turned around to find her little daughter
happily splashing around in large puddles,
getting thoroughly soaked. So it had clearly
been raining! Yet, despite the wet ground,
people were still out enjoying hanami later
that evening.
While we can forest bathe alone,
hanami is best enjoyed with friends. Our
doctors cannot write a prescription to
treat loneliness, but many have stressed
the importance of socialising with others
to boost our mental health. And if you
...getting out and
about not only helps
lower stress levels and
improve mood, but can
even improve short-term
can’t make it to the countryside, just
walking, even in an urban environment,
offers the opportunity to spend time with
others — something that is shown to
improve stress levels and boost our mood.
Groups such as Walking for Health offer
the opportunity to join walking groups
free of charge, with a search facility on
their website making it easy to find groups
in your area. The Ramblers is also a longestablished organisation that offers the
opportunity to get walking with others.
As for this particular bear, after I poked
my nose out of my own winter cave, I felt
quite inspired and am already enjoying
the spring blossoms on the trees and the
flowers emerging from their slumber.
Wisley is now in my diary, and I really
want to see bluebells in an ancient wood,
too. Any picnic may have to be under
cover if it’s wet and windy — but like a
good (ex) Girl Guide, I shall be prepared.
RHS London Plant and Art Fair
11-12 July. Late event 10 July
Where: RHS Lindley (SW1P 2QW) &
RHS Lawrence Hall (SW1P 2QD)
Tickets: RHS members £5
non-members £8
With a selection of striking and
original botanical art from around
the world, the RHS London Plant and
Art Fair will capture the beauty of
horticulture through art.
On display alongside a variety
of seasonal plants and bulbs from
some of the UK’s finest growers,
the event will see a collection
of original horticultural artwork
including paintings, illustrations
and photography for visitors to
peruse. The show will also see
a new exhibition of the winning
photographs from the RHS
Photographic Competition 2018
sponsored by The Sunday Times
1. Berman MG et al (2012). Interacting with
nature improves cognition and affect for
individuals with depression. J of Affective
Disorders. 140.3: 300-305.
2. Bratman GN et al (2015). Nature experience
reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal
cortex activation. Proc of the Nat Acad of Sci.
112.28: 8567-8572.
3. Mao GX et al (2012). Therapeutic effect of
forest bathing on human hypertension in the
elderly. J of Cardiology. 60.6: 495-502.
4. Wu Pei-Chang et al (2013). Outdoor activity
during class recess reduces myopia onset and
progression in school children. Ophthalmol,
120.5 (2013): 1080-1085.
May sees the return of British Sandwich Week, a week’s “celebration of the greatest food-to-go
and quite possibly the most iconic British culinary invention”.1 But considering that as a nation
we are already scoffing around 11.5 bn sandwiches a year and buying 3.5 bn of those,1 should we
really be eating more? Or is it time for the sandwich to move over? Maggie Charlesworth writes
andwiches (sarnies, butties...
they have so many names) are
big business. The UK sandwich
industry alone is worth around £8 bn per
annum, and even has its own awards,
appropriately called The Sammies.
In 1980, high street retailer Marks
and Spencer, which had experimented
with selling sandwiches back in 1929,
tried again. This time the idea took off,
and today we can buy sandwiches in
pharmacists (Boots the Chemist soon
followed in M&S’ footsteps), petrol
stations, and newsagents — places where,
before the butty boom, it would have
been unheard of to buy food. If we want,
we can buy a sandwich for breakfast,
lunch and dinner, and can even have them
seasonally-themed. Last winter, several
food chains advertised Christmas-themed
sandwiches so that if we couldn’t wait for
Christmas day, we could get into training
with turkey and stuffing-filled sandwiches,
baps and wraps.
Shop-bought sandwiches have liberated
us from the drudgery of having to prepare
our own lunch. They are convenient, quick,
and allow us to eat without having to think
about anything other than filling a gap.
But have we become victims of the
sandwich’s success?
In 2016, a study which reviewed
the eating habits of more than 27,000
American adults found that sandwich
consumption was associated with an
increase in daily calorie intake by 98.7
kcal.2 So should we be concerned?
“I think the problem really comes when
you’re reaching for those pre-packaged
sandwiches which are made using white
bread, lashings of sauces and processed
fillings,” says Angelique Panagos, a
registered nutritionist and author of The
Balance Plan. “These sandwiches are
pretty nutrient-poor and can spike blood
sugars, meaning you’ll crash and burn
later on.”
Panagos’ major “bugbear”, however,
is “advertisements showing a white
bread sandwich with lashings of a sugary
chocolate spread, which make it out to be
a healthy breakfast — it’s not!”.
Another criticism of sandwiches is that
they are too easy to eat. Growing evidence
shows that mindfulness, focusing on what
we are doing, can lead to a lower intake of
calories3 because we are paying attention
to our body’s fullness signals. A sandwich,
however, can disappear within a matter of
minutes, having barely been noticed. How
often have you gone to take another bite
out of a sandwich before realising that
you’ve already finished it?
Debbie, a “self-confessed foodie” and
cookery teacher says she rarely eats
sandwiches because she tends to eat
them too quickly.
“One of my favourite treats used to be
when my husband would make egg and
bacon sandwiches for brunch,” she says.
“A typical breakfast sandwich would have
a couple of bacon rashers, a fried egg, and
a slice of cheese — as well as the bread
and butter. That’s a lot of food, but I would
eat it in minutes. Sometimes, I would eat
two because I was still hungry and hadn’t
given myself time to feel full.
“Then one day I realised that I had just
eaten the equivalent of two full breakfasts.
And, to make matters worse, I hadn’t even
enjoyed it as much as I would have if I had
eaten it as a meal on a plate with a knife
and fork, taking my time.”
Debbie says that she now eats meals
that are more like “deconstructed”
sandwiches. “It’s usually more like a
massive salad and maybe a slice of bread.
That way I have to use a knife and fork,
and so it forces me to eat a bit more
slowly. If I’m faced with a sandwich, it will
last only a few minutes and I’ll want to eat
more — it’s a habit I can’t seem to change,
so I try to avoid them.”
Variety is the spice of life
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of us eat
the same lunch day in, day out. In a
widely-reported survey carried out by
New Covent Garden Soup, 58 per cent of
2,000 people surveyed said that they had
eaten the same foods for as long as they
could remember — with a ham sandwich
coming out on top as the most commonlyeaten lunch.
This is sad news for our gut bacteria,
which thrive on variety. Our microbiota,
the billions of bacteria living in our guts,
need a varied, fibre-rich diet to thrive. And
while a meal deal might seem to offer
variety, it could be more limited than we
think, often containing mostly starchy
carbohydrates and refined sugar rather
than the essential nutrients found in
vegetables and fruit.
“I totally get it,” says Panagos. “I live
in the real world, and eating this type of
meal once in a while is okay. It’s when
you rely on it daily that it’s going to have a
negative effect on health, hormones and
even weight.”
Healthy choices
Panagos says that even brown bread
options can be filled with processed
meats, unhealthy fats, and less-than-fresh
ingredients. And she cautions against
“foods masking themselves as healthy —
think cereal bars full of sugars”.
Registered nutritionist Kate DelmarMorgan says that when making our own
sandwiches, we can increase our gutfriendly fibre intake by choosing breads
such as pumpernickel rye bread, rye
bread, or wholemeal breads. Wholemeal
pitta breads are great for stuffing full with
a variety of vegetables.
“Try to choose fillings with a good
source of protein such as sliced chicken,
beef, smoked or poached salmon,” she
says. Other good sources of protein are
tuna, hummus, falafel or cheese. “Then
add as many vegetables as you can...
grated carrot, finely sliced red cabbage,
cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, beetroot,
shredded cabbage, courgette, cress,
sprouted beans, peppers, radish, roasted
veg, spinach leaves, and watercress.”
...the British sandwich
habit produces... 9.5
million tonnes of CO2
eq., equivalent to
the annual use of 8.6
million cars...
Another top tip, she says, is to use
avocado instead of a butter or olive oil
Savvy sandwiches
Delmar-Morgan and Panagos both
recommend making our own sandwiches
so we can control what goes into them.
But, says Delmar-Morgan, if you are
buying a sandwich on the run, choose
wholemeal over white bread. “Avoid
paninis, baguettes, bagels, white bread —
this is all highly-refined wheat.”
She also recommends throwing away
half the bread. “If you have bought a
sandwich which comes, as is normally the
case, in two halves, throw away one side
of the bread from each half and put the
remaining halves together. This means
that you have a better ratio of starchy
carbohydrate (bread) to protein and veg
(filling).” Whilst it can seem wasteful to
throw away bread, especially on a tight
budget, there can be small health benefits
to this.
plastic wrap or foil should help.
So this may be food for thought: it
used to be that the pricey, shop-bought
lunch looked a bit more exciting than
homemade fare, but does all this mean
that the humble homemade sandwich
could have a renaissance as the new ecostatement for 2018?
Take away our takeaway?
It is unlikely the sandwich industry
is going to see any decline soon, but
reconsidering our reliance on the British
butty could be an opportunity to bring
some variety to the table.
“It’s good to mix things up and enjoy
different foods where we can,” says
Panagos. “If [a client is] a sandwich-lover
and relying heavily on them, I would look
to recommend alternatives, trying to see
how we could free up some time to batch
cook some recipes to have easily to hand.
“On the days where they are having a
sandwich, I would encourage variety in
good quality breads, with toppings ranging
from boiled eggs to pulses, chicken or
fish, adding in some avocado and lots
of veggies. Another idea is to have an
open sandwich with a salad on the side.
This is maybe not as enticing as a triple
decker cheddar melt but, made right, it’s
delicious, nutritious and satisfying.”
“...Try to choose fillings
with a good source of
protein such as sliced
chicken, beef, smoked
or poached salmon...”
A recent study at the University of
Manchester found that the British
sandwich habit produces, on average,
9.5 million tonnes of C02 eq., equivalent
to the annual use of 8.6 million cars,4
although, environmental impact differs for
filling type and whether sandwiches are
homemade or shop-bought.
Meat-based sandwiches such as bacon
or sausage and egg were calculated
to have the highest environmental
impact. But transportation, storage in
refrigerators, and packaging, all add to the
environmental burden.
While this doesn’t mean that we have
to give up sandwiches, it does show how
convenience could be costing the earth.
Even a homemade sandwich will have
some kind of carbon footprint — it’s
impossible to completely avoid it — but
choosing local ingredients and avoiding
2. An R et al (2016). Sandwich consumption
in relation to daily dietary intake and diet
quality among US adults, 2003–2012. Pub
Health. 140: 206-212.
3. Van De Veer et al (2015). Body and mind:
Mindfulness helps consumers to compensate
for prior food intake by enhancing the
responsiveness to physiological cues. J of
Cons Res. 42.5: 783-803. [abstract]
4. Espinoza-Orias N & Azapagic A (2017).
Understanding the impact on climate change
of convenience food: Carbon footprint of
sandwiches. Sust Prod and Consump.
Hummus, falafel, beetroot, rocket
Organic chicken, avocado, salad
Pesto, chopped tomato, avocado
Tinned mackerel or sardines in
tomato sauce with baby spinach
Egg, spring onion and watercress
Hummus, grated carrot, salad leaves
Feta, olives, tomato, cucumber
Tuna, red onion, and grated organic
Goats cheese, walnuts, beetroot, and
Grass-fed beef mince (cooked with
chilli, cumin and salt to taste) with
avocado and sour cream
Liven up your lunch al-desko with a vibrant salad
1 small butternut squash
Coconut/olive oil
120 g quinoa
½ red cabbage
1 green pepper
2 portions of satay dressing
Preheat the oven to 200C and boil a full
kettle. Peel the squash and cut into roughly
3 cm chunks, discarding the seeds. Place on
a baking tray with a splash of oil and a pinch
of salt. Roast for 15–20 minutes until tender
and golden. Halfway through cooking, give
the tray a shake/stir to prevent the squash
chunks from catching. Meanwhile, put
the quinoa in a pan and cover with boiled
water. Cook for 8–10 minutes until al dente.
Drain and rinse under cold water. While the
quinoa cooks, remove the outer leaves and
core from the red cabbage, then thinly slice.
Dice the pepper into small strips, discarding
the core and seeds. Mix the cabbage and
pepper through the quinoa and season with
a pinch of salt. Toss the squash with the
satay dressing.
To pack: Spread the quinoa in two
lunchboxes and pile the squash on top.
• Drizzle oil and honey over a chicken
breast and sprinkle with some sesame
seeds. Bake in a 180C oven for 15–18
minutes. Slice and add to the lunchboxes.
• Sprinkle with toasted and lightly crushed
peanuts for extra crunch.
2 sweet potatoes
Olive oil
2 tbsp smoked paprika
1 red pepper
1 x 400 g can kidney beans
1 x 400 g can chickpeas
2 avocados
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
Preheat the oven to 200C. Scrub the sweet
potatoes and pat dry, then slice into 1 cmthick rounds. Pile on a baking tray. Drizzle
over a little oil and season with salt and
the smoked paprika. Toss together until
evenly coated, then spread out in one layer.
Bake for 15–20 minutes until golden brown
on both sides. Turn over midway through
cooking. Cool. While the sweet potatoes
are baking, remove the core and seeds from
the red pepper, then cut into strips. Drain
and rinse the kidney beans and chickpeas.
Place these prepared ingredients in a bowl
and season. Roughly chop the avocado
flesh into 2 cm pieces and toss with the
lemon juice and coriander to make a
guacamole. Season to taste.
To pack: Place the cooled sweet potato
nachos on one side in the lunchbox and the
guacamole on the other side, with the bean
salad in the middle.
• Turn this into huevos rancheros. Add
cherry tomatoes, cut in half, and fry with
the red pepper, beans and chickpeas in a
splash of oil for 10 minutes. Arrange the
cooked sweet potato nachos over the
surface and crack 2 eggs on top. Bake at
180C for 8–10 minutes until the eggs are
cooked through. Serve warm with the
guacamole or a dollop of crème fraîche.
• Pulled chicken is a great addition to
a lunchbox. Place 2 skinless boneless
chicken breasts on a baking tray. Drizzle
over a little oil and season with a pinch
of sea salt. Bake in a 180C oven for 15–18
minutes until cooked. Cool slightly, then
pull the chicken apart using two forks.
Toast a tablespoon of smoked paprika or
ground cumin in a dry pan for 2 minutes
and stir through the pulled chicken with a
little more oil, salt and pepper.
Recipes extracted from Lunchbox Salads by
Naomi Twigden and Anna Pinder. (Ebury
Press, £14.99.) Photography by Naomi
and Anna.
The Salt Fix: Why the Experts Got it All Wrong and How Eating More Might Save Your Life
By Dr James DiNicolantonio
ISBN: 0349417387
ands up, I didn’t get time to check DiNicolantonio’s sources, but his book made me want to know more.
The Salt Fix presents an engaging history of public health advice on salt and argues against current
guidelines, but then does become a bit repetitive. The overall message: salt is better for us than we are
led to think, and sugar is bad. DiNicolantonio (a cardiovascular research scientist with a PhD in pharmacy)
makes many interesting points, particularly regarding potassium, and medications. His criticism of Prof
Graham MacGregor, who has led the anti-salt campaign in the UK, is strong; but I would rather have seen him
engage MacGregor in debate. On publication, The Salt Fix did create a stir and public health officials quickly
condemned it. I can’t judge whether DiNicolantonio is right, but he does raise questions that we probably
should ask.
Louise Wates
The Brain Boost Diet Plan: 4 Weeks to Optimize Your Mood, Memory and Brain Health for Life
By Christine Bailey
ISBN: 1848993390
egistered nutritionist Bailey sets out a four-week plan with the intention to inspire longer-term healthy
eating habits for good brain health. The first section introduces the diet and explains each of the four
one-week stages, namely: cleanse, renew, protect and revitalise, in which Bailey covers topics such as
sugar and carbs, gluten, toxins, gut health, nutrients, stress, and sleep — all of which affect cognitive function
and brain health. The second part offers a large collection of low-sugar, gluten-free, and (mostly) dairy-free
recipes — all of which look delicious! The diet would require pre-planning as it requires lots of fresh ingredients
and some items that not everyone might have to hand. That said, the book conveys important information in an
accessible way and will be one to dip into when looking for inspiration for good nutrition and brain nourishment.
Catherine Morgan
Dairy Free And Happy!: Health, Happiness, and General Advice for Children Who Are Allergic to Dairy Products
By Michelle Diana Lowe
Michelle Diana Lowe Press (UK)
ISBN: 1999829786
s the back of this children’s book explains, Lowe began to suffer with food allergies back in 2002. By
2016, she was diagnosed with a dairy allergy and oral allergy syndrome. Her book is written with the aim
to empower and positively inspire children who cannot have dairy, and encourage them to see a world
of wonderful foods. Each page is beautifully (and inclusively) illustrated with cartoon-style veggies, fruits, cows,
and humans. I particularly loved the little cartoon cows! The story isn’t all about food, it’s also about finding
ways to cheer up when feeling a bit sad, how to talk to friends and adults about what can and cannot be eaten,
how not to be afraid of food, and how to stay well. I will certainly be recommending it in homes where it may do
some good.
Maggie Charlesworth
Minnie & Max are OK
By Chris Calland and Nicky Hutchinson; illustrated by Emmi Smid
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
ISBN: 1785922335
his is not a book about nutrition, but is on a topic that can affect how a child might eat — i.e. body image.
Minnie & Max are OK is the story of Minnie, a little girl with lots of curly hair, her dog Max, and Grandma.
One day Minnie comes home from school and isn’t as happy as she usually would be. We discover that
she had been teased at school and was told that she looks silly. Not only does this naturally worry Minnie, as
she begins to think that she would look so much better if she were like her friends, but even her dog Max is
worried about how he compares to the other dogs in the park. Of course Grandma comes to the rescue (so
often true to life!), explains why she loves Minnie’s curls, and gets her to imagine a world where everyone looks
the same. By the end of the book, Minnie and Max are much happier and self-accepting. Beautifully illustrated,
this is a nice story book that conveys an important message, too.
Maggie Charlesworth
Alcohol-free options
and gut-friendly
Aimed at wine-lovers, Botonique is a
de-alcoholised drink that is designed for
people who don’t want to drink alcohol,
for whatever reason, and don’t want
something sweet. One of our tasters felt it
was somewhere between sparkling wine
and gin, and others thought it would make
a great mixer. There is nothing of the
expected sweetness of a sparkling wine,
and the flavour was said to be “complex”.
Botonique recommends serving it with
lime, mint, and cucumber or to mix it
according to taste. To find out more and
buy online, visit
Nonsuch (alcohol-free) drinking vinegars are made with apple
cider vinegar, coming in Peach & Basil, Blackcurrant & Juniper, and
Sour Cherry & Mint flavours. Our tasters liked these very much
but were concerned whether the cider vinegar would damage
teeth. A spokeswoman told us: “Acidity levels in Nonsuch are
marginally higher than those in natural fresh pressed apple juice,
but comparable to orange and grapefruit in terms of total acidity; it
might be a problem if you drank too many of them — as it would be
if you drank too much apple, orange or grapefruit juice. However,
the vinegar in and of itself is no different in terms of the effects of its
acid than the citric or malic variants that you find in citrus fruits and
apples. As ever, if there is a specific concern about acidity levels in
any drink, a dentist should be consulted.” £3.50 for 25 cl.
Free from gluten, egg, dairy and nuts, Ugo
Foods’ Pumpkin and Sage Raviolini, was
welcomed by our tasters — especially
one who had “really missed” filled pasta.
These raviolini are little pasta pockets
with a non-dairy Mozzarella-style
alternative. They cook in just one minute
so keep your eye on the stove! Available
from major retailers including Sainsbury’s,
Ocado and Waitrose. £3.00 for 250 g.
Clearspring Organic Japanese Sweet
White Miso is a fermented soya food that
is a traditional ingredient in Japanese
cuisine. Because it is made from organic
soya beans, it is guaranteed GM-free. Our
taster used it as a base for a vegetarian
version of nabe (a one-pot dish) filled
with fresh vegetables including Chinese
leaf, sliced cook potato and bunches of
enoki mushrooms. Available in most
supermarkets and online. £4.49.
Peckish rice crackers, made with rice flour, come in four flavours:
Tangy BBQ, Salt & Vinegar, Cheese, and Sour Cream & Chive. (We
tried the latter two.) Gluten-free and baked rather than fried, they
got a positive response from our tasters for both taste and texture
for when a fresh food snack wasn’t available. “Nice flavour and a
good crunch.” Available from Morrissons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Check stockists for pricing.
Launched by a UK company, Woodstar acai berry blend 1% ABV
is a drink from the Cognac region of France with less alcohol, for
people who want to reduce their alcohol intake. One of our tasters
commented: “Lovely rich colour and flavour — to me it had a taste
of cherries, although none were used in the making (as far as I’m
aware)! It went down very well on its own, but adding a splash of
fizzy water made for a really nice, refreshing drink.”
Visit: for pricing and stockists.
Nim’s fruit crisps are air-dried rather than
fried, and contain no added flavourings
or preservatives. We tried Beetroot &
Parsnip, Apple, and Pear — all of which
quickly disappeared. A bag of these crisps
will be a bit higher in sugar than a portion
of fresh fruit (not because dried fruit has
more sugar than fresh fruit, but because
dehydration means the fruit weighs less
— so a 20 g portion of dried apple will
contain more sugar than 20 g of fresh
apple, which will also contain water). That
said, they were happily shared around the
Optimum Nutrition office. Available from
Tesco. £1.00 per 20 g pack.
It is said that you are what you eat, but
what you digest is really important. World
Digestive Health Day, on 29 May, reminds
us to be kind to our tummies and to give
our microbiome a helping hand. Nairns
Gluten-Free Scottish Porridge Oats are
processed so that there is no crosscontamination. And if the weather is too
warm for porridge, try ‘overnight’ oats, as
our taster did. Leave to soak in the milk
(dairy or non-dairy) of your choice, with
nuts and fruit as you like. £2.00.
* Prices may vary
All reviews are based on individual
opinion and do not reflect the views
of ION or Optimum Nutrition
Can’t go, won’t go? If your child resists the toilet it is distressing for all, writes Catherine Morgan
oday folks, we are going to talk
about poo — or the lack of it, to be
precise. As a parent and nutritional
therapist I have heard and seen it all
when it comes to matters of the gut, and I
regularly engage in educational poo chats
across the dinner table when prompted
by “mummy has poo on her head” by two
sniggering boys. (I honestly don’t... it’s
just one of their things at the moment.)
Of course, not everyone feels comfortable
talking about the workings of their gut,
which is fine providing that the workings
are working well. If not, however, it is
much better to have an uncomfortable
conversation than an uncomfortable
bowel (which may signify or lead to other
health problems).
But back to the point. Child One
has become a little constipated, or
so it would seem. And he’s not alone;
constipation affects up to one in three of
the UK childhood population at any one
time.1 As well as the most obvious sign
— infrequent bowel activity (generally
less than three times per week) — the
National Institute for Health and Care
Excellence (NICE) gives a list of other
signs and symptoms too: foul smelling
wind and stools; excessive flatulence;
irregular stool texture; passing occasional
enormous stools or frequent small pellets;
withholding or straining to stop passage
of stools; soiling or overflow; abdominal
pain, distension or discomfort; poor
appetite; lack of energy; an unhappy,
angry or irritable mood; and general
Since chronic constipation may signify
Many of us will experience
constipation at some point
in our lives... The key is to
have the strategies to deal
with it — and the courage to
talk about it
an underlying medical problem and can
become a serious issue if left untreated,
it is important to speak with your child’s
GP if you suspect they are suffering from
abnormal bowel habits. In Child One’s
case, it appears to be a classic case of
‘stool holding’ — he needs the toilet,
he knows he needs the toilet, everyone
around him knows he needs the toilet,
yet he resists. The process has become
pretty standard: he sits down, regardless
of where he is (“Just resting mummy”);
he begins his ‘toilet wiggle’ (“Just dancing
mummy”); he looks a bit panicked. Yet
he still resists. Although it can be a tad
wearing, I realise that getting upset or
frustrated isn’t going to help the situation.
Plus, I think the behaviour stems from a
fear that it is going to hurt him — which
in turn stems from an incident where it
probably did. So what to do?
Registered nutritionist Kate DelmarMorgan, who specialises in children’s
health, points out that it can be a
vicious cycle. “The longer a child holds
on, the bigger the stool gets, and the
more difficult it is to pass and the more
painful… and therefore the child becomes
more reluctant to go.” The key, she says,
is to make it less difficult so that they feel
happier about having a bowel movement.
And this is where diet can have a
positive impact. Although Child One
has a pretty good diet, there are always
improvements to be made — especially
in the fruit and veg department. To get
things moving, Delmar-Morgan suggests:
• Avoid fibre-poor commercial/refined
white wheat products (e.g. pasta,
white bread, white flour) and replace
with wholemeal versions. Also, focus
less on wheat in order to encourage
consumption of other grains such as
jumbo oats, brown rice and brown
Basmati rice, barley, rye breads,
sourdough breads, and brown rice
• Don’t avoid dairy unless there is a
problem but do monitor how much
milk is being consumed as it can be a
bit constipating. Do include some live
yoghurt though, plain and natural.
• Add a teaspoon of milled flaxseed/
linseed to porridge and yoghurts, etc.,
and add other seeds like sunflower,
poppy, and pumpkin seeds to meals —
but do get children to chew well.
Increase fruit intake — particularly
apple and pears with skins on. Grate
into porridge and yoghurt. Plums,
kiwi fruit, prunes, and figs are also
good. Prune juice can also be added to
yoghurt or consumed as a drink/diluted.
Increase vegetable intake and introduce
small amounts of pulses e.g. haricot
beans (baked beans, reduced sugar),
white beans, kidney beans, etc.
Offer fruit and vegetables as high-fibre
Ensure children are drinking sufficient
water between meals.
Limit refined/processed foods.
Christine Bailey, a registered nutritionist
and chef, agrees that dairy can play a role
in constipation. “Various foods have been
shown in studies to cause constipation
in some people,” she says. Bailey lists
gluten and dairy as being among the top
culprits. To determine whether Child
One’s problem is linked to dairy, Bailey
would recommended we eliminate all
dairy products and switch to a dairy-free
milk — something that I’m more than
willing to try for a trial period. [Note:
if you plan on removing an entire food
group from your child’s diet, you should
probably do so under the supervision of
a qualified nutrition professional.] Bailey
also recommends a child-friendly, dairyfree, get-things-moving recipe for prune
banana yoghurt ice cream, which will be
making its way to our freezer very soon.
But as well as optimising a child’s diet,
it is important to address any emotional
factors that could be contributing to
the problem (e.g. fear, anxiety), and to
encourage exercise and a good toileting
routine. According to ERIC, The Children’s
Bowel & Bladder Charity, a good toileting
routine means getting them to sit on the
toilet at the same times each day, ideally
20-30 minutes after each meal, which
they say “makes the most of the natural
squeezing that happens after eating”.3
Other tips listed on ERIC’s website
include: explain constipation to your child
so they know what’s going on in their
body; ensure they’re in a perfect poo
position (my words, not ERIC’s) — feet
firmly supported flat on the ground or
stool, knees above the hips; make it fun
— distract with toys and books; help the
bowel muscles to push down by making
them laugh, cough or blow bubbles; give
praise; keep a poo diary (ERIC’s words, not
mine) to track their habits; and be patient
— an important point indeed, pressuring
or rushing a child certainly won’t get the
job done quicker.
Many of us will experience constipation
at some point in our lives and it is
certainly nothing to be ashamed of. The
key is to have the strategies to deal with
it — and the courage to talk about it.
Credit: Christine Bailey, nutritionist, chef
and author of The Gut Health Diet Plan
Serves 4-6
Christine says: “This delicious ice
cream is packed with fibre and
probiotics to help normal bowel
movements. Using bananas provides
natural sweetness as well as fibre
which can help improve digestive
health as well as having prebiotic
effects, feeding your friendly gut
bacteria and stimulating their growth.
This in turn can support regular bowel
habits. This recipe uses coconut
yoghurt or kefir but if you can tolerate
dairy you can use dairy if preferred.
This creates an instant ice cream by
freezing the bananas ahead of time.
You do need a high speed blender or
food processor. Alternatively, simply
blend all the ingredients together and
then pour into a shallow container and
freeze until firm.”
• 12 pitted soft prunes
• 300 g coconut kefir or coconut
• 4 ripe bananas, sliced and frozen
Finely chop half of the prunes and
set aside. Place the coconut kefir or
yoghurt in a high speed blender with
the remaining prunes. Blend together
until smooth.
Tip in the frozen sliced bananas
and blend on high using a tamper
if needed to create a smooth thick
ice cream. Stir in the finely chopped
prunes and serve immediately.
Alternatively spoon into a shallow
freezer proof container and freeze
until firm.
We ask experts what they believe is needed to reverse the UK’s childhood obesity problem
hen it comes to tackling the
childhood obesity problem, we
might learn from the African
saying: “It takes a village to raise a child”.
The saying may not have crossed the
minds of the authors of Off the Scales,
a report into childhood obesity by the
independent think-tank the Centre for
Social Justice (CSJ), but the sentiment is
reflected in the report’s recommendations.
Dolly Theis, an author and researcher
at the CSJ, told Optimum Nutrition: “To
tackle childhood obesity, focus should
be on addressing the many associated
risk factors including high sugary drinks
consumption, poor diet, low physical
activity, unhealthy screen time, late or
irregular bedtimes, mothers smoking
during pregnancy and holiday hunger — to
name just a few!
“These need to be tackled together
and through both direct and indirect
ways — whether that is through taxation,
the school environment, planning policy,
restrictions on unhealthy advertising,
increased healthy advertising, or
expansion of the world-class National
Child Measurement Programme.
“Tackling risk factors must be joined
up and it will not only disproportionately
help the poorest children; it will benefit the
whole of society too.”
Off the Scales looks at various factors
that have been identified as influencers
of childhood obesity — including poverty,
mental health problems, education, and
environment. It recognises that targeting
just one single factor would be inadequate,
and so recommends a joined-up approach
to childhood obesity, and calls for political
leadership under a government minister.
The CSJ’s view is that with a minister
for childhood obesity and a team of civil
servants, strategies will continue even as
governments change. Critics may argue
that a ministerial appointment doesn’t
guarantee success, but the CSJ points to
a Dutch project which has been driven
by political leadership and has enabled
different sectors to work together.
Last year, the Amsterdamse Aanpak
Gezond Gewicht (AAGG) [translated
as the ‘Amsterdam Healthy Weight
Programme’], published promising data
showing that positive steps were being
made to reverse childhood obesity — only
four years after the programme started.
Its apparent recipe for success is because
of a whole-systems collective approach,
and political leadership — in this case,
under Amsterdam city council’s alderman
and deputy mayor, Eric van der Burg.
Interestingly, the initiative was set up
without any initial commitment to extra
funding either; existing resources were
used before any additional funding needs
While many agencies are already doing
excellent work in the UK, the CSJ suggests
that bringing those agencies together
would create a more powerful approach to
tackling childhood obesity at home.
We spoke to different experts to ask
them what they think is needed.
John Wass, Professor of Endocrinology,
University of Oxford.
“I think that the NHS can work towards
challenging childhood obesity without
receiving extra resources but extra
resources would certainly help.
“What it needs is leadership politically...
having somebody reporting to cabinet
with a public health hat on who can
help to plan strategy more than a year
ahead — as is currently the situation
at the Department of Health — would
be very important as per the CSJ’s
“... there are important aspects of
training in diet and nutrition which were
highlighted [at a meeting at the House
of Lords]. This includes doctors and all
healthcare professionals. All doctors
should be receiving more training in diet
and nutrition.
“We also need to get the message
across that GPs can talk to patients about
their weight without fear of recrimination.”
Paul Aveyard, Professor of Behavioural
Medicine, University of Oxford.
“What we’ve shown [in research] is that
GPs can make a very brief opportunistic
intervention with patients who are
significantly overweight and attending
for routine care — a kind of ‘while
you’re here, can I…’. What GPs feared
was that it would be hard to have these
conversations, patients would react
negatively, and, anyway, it wouldn’t help
“[Our research] showed none of those
concerns were correct. Patients were
grateful that GPs raised weight out of
the blue and addressed it directly by
suggesting that the best way to lose
weight was to attend a weight-loss
programme and then offering a referral.
“In our programme... patients were
given a referral before they left the
surgery. On average, people who heard
this message lost 2.4 kg one year later,
while those who took up that offer [of a
referral] lost double that.
“It’s possible to have this conversation
in less than 30 seconds and be effective
like this.
“It would be great if we could find a way
to do this for children and young people.
‘Everyone’ says that such conversations
will be difficult with children, families,
and young people, but then they said
that about adults, and we simply don’t
know how the young person and their
family member will react. Given this is
an intervention with high reach and high
potential, it is really important that we
pursue this programme of research to
see whether we can support children
and young people to achieve a healthier
Kate Delmar-Morgan, registered
“The approach to obesity must be joinedup to include parents, schools, food
manufacturers, whole family education,
and primary care. Schools need to take
a ‘whole school approach’ to nutrition
provision and lead by example; this also
means bringing the parents into the
mix so the message is consistent both
at school and at home, otherwise it can
become confusing for the children who
may be receiving mixed messages.
“I see more and more children who are
‘fussy eaters’. Unfortunately, this does
not help with the current snacking culture
as parents are worried that their child
hasn’t eaten enough and will therefore
provide snacks to compensate. To help
“There is no justification
for marketing unhealthy
products to children who
are a vulnerable group”
reduce the snacking culture, parents and
schools need to also stop continually
rewarding children with the wrong foods
such as sweets and sugary snacks. We
must also get kids back into cooking and
understanding food and where it comes
from — schools have a responsibility for
this, as do parents.
“Parents need to be properly supported
to make lifestyle changes in their homes
and this needs to happen now…. The
earlier a child adopts healthy eating habits
the better.”
Kawther Hashem, registered nutritionist
(public health), Action on Sugar.
“One of the key obstacles/barriers is lack
of regulation and enforcement by the
government by not putting the pressure
on food and drinks manufacturers.
“The British Retail Consortium, on
behalf of all the supermarkets, has asked
for a mandated or regulated system... as
the voluntary system does not give them
the level playing field that is essential for
“For a long time we [Action on Sugar]
have called for an overall 50 per cent
sugar reduction in food and drink. If the
aim is only to reduce sugar by 20 per
cent through a voluntary system that
is not enforced, the actual reduction is
likely to be far less — meaning we may
only reduce population calorie intake by
approximately 20 calories per person
per day, which is not sufficient to prevent
obesity and type 2 diabetes in either
children or adults.
“We need a much bigger reduction in
calorie intake which will require [e.g.] an
escalating sugary drinks tax. Currently the
tax is only 10-20 per cent of the sale price,
which will have an effect, but imagine if it
was the same as the cigarette tax, which
is 800 per cent of the sale price.
“... more restrictions on marketing,
with the long-term aim that only healthy
foods and drinks are marketed. There is
no justification for marketing unhealthy
products to children who are a vulnerable
group. [Action on Sugar has called] for
a complete ban on all confectionery
price promotions plus a sugar tax on all
confectionery of at least 20 per cent,
after our new product survey exposed
the high amounts of sugar in chocolate
confectionery ‘sharing’ bags.
“We have worked out that a 50 per cent
reduction in sugar content and a 20 per
cent reduction in fat by reformulation in
all food and drink products would give a
calorie reduction of more than 200 kcal/
person/day which would prevent obesity,
if implemented with the other actions
“The government published its halfhearted obesity plan in 2016 along with
confirmation that this was ‘the start of the
conversation’ — we now need to see proof
that the health of our children is the top
Does sugar dominate your breakfast table? Catherine Morgan looks at a better start to the day
rarely take my boys down the supermarket
breakfast cereal aisle, with its rows of
mostly sugar-loaded boxes that would
probably be better placed among the cakes
and biscuits than sold as a healthy start
to the day. And what’s worse, many are
aimed at children, who only see the cartoon
character on the box and not the clever
marketing ploys. That’s not to say we never
have cereal in the house; we do — albeit the
blander, not-quite-so exciting-and-certainlydon’t-turn-the-milk-chocolately varieties
— and I even appreciate their convenience
when mornings are particularly hectic
Of course not all cereals can be tarred
with the same sugar-laden spoon; but it is
worrying that some children are consuming
half of their daily sugar allowance through
cereals, fruit juices and spreads before they
even step out the door. (The recommended
daily maximum for sugar is five cubes/
teaspoons for four- to six-year-olds and six
cubes/teaspoons for seven- to 10-yearolds.) Yet with mixed nutrition messages
alongside sometimes questionable
marketing strategies — not to mention the
standard food-child battles — it’s no wonder
some parents are unsure about what they
should bring to the table.
For naturopath and functional
medicine practitioner Lucinda Miller, aka
TheNatureDoc, the breakfast conundrum
isn’t uncommon. “Breakfast is the meal
which is often the most challenging to
get right,” she says. “Most food diaries of
the children in my clinic reveal breakfasts
consisting of sweet cereals, white toast with
margarine and jam or croissant/brioche.
This is often accompanied by a glass of
apple juice or orange juice.”
Miller says that a breakfast like this
can provide more than a child’s daily
sugar allowance and cause havoc on the
microbiome, i.e. the microbes residing
within us.
“These ultra-processed foods are also
now being flagged as a contributing factor
for the surge in childhood obesity and type
2 diabetes,” she says. “Without enough
protein and essential fatty acids at breakfast
time, the child will also be more likely to
struggle to focus and concentrate at school.
A carb-heavy breakfast may well mean that
the child gets hungrier during the morning,
setting up a cycle of grazing throughout the
day which can lead to poor intake of food at
other mealtimes.”
So what should parents do when they’re
up against the morning rush and a table
of fussy eaters? Eggs are a good option,
says Miller, because they’re quick and easy
— she has hers scrambled or boiled most
mornings. Avocado or smoked salmon
are great additions, too, although I’m not
convinced my boys would go for either,
and I wouldn’t want to spend money on
something that may go straight in the bin.
But they might be up for scrambled egg on
(wholemeal) toast, an omelette, or some
boiled eggs and soldiers, or even my own
childhood favourite, eggy bread.
Miller also suggests easy sides such
as cooked cherry tomatoes with sliced
mushrooms, homemade baked beans,
or mixed grains sourdough bread and
organic butter. For something speedy, she
also recommends oat-based products like
granola (see recipe), porridge or overnight
As for my boys’ pretty-much-daily fare of
porridge “with everything” (almond butter,
a drizzle of honey, and grated apple or
blueberries), Miller says it’s “pretty perfect”,
but adding in some chia seeds or flax seeds
would boost up the omega-3 fatty acid
and fibre content. She also recommended
changing around the nut butters from time
to time and using different grains to make
porridge such as buckwheat or quinoa
flakes — plus adding a sprinkle of cinnamon
might also help with blood sugar regulation.
And for those who like to be completely
unorthodox, there’s no reason not to offer
something that we might typically serve for
lunch or dinner (or dinner and tea, for fellow
northerners). My favourite breakfast of all
time was a spicy noodle soup that I had in
Thailand. This might be a step too far for
some, but it could be a valuable lesson for
our children: that being different isn’t always
a bad thing.
From Lucinda Miller’s upcoming book, The
Good Stuff, due for publication by Short
Books on 10th September 2018.
10-15 servings, depending on age
Miller says: “It is a great standby
for speedy breakfasts. Kids love the
crunch, especially when mixed with
thick organic Greek or coconut yoghurt
and topped with fruity homemade
compote or berries. I have kept this
recipe simple with picky eaters in mind,
but you can switch things round a bit
by adding some raisins, black or white
mulberries, chopped apricots, goji
berries, pecans, sliced almonds, chia
seeds, coconut flakes, hulled hemp
seeds or flax seeds to the blend after
you have cooked the oats.”
300 g rolled oats
40 g pumpkin seeds
40 g sunflower seeds
3 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp honey
Melt the honey and coconut oil
together in a small saucepan.
Mix the rolled oats, pumpkin seeds
and sunflower seeds in a large baking
tray with the honey/coconut blend.
Cook in a 180C oven for 20-25
minutes until golden brown.
Shake the granola well every 5
minutes during the cooking process so
that it browns evenly.
Cool and store in a large glass jar.
ccording to the writer and actor
Stephen Fry in his autobiography
Moab is my Washpot, never pick
asparagus after Royal Ascot (which takes
place in the third week of June). It isn’t
social etiquette; the plant just needs to die
down in order to build up its energy stores
for the following year’s crop.
The British asparagus (Asparagus
officinalis) season usually begins from
April. Called the Usain Bolt of the veggie
world — at least by the Asparagus
Growers’ Association (Britishasparagus.
com) — the spears can grow a speedy 10
cm in one day. The season is short (about
eight weeks) and each spear needs to
be hand-picked, which may explain why
British asparagus isn’t as cheap as some
other seasonal vegetables.
Asparagus is a good source of vitamin
K and C. It’s also a prebiotic, meaning
that as a source of soluble fibre called
fructooligosaccharides (FOS), it helps
feed our gut bacteria to keep our
microbiome healthy. But health benefits
have also been over-stated. One claim
that spread on the internet stated that
pureed asparagus can cure cancer.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence to
support this, although vitamin K, one of
its nutrients, has been associated with
cancer-fighting properties.
Compared with its green cousin, white
asparagus has a milder taste, but the main
difference between the two is simple:
White asparagus is grown using a
process known as etiolation, so it is
deprived of light, usually being covered
with earth or a covering until it is ready
to pick. This prevents production of
chlorophyll, the chemical which makes
plants green. If you want to try the white
Asparagus has been grown for
thousands of years, and was even
depicted on Egyptian tombs dating
from 400 BC. The name comes from
“the Greek asparagos (and originally
the Persian asparag) meaning sprout
or shoot”. The epithet officinalis means
‘of the dispensary’ in Latin, alluding to
the medicinal properties of the plant.1
variety, look for it in jars.
From being dunked into boiled eggs to
being grilled on the barbeque, asparagus
is versatile, ready in a couple of minutes,
and has a distinct flavour that needs just
a little salt and pepper to bring to its best.
Buy it fresh, frozen or canned, but if you
like a bit of snap to your meal, stick with
the fresh variety. Frozen asparagus tends
to be softer, so is better in soups.
To prepare fresh asparagus, bend the
stalk until it snaps. The upper portion from
This recipe by Christine Bailey for
colourful savoury muffins is easy to make.
The muffins are delicious served warm for
breakfast or cold for lunch with a salad.
Makes: 8 mini frittatas
Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 23 minutes
• 125 g/4½ oz asparagus
• 1 handful of frozen peas
• 2 spring onions/scallions, chopped
• 60 g/2¼ oz smoked salmon, cut into
small strips
• 4 eggs, beaten
• Sea salt and ground black pepper
the break will be the tender stem, whereas
the lower part will be tougher. To save
on waste, peel or trim the outside of the
woody stems; the tender stem underneath
can be used however you choose.
for recipe ideas
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
and grease and line 8 cups of a muffin
tray with paper muffin cases. Blanch the
asparagus in a saucepan of boiling salted
water for 2–3 minutes until just soft.
Drain, then cut into 1 cm/½ “ pieces using
Divide the asparagus, peas, spring
onions/scallions and smoked salmon
among the paper cases — they should be
three-quarters full. Beat the eggs in a jug/
pitcher with some salt and pepper, then
pour into the paper cases.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 20
minutes or until the muffins are golden
and just firm in the centre. Leave to cool
for 5 minutes before removing them from
the tray.
Serve hot or cold.
Christine says:
“Asparagus is rich in folate and other B
vitamins, which can help to maintain a
healthy homocysteine level and support
the production of neurotransmitters to
boost mood.
“Asparagus is also a good source of
vitamin A — critical for enabling plasticity
in the adult brain — which helps the brain
to adapt and grow during learning.”
From The Brain Boost Diet Plan: 4
weeks to optimise your mood, memory
and brain health for life by Christine
Bailey. Published by Nourish. ISBN:
Bananas or a boiled egg? When it comes to the food that fuels your workout, which one reaches
the winning line first? Alice Ball looks at the debate over macronutrients for effective exercise
’m in the changing rooms of one of
those boutique fitness classes — the
‘you pay bucks for us to kick your
ass’ kind. Despite a stressful morning,
I’ve remembered to grab a banana to
eat before the torture begins. After all,
pre-workout carbs are vital, right? But to
my left is a woman with a physique that
says, ‘I do this every day’ tucking into
two boiled eggs before the class. “Hang
on,” I think to myself. “Have I got this all
When we work out, our body requires
fuel. Food is stored in the body as
glycogen and broken down into glucose
during exercise, feeding the muscles
with energy. We can get glycogen from
most food groups, but carbs are thought
to convert to glucose more easily than
protein or fat. As a result, carbohydrates
are considered to be the energy food;
which is why we often see marathon
runners eating bowls of porridge or
bananas before their race. This is known
as carb-loading; consuming large
quantities of carbohydrates in the run
up to an event to increase the amount of
glycogen in the body. The result? They
can perform for longer without ‘hitting the
The body naturally contains enough
glycogen to run the course of an hour’s
workout or 10 km run. But for distance
...endurance athletes
who ate very few
burned twice as much
fat as athletes on a
high-carb diet
runners, glycogen sources are often
exhausted by the half marathon mark —
hence the need for carb-loading.
But now experts are suggesting that
carbs aren’t essential for sport. Professor
Tim Noakes, Emeritus Professor at The
University of Cape Town, argues that
since the only function of carbohydrates is
to produce energy, humans can exist on a
zero-carb diet. Instead, Noakes supports
the consumption of a low-carb, high-fat
diet (LCHF), which uses fat as the body’s
primary fuel. “When you stop eating
carbs, the body reduces the secretion of
the hormone insulin — needed to store
carbohydrates after we eat them — and
for some reason becomes less hungry,”
says Noakes. “As a result, subjects eating
this diet eat fewer calories and lose
A LCHF-diet contains plenty of animal
produce including meat, fish, eggs, and
dairy, along with nuts and non-starchy
vegetables. It excludes grains and starchy
vegetables like potatoes — going against
carb-loading tradition. “The liver can
produce all the glucose we need for
exercise — we do not need to ingest any,”
says Noakes. “A LCHF-diet teaches our
bodies to burn the fat in our diet — not to
store it as fat in our abdomens or under
our skin.”
Despite countless studies suggesting
that carb-loading helps endurance,
Noakes believes that humans can exercise
at high intensities without it. The body
naturally contains greater reserves of fat;
and sustaining a high-fat diet forces the
body into a state of ketosis. This is when
there is not enough glucose for energy,
so the body produces ketones from fat
and burns these instead. Endurance
athletes would, therefore, have enough
energy from fat to cover greater distances,
eliminating the need for carb-loading.
But can the body burn ketones fast
enough at an elite level? “I suspect that a
time of 2h 25 and above can definitely be
run on a high-fat diet,” predicts Noakes.
“Some people may run faster than this but
we don’t have much evidence as athletes
running between 2h 03 and 2h 25 are
usually eating high-carb diets.”
However, Graeme Close, Professor
of Human Physiology at Liverpool John
Moores University, disagrees. He points
towards a study by Louise Burke from the
Australian Institute of Sport. The threeweek study concluded that fat-loading
was detrimental to the performance of
elite athletes compared with traditional
carb-loading. The increase in fat
oxidation caused by the LCHF-diet meant
that oxygen demand at a given speed
increased, impairing the performance of
“I hear the fat-loading crowd screaming
at me, saying three weeks of loading is
not long enough,” says Close. “But I would
ask how long an elite athlete would accept
impaired performance when there is no
proven gold at the end of rainbow.”
As for non-elites, Close suggests those
looking to boost performance in a highintensity sport should stick to a highercarb intake. “Consuming about 6-8 g of
carbohydrate per kg of body weight the
day before would be advisable and then a
good carbohydrate breakfast,” he says.
According to US-based author and
sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, the main
appeal of a high-fat diet is weight-loss.
Ingesting carbs before exercise causes
a rise in the hormone insulin which,
when elevated during training, limits fat
oxidisation — the reaction which causes
our bodies to burn fat. The Ohio State
University found that endurance athletes
who ate very few carbohydrates (10
per cent carbs versus 70 per cent fat)
burned twice as much fat as athletes on a
high-carb diet.2 On average, the low-carb
runners’ fat-burning rate was 2.3-fold
higher than the rate for the high-carb
However, Clark warns, as with any
1. Burke LM et al (2017). Low carbohydrate, high
fat diet impairs exercise economy and negates
the performance benefit from intensified
training in elite race walkers. J of Physiol,
restrictive diet, cutting out carbs isn’t
always sustainable. “My experience
suggests that many people who seek
out a keto-diet have a bad relationship
with carbs, so instead of binge-eating
the whole bag of cookies, say, they cut
out carbs completely,” she explains. “But
we all know that a strict diet comes back
to bite the dieter. Plus, just how many
hard boiled eggs can a person eat for
And speaking of eggs, where does
protein come into this? Just as carbs
are thought to provide energy, proteins
are known as the building blocks of the
body, maintaining and repairing cells and
tissues. Even when we’re resting, they are
used to replace proteins in tissues that
are naturally turned over. Proteins provide
little energy during exercise but they’re
important post-workout because they
allow the muscles to repair and recover,
preventing muscle-loss and building lean
muscle. Most people require 70-140 g of
protein every day — around 1.5-2 g per kg
of body-weight. According to Professor
Close, the key feeding time is breakfast,
after the overnight fast. “If you’re training
hard I also advise protein before bed to
help with overnight recovery,” he adds.
So am I right to opt for a pre-workout
banana or has eggs lady got it sussed?
It all comes down to personal goals.
Evidence suggests that a low-carb diet
mainly supports fat-loss but can provide
energy for moderate exercise, whilst a
high-carb intake improves performance
in high-intensity sport. A morning banana
may not improve my performance in a
45 minute spin class, but if I decide to
become an Olympic athlete anytime soon,
I might just need one. Or 10.
595(9):2785-2807. doi:10.1113/JP273230.
2. Volek JS et al (2016). Metabolic characteristics
of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners.
Metabolism-Clin and Exp, 65(3), 100-110.
Exercise throughout life boosts immune system in older age
men) and 60 km in under 5.5 hours (for
recent study has found that maintaining
women). It was found that although the
an active lifestyle throughout life may
subjects’ bones were slightly thinner, as is
help keep the immune system functioning
typical with age, they had retained muscle
like that of a young person. Conducted by
mass and strength. Also, the thymus (which
researchers from King’s College London and
produces immune T cells) in the older
the University of Birmingham, the study
cyclists was no different to the thymus of
involved 125 male and female cyclists, aged
young adults.
55 to 79, who had maintained a high level of
cycling throughout most of their adult lives,
and compared their immune profiles with
those of age-matched subjects who were
1. Duggal NA et al (2018). Major features of
not involved in regular exercise. Although
immunesenescence, including reduced thymic
they were not elite athletes, the cyclists
output, are ameliorated by high levels of physical
could cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours (for
activity in adulthood. Aging Cell.
The Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), which publishes
Optimum Nutrition, was founded in 1984 to teach nutrition and
inspire future generations to learn about nutritional health.
Many students have passed through our doors since then.
Catherine Jeans (DipION mBANT CNHC), known as The
Family Nutrition Expert, told us how she went from being a
‘bad’ vegetarian to a successful nutritional therapist with a
rewarding, exciting career — and even a love of kale
What drew you to nutritional therapy?
“My mum always cooked great healthy
food and taught me how to cook… as I
left home, went to uni and became a ’bad‘
vegetarian (cheese on toast most days!)
my health really started to suffer. Bad skin,
putting on weight, and then I developed
ulcerative proctitis, an inflammatory
bowel condition. Then my dad married a
brilliant nutritional therapist, who helped
me to transform my health. I’m so pleased
to say I no longer have any problems with
my bowels... I truly believe in the power of
food and nutrition to get us into the best
health possible… and now at 40, I think
I’m living proof of that!”
What do you incorporate into your daily
life from nutritional therapy?
“Keeping my blood sugar balanced…
it profoundly helps my energy, weight
management, health and overall wellbeing. I find this helps so much with my
kids as well, and it’s one of the simplest
strategies that makes such a difference to
my clients’ health in a very short time.”
What did you enjoy studying at ION?
“I was always really great at science at
school but I’d kind of put this part of my
brain on hold in my first career, which was
as a TV producer and journalist. I loved
learning about the human body again,
all the intricate details of how it works,
and really getting in-depth with practical
research-based science that can help our
bodies to function better.”
How has your career path changed since
graduating from ION?
“I was very focused on building my
one-to-one nutritional therapy practice…
seeing over 1,000 clients in my first five
years. Within 12 months of practising,
me and my best friend opened our own
multi-disciplinary clinic — and we won
CAMExpo Clinic of the year in our first 12
months. I’m so proud of our achievements,
but as time went on, I wanted to help
more people in a more meaningful way.
I realised that if I wanted my business to
expand, reaching more one-to-one clients
wasn’t an option. I also found that as a
busy working mum, I needed to find a
way of expanding my business that didn’t
place such a huge pressure on my energy
levels. I love working with clients one-toone, but I now have my ‘magic number’
of clients per month which allows me to
thoroughly enjoy and thrive at my work,
whilst also practising what I preach in
terms of self-care and my own needs.
“Over the last 18 months, I’ve
been developing nutrition education
programmes; my online courses are going
from strength to strength. I have three
courses live, including one for parents to
learn about children’s nutrition, how to be
a healthy veggie or vegan, and my 30-day
online sugar detox programme.
“What I’ve really learnt… is that it’s
important to have multiple income
streams, so that you have lots of variety
in your work… and have income coming
in when other streams are quiet. I often
write nutrition articles for digital content
companies as well as supplement
companies, do talks for local institutions
and businesses, and cancer nutrition
workshops for a local cancer charity —
which I love doing and have secured a
grant to make this work ongoing. I also
work alongside my local private hospital,
supporting their bariatric unit with
professional nutrition advice. So it’s great
fun… and I’m always coming up with lots
of ideas to keep my work interesting and
create other income streams.”
What do you find rewarding working as a
nutritional therapist?
“Firstly, I love having the confidence to
be able to feed my family well. I do find
it a battle sometimes when we live in
a society where sugar has become so
normal, and we’re the odd ones out for
feeding our kids real food and limiting
their sugar intake.
“Secondly, it’s rewarding to see the
transformation that people can make
with very simple nutrition advice. I love
the complex cases sometimes with lots
of functional tests, but also I love those
cases where just eating the right food can
bring about a dramatic transformation.”
What is your favourite food/ingredient?
“I love organic greens… kale especially,
and I never used to like it… I love making
my own kale chips with nutritional yeast
and even my kids who are a bit suspicious
of greens will tuck in… my husband is
Spanish… he makes a fabulous paella and
a brilliant lentil stew, and this is my kind
of food. Also anything with coconut in it
is a winner for me, and dark chocolate
features regularly too!
“I’m no longer vegetarian because it
seems to suit me better to eat some meat,
but I’ll always buy grass-fed or organic,
and have it with plenty of vegetable
protein as well.”
What are your hopes for the future of
nutritional therapy?
“That more GPs recognise the brilliant
work we can do. I’ve certainly seen a
change… with more referrals now coming
from local GPs who’ve seen the results in
their patients who have worked with me.
“I also really hope that more trained
nutritional therapists are able to make
their careers a huge success. I think
there’s enough business out there for
everyone… and there’s now so much
support with business training that it’s
really possible to have a brilliant career.”
Contact Catherine at:
Contact ION at:
ION is launching a BSc Nutrition & Lifestyle Sciences and Practice
in partnership with The Open University
The undergraduate degree will be offered alongside our renowned Nutritional Therapy Diploma Course from September 2018*,
and will be available as aendance and e-learning options.
Developed in response to student demand for a higher level qualification, the new degree programme will provide a richer and
more in-depth training experience, supporting practitioners to succeed as professionals in this growing and dynamic market.
Speak with our Admissions Officer on 020.8614.7820 to learn more and book onto our open events.
*subject to validation | |
@ion_nutrition |
instituteforoptimumnutrition | 020 8614 7800
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