Top tips for tummy troubles

This one covers digestion from mouth to, well, bottom. So, if you’re munching on your muesli, maybe give this a read later!

Having problems with our gut such as bloating, wind and constipation can be fairly common, but there are some tips and tricks that can help reduce the chance of getting these symptoms.

 

Take time to eat and drink

How many times have you gulped down a glass of water when you’ve realised that you haven’t had a drink all morning? Who else sometimes gobbles down their lunch whilst sitting at their desk?

Taking time to chew our food properly is the start of digestion, breaking it down into much smaller pieces and coating it in saliva. Saliva contains an enzyme called amylase which starts to break down the starch, long chains of sugars, into shorter chains of sugars.

Chewing food well also gives our brain time to register that we are eating and to prepare the rest of the digestive system. This can also have the effect of making us feel more satisfied, something that Laura Thomas has also mentioned in her Mindful Eating podcast episode.

By chewing food and drinking fluids slowly we can also reduce the risk of taking in a lot of air at the same time which can sometimes make us feel a bit windy.

 

Find a routine

Something else that can really help with ‘getting things moving’ is to have a regular meal pattern. If you haven’t eaten anything since breakfast and then have a huge dinner this can affect our stomachs.

For some people, their routine might be 3 meals a day, whereas others may include some snacks in there too. If you’re absolutely starving by the time you get to your next meal it might be worth trying to have a snack in between next time.

 

Up your fibre intake

The current recommendation is to have 30g of fibre a day, but most adults are currently only eating about 18g. Dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate that can’t be digested an absorbed in our small intestine. Instead bacteria in our large intestine partially or completely breaks it down. It is essential for preventing constipation, softening stools and making them easier to pass, as well as lowering our risk of heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer.

These foods are particularly high in fibre;

  • Starchy foods like oats, potato with the skin on, sweet potato, high fibre breakfast cereals, wholemeal or wholegrain bread and pasta, and brown rice.
  • Vegetables such as peas, sweetcorn, parsnips, green beans, carrots
  • Beans and pulses such as chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils
  • Fruits like apples, pears, plums and prunes, apricots, raspberries and blackberries
  • Nuts and seeds such as almonds, peanut butter, linseeds and chia seeds

This table has been adapted from the BDA Food Facts sheet on fibre which shows how you can fit extra fibre into your diet.

Portion size Fibre per portion (g)
Breakfast Porridge 50g 5g
With raspberries 80g 2.5g
Snack 1 banana or apple 1 medium sized 2g
Lunch Baked potato 180g – medium cooked 5g
Baked beans 80g 3g
Sweetcorn (tinned) 80g 2g
Snack Wholemeal bread 2 slices 6g
  Peanut butter 1 tablespoon 1g
Dinner Wholemeal spaghetti 150g 5g
Suggestion: add a tomato based sauce and vegetables
TOTAL 31.5g

 

Remember that if you are having serious and recurrent problems with your stomach or digestion please see your GP or registered dietitian to rule out any other health problems.

Does it benefit our health to eat seasonably?

We now live in a time where we can walk into a supermarket at any time of year and expect to see a huge variety of food available. Whilst this means that we can make any recipe that we want all year, it can sometimes feel as though we’ve become removed from the growth and production of our food. Eating more seasonably could reconnect us with the origins of our food and reminds us that most foods are not meant to be available all year round.

Although many definitions of ‘seasonality’ exist, most people think of it when food is grown outdoors in its natural season, without using extra energy (for heat, light etc.), therefore not producing extra greenhouse gas emissions. (Did you know that 15-20% of all greenhouse gases in the UK are produced from the food system?! [1]) Strawberries grown in the UK in June are seasonal, as are apples grown during the autumn in New Zealand but then eaten in the spring/summer in the UK.

Apart from the obvious environmental benefit (a strawberry grown in England in the usual spring/summertime growing season uses far less energy than those grown in heated greenhouses all year round, for example), eating more seasonably can introduce more variety into our diets. By eating lots of different foods, we increase our chances of consuming all of our essential nutrients.

Some nutrients become more available once the food has been processed. Lycopene and beta-carotene (the inactive form of vitamin A) are higher in tinned tomatoes than fresh ones [2]. Therefore, you can eat tinned tomatoes all year round knowing that they were probably produced in season and can contain lots of nutrients.

Frozen fruit and veg are also a good idea as they are often picked and frozen in season so can have a higher nutrient content than some ‘fresh’ fruit and veg that’s been sitting on the supermarket shelf for a few days. They are also a really cost-effective way of increasing your fruit and veg intake! It can also be cheaper to buy fresh foods when they are in season as it has often cost less money to produce them in the first place.

IMG_5149

Eating seasonal foods has some environmental, and potentially nutritional, benefits, but it is a small piece in the puzzle of having a sustainable diet. Eating only seasonal foods in the winter in the UK can also look a bit dull, so why not take inspiration from the Eat Seasonably Calendar and use it to remind you of which seasons your foods would traditionally have been grown and encourage you to try out different food each month?

 

Find some tips and seasonal recipes on these websites:

http://eatseasonably.co.uk/

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/seasonal-calendar/all

 

Beautiful photographs courtesy of @lauraheck 

 

Sources

  1. Garnett T (2008). Cooking Up a Storm: Food, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Our Changing Climate. Surrey: University of Surrey, Food Climate Research Network, Centre for Environmental Strategy.
  2. Hwang E-S, Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis M, Bowen PE (2012). Effects of heat treatment on the carotenoid and tocopherol composition of tomato. J Food Sci. 77; 1109-1114.
  3. Macdiarmid JI (2014). Seasonality and dietary requirements: will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 73; 368-375.

Mental Health Awareness Week

“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see differences of the colours, but where exactly does one first blindingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.”

This quote from Billy Bud, Sailor by Herman Melville beautifully illustrates the idea that mental illness may exist as a continuum of varying severity among many of us.

Good mental health allows us to feel, think and behave in a way that enables us to thrive – enjoying our lives, but many of us will be affected by poor mental health in some way at some point in our lives. It can be debilitating to a point of not being able to leave the house, and can steal all enjoyment from our activities.

It is a topic that is being more widely spoken about, and the Royals only made the conversation louder by leading the Heads Together campaign. Mental health is a tricky topic to discuss for lots of us, with a huge stigma still attached to it, but it is something that gets better when spoken about.

With only a small minority of people reporting good mental health (Mental Health Foundation), it is important that we speak about it more and also engage in positive steps to improve our mental wellbeing. After reading various mental health charity websites and documents I thought I’d make a list of a few things that we can do regularly (if not every day) to improve our general mental wellbeing. I have also included a list of the resources I used for information on mental health.

  • Spend time with friends and family – this increases our sense of belonging and can improve mental wellbeing
  • Going for a walk (or being physically active in any way)
  • Spending time on your interests (maybe this is gardening, painting, cooking etc.) – as well as giving us relaxation time this can also become an opportunity to join groups and meet people with shared interests
  • Getting enough sleep – poor mental health can cause poor sleep, and poor sleep can influence mental health
  • Eating healthily – this can improve mood and energy levels, increase positive feelings and enable clearer thinking (my post ‘Improving mood through diet’ can be found here)
  • Learning new things – this can help us appreciate the ‘small wins’ such as trying out a new recipe, or reading about a new subject, making us feel proud of ourselves and increasing our self-esteem

 

If you are struggling with mental health problems please seek help from friends and family, your GP (or other health professional) and or by visiting some of the following websites for more information. You don’t need to suffer in silence.

 

BDA Food Facts – https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/foodmood.pdf

CALM – https://www.thecalmzone.net/

Heads Together – https://www.headstogether.org.uk/

Mental Health Foundation – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind – https://www.mind.org.uk/

Young Minds – https://youngminds.org.uk/

 

Laura Thomas also recently focused on mental health on her podcast, Don’t Salt My Game. You can find the episode here.

The Nutrient Series – VITAMIN C

I hope you’ve all been enjoying the sunny weather recently! I’m sorry for the silence – I’ve been rushing to get coursework in and have now dived headfirst into revision period so I apologise if the posts are a bit few and far between.

This one’s a short post about vitamin C, sometimes called ascorbic acid.

We can’t make vitamin C in our bodies so it must come from our diet, making it an essential nutrient. It is well known as the vitamin lacking in sailors’ diets causing them to develop scurvy.

 

Why do we need vitamin C? (1)

Vitamin C is used by various enzymes in our bodies to help carry out day to day functions, such as the production of energy from fats and the synthesis of bone tissue.

It also helps with the absorption of iron from our food. This is why it is sometimes recommended to drink a glass of orange juice with your breakfast.

You may have also heard of vitamin C being referred to as an antioxidant, but there is currently not enough evidence done in humans to support this idea.

 

How much should we be consuming?

According to the UK Dietary Reference Values, adults should be consuming at least 40mg vitamin C per day (2).

To put this into context, one orange tends to contain about 50mg of vitamin C. If you are meeting the ‘5 fruit and veg a day’ target you will definitely be getting enough vitamin C.

Another tip for cooking vegetables – if you steam them instead of boiling them you lose less vitamins during the cooking process.

 

Sources

  1. Essentials of Human Nutrition, Jim Mann & A. Stewart Truswell, 2012.
  2. Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom, DoH, 1991

 

 

Salad inspiration

I love salads – they’re one of my favourite kinds of lunch (and sometimes dinner) as you can add so many delicious things! I often get asked for inspiration on how to jazz up a salad so I thought I would make this infographic to give you some ideas.

salad building

 

P.S. I can’t believe I missed them out, but I forgot to put olives on the toppings section – I nearly always add these to a salad.

This is just a guide for if you are feeling a bit stuck with what to put in your salad. It is by no means an instruction manual so feel free to go wild!

Obesogenic environments

We are now living in an environment that enables and encourages weight gain due to overeating and low physical activity. This is often referred to as an ‘obesogenic environment’. If you look around your local area I am sure you will see signs of it. It includes a multitude of fast-food outlets, and lifts and escalators being far easier to find in a building than the stairs. Once you become aware of this, it seems as though there is a coffee shop or food outlet everywhere you look .

It is thought that teenagers are some of the most vulnerable to this sort of environment as they have a little bit of expendable income (pocket-money) and more independence as they are probably getting themselves to and from school. There are also often deals in take-away shops targeted specifically at school children.

The picture above is a poster that I spotted on the high street in my local area – on the main bus route that gets extremely busy around the end of the school day. You can pick up a whole pizza for just £1! I don’t know if you can see, but at the bottom of the poster it says, ‘Offered only at lunch time from 12pm to 4pm’. I’m sure you can imagine how tempting this would be for school children walking past who are feeling peckish after the school day. And how demoralising it must be for parents who are trying to encourage their children to eat a healthy diet.

I am all for moderation and eating a variety of foods, including pizza occasionally (I love pizza!), but I doubt that at £1 each these pizzas will be eaten only occasionally.

Some supermarkets have already made moves to create a more enabling and healthy environment by removing crisps and confectionery from the check-out. I’m sure you’ve experienced how tempting that chocolate bar is when you’re waiting in line, but that you probably hadn’t even considered buying as you were doing the rest of your shopping.

I think the first step is to make ourselves more aware of the obesogenic environment in which we live, but maybe it needs to go as far as government legislation on location of fast-food outlets and such deals being targeted at children – what do you think?

The Nutrient Series – SODIUM (& salt)

Why do we need sodium?

Sodium is used for various functions within our body. The main ones include;

  • Maintaining the right balance of fluid inside and outside our cells. It is important to have the right volume of fluid in our cells, blood and extra-cellularly (outside of cells). Sodium is one of the minerals which helps to maintain this balance.
  • Sodium is also used by our nerves in the process of transmitting signals around our bodies and activating particular muscles as and when we need to use them.

 

How much should we be consuming?

Most of the sodium in our diets comes from sodium chloride, most commonly known as table salt. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, most people in the UK consume more than enough salt in their diets.

SACN (The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) recommend that adults consume no more than 6g salt per day (1). However, the average UK adult consumes 8g per day (2).

Too much salt in our diet has been associated with high blood pressure which can increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

 

Sources of sodium

Salt is used as a preservative (to make foods last longer) and to enhance the foods flavour. The main sources of sodium are;

  • Preserved meats and fish
  • Ready meals and takeaways
  • Bread and other cereal products

Other, much smaller, sources of sodium are monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is a flavour enhancer, and sodium bicarbonate.

 

Sodium and salt on food labels

Sometimes food labels only state how much sodium is contained in the product. If this is the case, there is an easy way to work out how much salt it contains:

Salt = sodium x 2.5

Some packets may also use a traffic light system to let you know whether the food item is considered high in salt(3);

  • High salt is colour-coded red and is more than 1.5g salt per 100g.
  • Medium is amber-coloured and is anything between 3g and 1.5g salt per 100g.
  • Low-salt foods are colour coded green and contain less than 0.3g salt per 100g.

This is shown easily below:

picture1

 

How can I reduce the salt in my diet?

It’s best to try and eat foods that are low- or medium-salt, and only have foods high in salt occasionally.

You could also try switching to low-salt varieties of things like stock cubes and baked beans. It may take a couple of weeks to adjust to the change in flavour, but it’s quite surprising how quickly you get used to a lower salt product.

You could also try not adding salt to food at the table or when cooking. Try adding other spices and herbs whilst cooking, and maybe only put pepper on the table when it comes to sitting down to eat.

 

 

Sources

  1. SACN (2003). Salt and Health. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/338782/SACN_Salt_and_Health_report.pdf
  2. Public Health England (2016). Obesity and healthy eating. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-phe-data-on-salt-consumption-levels
  3. NHS Choices. Salt: the facts. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/salt.aspx