Fibre – the latest “superfood”

Fibre – yes I know, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world but a major study has been investigating how much fibre we really need to be eating and has found there are huge health benefits when we eat more.

  • It reduces the chances of debilitating heart attacks and strokes as well as life-long diseases such as type-2 diabetes.
  • It helps keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.
  • It’s cheap and widely available in the supermarket.
  • It makes us feel fuller and can help digestion and prevent constipation.

The researchers for this study, based at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, and the University of Dundee say people should be eating a minimum of 25g of fibre per day. “The evidence is now overwhelming and this is a game-changer that people have to start doing something about it,” one of the researchers, Professor John Cummings, has told BBC News.

The NHS recommends we should increase our fibre intake to 30g a day as part of a healthy balanced diet. So what does 30g of fibre actually mean?

To increase your fibre intake you could:

  • Choose a higher-fibre breakfast cereal such as plain wholewheat biscuits (like Weetabix) or plain shredded whole grain (like Shredded wheat), or porridge as oats are also a good source of fibre.
  • Go for wholemeal or granary breads, or higher fibre white bread, and choose wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
  • Go for potatoes with their skins on, such as a baked potato or boiled new potatoes.
  • Add pulses and legumes such as beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, soups, curries and salads.
  • Include plenty of vegetables with meals, either as a side dish or added to sauces, stews or curries.
  • Have some fresh or dried fruit, or fruit canned in natural juice for dessert. Because dried fruit is sticky, it can increase the risk of tooth decay, so it’s better if it is only eaten as part of a meal, rather than as a between-meal snack.
  • For snacks, try fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes and unsalted nuts or seeds.

Did you know? A small handful of nuts can have up to 3g of fibre. Always choose unsalted nuts, such as plain almonds, without any added sugars.

Find out more:

The impact of sleep deprivation on your body

A growing body of research suggests that there’s a link between how much people sleep and how much they weigh. If you’re not sleeping enough, the effects could be more significant than just dark circles under your eyes. Here we look at the surprising fact of how your size and your sleep are closely linked.

The rise of obesity over the last few decades is paralleled by significant reductions in the length of time we spend asleep.

At the same time, a large number of studies have reported associations between impaired sleep and the likelihood of developing obesity or diseases such as type 2 diabetes. (Note: the act of sleeping less does not in itself make you fat – after a few disturbed nights your body won’t automatically have created fat!).

We’re not talking about a cause/effect link here. We’re talking correlation. As the number of people getting less sleep has risen, so the number of people at risk of life-threatening metabolic and cardiovascular diseases has risen too. The reason for this correlation may lie in the effects that poor or less sleep may have on your behaviour and physiology. It’s these effects that can contribute to weight gain.

Inactivity – if you’re feeling lethargic and tired, you’re less likely to exercise and more likely to take shortcuts like using the lift rather than the stairs. This decreases the amount of calories you’re burning, which has a direct effect on your weight.

Mood fluctuations sleep is vital to regulating your mood. Less sleep could see you happy one moment and feeling low the next. Low mood can trigger emotional or ‘comfort’ eating, when our bodies crave high fat, high sugar foods. When eaten, these foods trigger the pleasure response in your brain, and we’re hardwired to crave them in times of distress.

Reduced leptin levels – less of the hormone that tells you you’re full could see you overeating without realising it.

Increased grehlin levels – more of the hormone that tells you you’re hungry will have you seeking out more food and snacks, even if you’ve consumed the right amount of food for you that day.

Recent analysis conducted by King’s College London reviewed dozens of small studies involving sleep and appetite. It showed that, although not everyone is affected in the same way, on average getting less than seven hours of sleep a night led to people eating significantly more overall.

A bad night’s sleep disrupts the two key hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin and this combination leaves us feeling physically hungrier, causing us to eat more. Studies also suggest that when we’re exposed to food while sleep deprived, there is increased activation in areas of the brain associated with reward. This can lead to us choosing foods that are higher in sugar and fat, rather than selecting healthy options.

All of this can help to explain why, in the long term, there’s a strong connection between poor sleep, weight gain and health problems like type 2 diabetes. The simple solution is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. For adults, 7-8 hours of sleep per night is associated with the lowest risk of incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

Find out more:

Will going vegan make you healthier?

The popularity of veganism has really taken off. More than four times as many people are now opting to cut animal products out of their diet than they were four years ago. Across Britain, people are spending more money on vegan products, and plant-based diets are trending online. With major supermarkets catching on and stocking up on vegan-friendly food – and even restaurants starting to offer vegan dishes and menus for their customers, we were wondering how easy is it to go vegan and stay healthy?

A recent episode of the BBC TV programme “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” posed this very same question, and set Cambridge Neuroscience Research Associate Dr Giles Yeo the task of going vegan for one month.

Specific aspects of Giles’s health were assessed by Dr Mellor, a dietitian and senior lecturer in human nutrition at Coventry University before and after his month of being vegan. We measured his cholesterol, body fat, weight, and his levels of iron, folate, zinc and vitamins A, E, D and B12. Dr Mellor also gave Giles a list of foods to eat to stay healthy and avoid becoming deficient in key nutrients.

The results

After one month on a vegan diet, Dr Yeo lost 4 kg and his body fat dropped by 2%. His BMI improved by 6% and his cholesterol fell by 12%. Thanks to Dr Mellor’s food suggestions, he didn’t become deficient in any key nutrients. However it’s more difficult to be so nutritionally diligent in the longer term and vegans can become deficient in nutrients you’d normally get from animal-based foods, such as iron and vitamin B12.

Essential nutrients for vegans

There are certain essential nutrients that we normally get from animal-based foods that vegans need to replace with alternative foods or supplements.

  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is important for our bone health. It is produced in our body when sunlight hits our skin and is also present in a few animal products. Vegans might want to consider taking a supplement, but beware that not all of them are vegan-friendly. Vitamin D2 is always suitable for vegans, whereas some sources of vitamin D3 derive from sheep’s wool.
  • Vitamin B12 – We need vitamin B12 to keep our blood healthy. It is not produced by plants, but there are plenty of vegan products on the market, such as milks, spreads and yeast products, which are fortified with it.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – These are essential for brain function and are found in oily fish. Other good sources are flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soy beans.
  • Calcium – While calcium is synonymous with dairy, there are plenty of vegan sources too. Tofu commonly contains calcium and there are calcium-fortified alternatives to cow’s milk available. Other good sources include green vegetables such as kale, pak choi, okra and spring greens, as well as almonds, chia seeds and dried figs.
  • Iodine – Iodine deficiency is not uncommon in the UK, even in non-vegans, particularly amongst young women. In the UK, cow’s milk is our main source of iodine, and the non-dairy alternatives, like almond drinks, have much lower levels. You can get iodine from seaweed (though the amounts are unpredictable) but you may need to take a supplement.
  • Protein – Some vegans worry that they aren’t getting enough protein, a nutrient people tend to associate with meat. However, eating a balanced diet with plenty of plant-based protein sources should provide all that you need. Particular foods to try and include are tofu, soy, beans and pulses.
  • Iron – Cutting out meat can also affect your iron levels – red meat contains a form of iron that is easy for our body to absorb, whereas the iron that you get in fruit and veg is less readily available. One solution is to accompany iron-rich vegan foods with a rich source of vitamin C, like orange juice, which helps to make the iron more absorbable.

And what does my favourite chef say about veganism?

Many argue that we should all be making a conscious effort to reduce consumption of animals and animal products for the sake of our health and for the planet. Vegan or not, a diet high in fruit and veg and plant-based food is a good starting point for a healthy lifestyle.

You can find out more about this experiment on the Trust Me I’m a Doctor website here >>

True or false? Busting 9 of the biggest nutrition myths

Nutrition is an essential part of a healthy life, and something we should all have a good understanding of. But with so many nutritional trends and fads doing the rounds, thrown in with a good dose of misinformation, it’s now more confusing than ever to know what we should really be eating.

The other day I came across this article written by one of the nutritionists on Jamie Oliver’s team (who else?!) and thought I simply have to share this! 

Myth 1: A gluten-free diet is healthier

In a word, no. It’s not. Unless you have a legitimate reason to be avoiding gluten – if you have coeliac disease, for example – there is no reason to remove gluten from your diet. Due to its presence in wheat, barley and rye, gluten is present in many carbohydrate-based foods, some of which can be unhealthy (think biscuits, cakes, pies, and pastries). This may be the reason it’s gained such a reputation, but gluten itself isn’t unhealthy.

Myth 2: No sugar has a place in my diet

Sugar is sugar and, ultimately, all sugar is broken down in our bodies into glucose, which our cells use for energy. However, the difference between that teaspoon of sugar you add to your tea and the natural sugar in a piece of fruit is the presence of vitamins and minerals.

The same can be said of lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products. Although it’s still a form of sugar, lactose comes with a healthy dose of the vitamins and minerals that dairy has to offer, such as calcium.

Honey, maple syrup, and agave syrup are all still natural forms of sugar – however, they are similar to refined sugar, in that their actual nutrient content is quite poor.

Myth 3: Low fat = healthy

Low-fat products are only useful when they are helping you to reduce your intake of saturated fat, the type of fat associated with high cholesterol and heart disease risk. If you do choose these kind of products, make sure you read the label to make sure they’re free from added sugar.

Myth 4: Eating carbs will make me fat

No. Apply the same theory here as you do with fat and focus on the type of carbohydrate you are eating, rather than cutting it out completely. Starchy carbohydrates come in two forms: refined and whole. The latter are the ones to go for – higher in fibre and full of other essential vitamins and minerals. In fact, far from making you gain weight, eating high-fibre foods will help to keep you feeling full, which means you are less likely to overeat.

We need starchy carbohydrates to give us energy, and they should make up one third of our diet. Instead of cutting them out, make some smart switches and cut down on the more unhealthy carbs, like highly refined flour products.

Myth 5: Fresh produce is healthier than frozen

On the contrary – frozen foods can sometimes be healthier than fresh! As fruits and vegetables ripen, their sugar content rises and their nutrient content deteriorates. Often, fruits and vegetables are frozen quickly after harvest, which prevents all of this, and actively preserves the nutrients. Fresh fruit and vegetables are great and when eaten at their freshest and most nutritious, but using frozen instead will do you no harm. And it can also be a super-easy and reliable way of getting more veg into your cooking!

Myth 6: Coconut oil is good for me

Sadly, coconut oil is a saturated fat – the type of fat associated with high cholesterol. Recent research has suggested, however, that the type of saturated fat present in coconut oil may be metabolised differently to other saturated fats, meaning it may not have the same adverse effect on blood cholesterol and general cardiovascular health. What is missed out by eating coconut oil, though, is the essential fatty acids found in unsaturated fats. These are the fats that help to keep our cholesterol healthy, as well as the fats that our bodies generally need, so while research is showing that the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil may not be as bad as we think, we may as well be eating the fat that we know is good for us!

Myth 7: If I exercise I need to take a protein shake or supplement

It’s true that if you are exercising you need protein. Our muscles need protein to grow and repair, and if you are undertaking exercise – particularly anything of high intensity – then you do need to make sure your protein intake is sufficient.

What is more important, though, is the timing of that protein intake, which should ideally be within an hour of exercising. Your body can only metabolise a certain amount of protein at a time, so overloading on the protein shakes is completely pointless. In the UK, most of us actually get more than enough protein through our regular diets. The goal should be to limit our protein intake to shortly after exercise so that our bodies can use it to help our muscles build and repair, rather than overdoing it on the protein shakes!

Myth 8: Snacking is bad!

If understood properly, it’s also a myth that we shouldn’t snack. Eating little and often is actually much better than eating three huge meals every day. Snacking is a good way to achieve this, and also helps to prevent energy crashes between meals.

The key is what you are snacking on – and here you can utilise all that info about fats and sugars. If your 4pm-slump go-to is a slice of cake or a sugar-packed processed number then the health benefits of snacking will be lost on you. Choose wisely, and go for something dense in nutrients that will help to fill you up – think a handful of granola, a slice of apple and peanut butter, or a natural yoghurt with some fruit.

Myth 9: Vegetarian and vegan diets are healthier

A vegetarian or vegan diet being healthy completely depends on what vegetarian or vegan foods are being eaten. For example, a diet of ready-salted crisps would technically be vegan, and a diet of cheese and chocolate would technically be vegetarian, but neither could ever be called healthy!

Avoiding meat and dairy products means avoiding the saturated fat and adverse health effects that come with the over-consumption of fatty cuts of meat and high-fat dairy products. However, vegan and vegetarian diets are only healthier if you replace these foods with worthwhile alternatives. Replacing the meat and dairy in your diet with refined carbohydrates and sweets will not make the switch to vegetarianism or veganism a healthy one.

Something that is generally true of vegetarian and vegan diets, though, is that they’re very environmentally friendly, and a lot more sustainable than a meat-heavy diet. If you can get it right, or even stick to it for a day or two each week, then it really will make a difference – both for the planet and for you!

Thanks to jamieoliver.com. You can read the full article by Rozzie Batchelar here.

See also:

How does the body turn “carbs” into “sugar”?

The secret of resistant starch

How does the body turn “carbs” into “sugar”?

We hear this all the time, but what does it actually mean? I decided to look into this process and find out more …

Carbohydrates are commonly classified as being either simple or complex. The difference between a simple and complex carbohydrate is in how quickly it is digested and absorbed – as well as its chemical structure.

Simple carbohydrates

  • Often referred to as simple sugars, these carbohydrates are composed of sugars such as fructose, glucose and galactose which have simple chemical structures composed of only one sugar – monosaccharides, or double sugars – disaccharides, which include sucrose (table sugar), lactose and maltose.
  • Sugars are found in a variety of natural food sources including fruit, vegetables and milk, and give food a naturally sweet taste.
  • Simple carbohydrates are easily and quickly utilised for energy by the body because of their simple chemical structure. But they also raise blood glucose levels quickly.

Complex carbohydrates

  • These carbohydrates have more complex chemical structures, with three or more sugars linked together, known as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.
  • Many complex carbohydrate foods contain fibre, vitamins and minerals, and they take longer to digest – which means they have less of an immediate impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise more slowly.
  • However other so called complex carbohydrate foods such as white bread and white potatoes contain mostly starch but little fibre or other beneficial nutrients.

Dividing carbohydrates into simple and complex does not account for the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar and chronic diseases. To explain how different kinds of carbohydrate-rich foods directly affect blood sugar, the Glycaemic Index (GI) is considered a better way of categorising carbohydrates, especially starchy foods.

NOTE: the term complex carbohydrate refers to any starches, including the highly refined starches found in white bread, cakes, most pastries and many other food sources. However, when dietitians and nutritionists advise having complex carbohydrates, they are usually referring to whole grain foods and starchy vegetables which are more slowly absorbed than refined carbohydrate.

What is the Glycaemic Index?

The glycaemic index ranks carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 based on how quickly and how much they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high glycaemic index, like white bread, are rapidly digested and cause substantial fluctuations in blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index, like whole oats, are digested more slowly, prompting a more gradual rise in blood sugar.

  • Low-glycaemic foods have a rating of 55 or less, and foods rated 70-100 are considered high-glycaemic foods. Medium-level foods have a glycaemic index of 56-69.
  • Eating many high-glycaemic-index foods can cause powerful spikes in blood sugar. This can lead to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.
  • Foods with a low glycaemic index have been shown to help control type 2 diabetes and improve weight loss.
Many factors can affect a food’s glycaemic index, including the following:

Processing: Grains that have been milled and refined (removing the bran and the germ) have a higher glycaemic index than minimally processed whole grains.

Physical form: Finely ground grain is more rapidly digested than coarsely ground grain. This is why eating whole grains in their whole form like brown rice or oats can be healthier than eating highly processed whole grain bread.

Fibre content: High-fibre foods don’t contain as much digestible carbohydrate, so it slows the rate of digestion and causes a more gradual and lower rise in blood sugar.

Ripeness: Ripe fruits and vegetables tend to have a higher glycaemic index than un-ripened fruit.

Fat content and acid content: Meals with fat or acid are converted more slowly into sugar.

You can find out more about the Glycaemic Index at Diabetes UK >>

These look rather tasty!

Carbohydrates and blood sugar

When we eat food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which then enters the blood.

  • As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes insulin, the hormone that enables you to digest starches and sugars. This release of insulin is sometimes called an insulin spike.
  • As cells absorb blood sugar, levels in the bloodstream begin to fall.
    When this happens, the pancreas starts making glucagon, a hormone that signals the liver to start releasing stored sugar.
  • This interplay of insulin and glucagon ensure that cells throughout the body, and especially in the brain, have a steady supply of blood sugar.
  • If you have a metabolic disorder such as diabetes that keeps you from producing enough insulin, you must be careful not to take in more carbs than you can digest.

The NHS advises that added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy (calorie intake) you get from food and drink each day. This is about 30g of sugar a day for those aged 11 and over.

See more about how much sugar is good for you at NHS Choices >>

Eat sensibly and enjoy good carbohydrates!

It’s important to remember that the somewhat much maligned carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy and in fact your muscles and brain cells prefer carbs more than other sources of energy, such as triglycerides and fat, for example.  If you’re active and eating appropriately for your activity level, most of the carbs you consume are more or less burned immediately. However, if you’re eating a lot more calories per day than you are burning, then your liver will convert excess calories from carbohydrate into fats. If you consume too many calories from simple sugars like sucrose and fructose, then your body will more readily take some of those sugars and turn them into triglycerides (fat) in your liver.

  • Thanks to diabetes.co.uk
  • The Harvard School of Public Health
  • NHS Choices

Men should exercise BEFORE eating and women AFTER, to burn the most fat.

Could this really be true? Well a laboratory test carried out by Dr Adam Collins, Senior Tutor in Nutrition at the University of Surrey indicates that the amount of fat we burn changes based on whether we eat before or after exercise – and this appears to be different for men and women.

Our bodies use two main types of fuel: fat and carbohydrates – and early indications from Dr Collins’s study suggest that we could increase the amount of fat we burn just by timing when we eat with when we exercise. I was interested to discover more – like many others I had thought that exercising on an empty stomach was the way to go, but now that school of thought appears to be changing.

Michael Moseley’s team from the BBC programme “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” worked with Dr Collins on an experiment to see if it might be possible to change our eating habits around exercise to increase the amount of fat our bodies are burning throughout the day. Here are the results of that experiment:

Experiment 1: The laboratory test

Adam’s initial experiment had shown that for young men, eating carbohydrates (CHO) before exercise significantly decreased the amount of fat their bodies were burning for the 3 hours afterwards, whilst they were resting (n=10, p = 0.02, Wilcoxon matched pair tests, repeated measures 2-way ANOVA, multiple t-tests).

When he did a similar experiment with both men and women, he and his team found that whilst the men still burned less fat if they had eaten carbohydrates before exercising (n=7, p<0.05), the women burned MORE fat if they had eaten carbohydrates before exercising (n=8, p<0.05).

* Significantly different between genders: p≤0.05;
† Significantly different between treatments: p≤0.05
Total fat (g) oxidation between treatments, and genders (Exercise + Recovery).

This experiment was repeated on a single brother and sister pair, Jess and Josh, and got similar results.

Jess and Josh results:

Experiment 2: The long term effect

In order to see whether this effect measured in the laboratory could actually be significant in the real world, “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” teamed up with Adam and his research group to recruit 30 volunteers to take part in a longer term experiment.

Thirteen men and seventeen women who did not normally do a lot of exercise we chosen and for four weeks they all took part in three supervised classes a week: high intensity training, Zumba and Spin classes.

All participants had a drink both before and after each exercise class, but one of their drinks was a placebo (with no calories), whilst the other was a carefully calorie-controlled hit of carbohydrate. No one knew who was taking which drink or when.

  • Seven of the men were taking the carbohydrate drink before exercising, whilst six were taking it afterwards.
  • Seven of the women were taking the carbohydrate drink before exercising, whilst ten were taking it afterwards.

At the beginning and end of the experiment, they were tested on how much fat they were burning whilst at rest (as well as a range of other measures such as weight, waist circumference and blood sugar/fat levels).

The Results

Whilst all the women ended up burning slightly more fat at the end of the experiment, those who were taking carbohydrates before their exercise were burning more.

Difference between men and women:
Meanwhile, all the men were actually burning slightly less fat at the end of the experiment, but those who were taking carbohydrates after their exercise were better off. We saw no significant differences in their weights or waist circumference, but their blood sugar levels changed in the same way as their fat burning.
Difference between men and women:

How it works

Men and women burn fat and carbohydrate in different ways.

Men are very much ‘carbohydrate burners’ – if as a man you eat carbohydrate then your body is going to burn it rather than fat. Just giving the men carbohydrate at any time in our experiment made them burn a bit less fat! However, given that we all have to eat (and carbohydrate is an important part of our food), it is better for men to eat after exercising if they want to burn fat. This is because after exercise, men will use that carbohydrate to replace the carbohydrate in their muscles rather than burn it for fuel and will continue to burn fat instead.

For women, the results clearly show that eating before they exercise is better than eating after if they want to burn fat. Women’s bodies tend to burn fat more easily than men’s, and are not fuelled so much by carbohydrate. Moreover, women are much better at conserving carbohydrate during exercise. So when women eat carbohydrate soon after exercise, this is effectively overloading them with fuel, and interferes with the body’s ability to burn fat.

The amount of carbohydrate in our tests is probably the equivalent of a piece of toast, or a small bowl of cereal – and for men ‘not eating before exercise’ means about 90 minutes before exercise, and for women ‘not eating after exercise’ similarly means for about 90 minutes after.

Although our study was quite small, put together with the evidence from the laboratory experiments, it does seem worth us all making that simple adjustment to when we eat in order to maximise the amount of fat that our bodies burn throughout the day.

So what do you think? These studies are always interesting and I would like to see more work in this area as there does seem to be a lot of conflicting advice available on the internet today.

Super Clean Super Foods

This is my ultimate go-to nutritional guide to superfoods, telling you all you need to know to power up your plate! Keeping active and eating a super food packed balanced diet maximises your chances of achieving a healthy body. Try to build a varied diet from wholesome nutritious foods from each of these five key groups:

1. Fruit and vegetables

Try and eat at least three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit each day. Research shows that people who eat a diet based on plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables tend to have a lower incidence of age related diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, dementia and cataracts. Fruit and vegetables contain a powerful arsenal of disease-fighting compounds including vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals. No single fruit or vegetable contains all the nutrients you need so it’s important to include a wide variety.

Citrus fruits are rich in immune boosting vitamin C.
  • Nitrates in beetroot improve the blood flow to your brain
  • Vitamins and phytochemicals in raspberries help protect your eyes
  • Tenderstem broccoli contains cancer-fighting phytochemicals
Vitamins and phytochemicals in raspberries help to protect your eyes.

2. Starchy carbohydrates

These come in many different guises and many of the carbohydrates we choose have been stripped of much of their fibre and nutrients. Refining wheat to produce white flour removes over half of the B vitamins, 90% of the vitamin E and almost all the fibre content. Choose unrefined carbohydrates such as wholegrains, beans and pulses, and aim to eat three portions of these every day.

Choose wholegrains instead of refined carbohydrates
  • A type of fibre found in barley called beta-glucan helps to reduce “bad”  cholesterol (LDL – low density lipoprotein).

3. Calcium-rich foods

Calcium is essential for building strong bones and teeth and is particularly important whilst bones are still growing. Aim for at least two portions of calcium each day – milk, yoghurt and dairy products are a good source of calcium as well as providing additional nutrients such as vitamins A and B2.

Dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium.

If you don’t eat dairy foods then try almonds, fortified soya or nut milk, sesame seeds, kale, broccoli and bak choy.

Broccoli contains phytochemicals and is also a good source of calcium.

4. Healthy proteins

Protein should ideally provide 15-20% of your calorie intake each day. Protein is an essential nutrient, responsible for multiple functions in your body, including building tissue, cells and muscle, as well as making hormones and anti-bodies. Choose healthier proteins such as oily fish, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds – in addition to the protein, they also contain other health promoting nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

Black beans are packed with protein and gut-healthy fibre.
  • Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines are rich in omega-3 and help power your brain

5. Healthy fats

Fat is essential for your health, but most of us consume far too much of it, and the wrong sort. Eat no more than 30% of your calories each day from fat, including no more than 11% from saturated fat. Wherever possible, avoid saturated fats and trans-fats as these increase levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood. Instead opt for unsaturated fats such as olive oil and foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish.

Avocados, oily fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds are all healthy fats.

A note about Reference Intakes (RI)

Nutritional needs vary depending on sex, size, age and activity levels so use this chart as a general guide only. The chart shows the Reference Intakes (RI) or daily amounts recommended for an average, moderately active adult to achieve a healthy, balanced diet for maintaining rather than losing or gaining weight.

The RIs for fat, saturates, sugars and salt are all maximum amounts, while those for carbs and protein are figures you should aim to meet each day. There is no RI for fibre, although health experts suggest we have 30g a day.

My thanks to Super Clean Super Foods by Fiona Hunter & Caroline Bretherton.