It's Veganuary Find out more here
The Hybrid diet - a new approach to gut and brain health? Find out more here
Nine foods a nutritionist doesn't eat Find out more here
What is a keto diet and does it really work? Find out more here
It’s Veganuary, a huge celebration of being vegan.
As promised on my Facebook posts, here's some of the specifics of how to make being vegan work well for you… (there’s a lot to digest – no pun intended!) Click here for more resources
Vitamin B12 plays a variety of important roles in the body. Vegan diets are low on vitamin B12 that it is found only in animal products like eggs, poultry, shellfish, red meat and dairy products. The reason why we should be interested is this: B12 deficiency can lead to potentially irreversible brain and nerve damage, and it can also result in fatigue, depression, and anaemia thanks to the role B12 plays in making red blood cells, providing the body with energy and protecting the nervous system.
If you’re thinking of going vegan, you’ll want to be taking a B12 supplement, but you should also be spreading your intake through the day by eating B12 fortified foods, too, like plant-based milks and nutritional yeast. And not all B12 supplements are created equal. Most vegans probably take cyanocobalamin a synthetic form of B12 and also the cheapest, which is perhaps what makes it an attractive proposition. However, this synthetic form is far less well absorbed than the natural forms methylcobalamin, hydroxycobalamin or adenosylcobalamin, which are identical to the B12 found in animal products. There are also some concerns about long-term supplementation with cyanocobalamin linked to potential cyanide accumulation.
It’s also worth noting that studies show that most vegans are probably not consuming enough Calcium for long-term bone health. It is possible to get the Calcium you need from greens rather than dairy, which is admittedly one of the best sources, but you are going to need to commit to putting in some work. Although it’s easy to think that being vegan – and therefore probably eating more veg every day – will make decent calcium intake a foregone conclusion, it’s not as easy as you might think on a day-to-day basis.
Kale is one of the best vegan sources of Calcium, along with collard greens (a bit like spring greens). Spinach and chard also provide calcium but, unfortunately, they also contain a group of molecules called oxalates that bind to calcium and make it unavailable to your body. Rhubarb, beetroot, carrots, potatoes and broccoli also contain these oxalates – although cooking reduces oxalate acid, so raw veg isn’t always a good thing and fermenting these foods is even better! Other good sources include tofu, beans (especially kidney beans and chickpeas), and nuts and seeds (almonds are best).
Iron from animal sources (meat) is called haem iron, and it’s much, much easier for your body to absorb than iron from plant sources (non-haem iron). It is a fact that vegetarians and vegans have lower iron stores than meat eaters. It’s not that you can’t get enough iron in this kind of diet, but like so many things when you go vegan, it really is something to take on if you want to feel the best version of yourself.
To ensure that you do absorb as much iron from your food as possible, you’re going to want to neutralise another nutrient-stealing molecule called phytic acid, which is found in nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. You can do this by soaking these foods overnight before cooking or sprouting them. Calcium (although you need plenty of it in your diet) actually reduces iron absorption, so try to eat calcium-rich foods away from iron-rich foods for maximum absorption.
However, eating foods that are rich in beta-carotene (usually orange or yellow foods) can increase iron uptake. Carrot sticks and hummus anyone? Vitamin C, too, enhances the absorption of non-haem iron, so consider using lemon or lime juice for your salad dressings.
A tell-tale sign of low iron levels is feeling a bit tired or lacking in energy. If this resonates, you may not be making enough red blood cells, which means you could naturally be lower in haemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen around your body.
There’s a lot of discussion in the vegan world about omega-3, and it does get a bit complex. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning you need to eat or supplement it as the body can’t make it on its own. There are several types of omega-3 – from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – and the latter is needed for brain health. While oily fish tend to provide both kinds, few plant foods contain both. Really, we’re talking here about seaweed, including nori (the type of seaweed you see wrapped around sushi) and spirulina and chlorella (often sold in powdered ‘superfood’ form). The ALA type of omega-3 is found in flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Yes, you do need both in your diet. You may also have heard an argument that humans can convert ALA to DHA. That’s true; however, the ability to convert ALA to DHA is something that has evolved over thousands of years in those communities who have been vegetarian for generations. Most of us convert only about 5%. It’s highly likely that you will need to be making friends with supplemental algae oil to get your quota.
When you eat meat, Vitamin A comes in the animal form called retinol, which is easily absorbed by the body. Plant sources of vitamin A must come from foods containing beta-carotene (the yellow and orange foods, remember, but also some green veg like spinach, kale, lettuce and broccoli, as well as seaweeds), and this is chemically very different. For example, when you eat a carrot, you need to convert the carotene to retinol before it can be used. It’s not the easiest conversion at the best of times, but a further complication is that about 40% of the population carry two genetic variations that slow down that conversion by up to 60%. This has a significant impact on how much vitamin A you will be able to take in.
Unfortunately, tests that are routinely available may not only not give you the full picture, you are unlikely to be offered all the tests that would be helpful due to funding priorities by the NHS and even by private medical insurance. On the surface, it may look like you have a ‘healthy diet’, but chances are that unless you are really putting the work in, your vegan diet may be lacking, simply because you are not eating the correct balance of macros (the big stuff like protein, carbs and fats) or micros (the small stuff like vitamins and minerals) – and the only way you are going to find out is when your health suffers. Ask me about testing for active B12. It is also helpful to have your folate, ferritin and homocysteine levels checked regularly (about every six months), too.
I don’t say any of this to put you off being vegan. I say this because it concerns me how so many people seem to turn vegan without understanding how to eat well to sustain their health. I’m here to help you if you want to make the move to a more sustainable way of eating that is healthy, easy and tasty. Book in a time for a complimentary call, if you want more information.
Best Vegan Blogs
Vegan Recipe Books
Vegans are deficient in B12 and folate
Vegans are deficient in calcium
Vegans are lower in iron
Vegans are lower in zinc
Vegans are low on essential fats
The Hybrid diet - a new approach to gut and brain health?
I was fascinated to attend a conference on Saturday that examined how the Hybrid Diet (more about that in a minute) could help with brain and gut health. The speaker was Patrick Holford – who founded the Institute of Optimum Nutrition, where I trained, and it was really interesting to hear him speak again. He is also the founder of the Brain Bio Centre that specialises in mental health and nutrition.
Patrick has spent the last 30 years developing and promoting blood sugar balancing through a low carb (GL - glycaemic load) diet as one of the most effective ways of optimising our health. However, research is demonstrating that ketogenic (keto) diets are effective in getting fats to the brain and helping brain health. So he teamed up with Jerome Burne, a keto diet specialist, and they have created the Hybrid Diet. The theory behind it is this: way back when, our bodies were used to alternating between using glucose (from carbohydrates) and fats for fuel. For some months of the year, you could fill your boots with berries, tubers and other plant-based foods (carbohydrates). In the colder months, when plants weren’t available, you would have eaten a protein and fat-based diet besides using your own body fat reserves when food was scarce. Scientists, including nutrition professionals, describe this ability to switch between these two types of fuel as being ‘fat adapted’ or ‘metabolically flexible’. And it is a good thing. The Hybrid Diet combines periods of following a high fat keto diet with longer periods of following a low GL blood sugar balancing diet, making it an approach more aligned to ‘real life’.
The problem is this…
Our bodies are so used to relying on glucose (the energy derived from carbs and sugar) as fuel that they have forgotten how to (or rather, become unaccustomed to) use fat instead.
This is largely because the modern diet has gradually drifted towards being very carb heavy. Bad science in the 1950s and the subsequent anti-fat propaganda pushed diets away from healthy fats and increasingly towards filling up on bread, pasta and rice. And the food industry since then has been encouraging us to snack between meals – and often not on the ‘right’ things.
One of the main issues with eating too many carbs is that this causes blood sugar levels to rise, which increases levels of insulin, and insulin is the fat storage hormone. With prolonged periods of producing too much insulin, our bodies lose their sensitivity to it, so need to produce more, which leads to weight gain and, ultimately, obesity.
So what is a keto diet?
The keto diet is largely based on fat with moderate protein and very low in carbohydrates. It is filling and satisfying. This means no hunger, no cravings and consistent energy levels. This kind of diet forces the body into a state of ketosis, a natural activity that helps you survive when food intake is low. Ketosis triggers a natural metabolic ‘clean up’ and repair process. It can also increase sensitivity to insulin so that, when you do eat carbs, the body metabolises them better.
… is that the ketogenic diet is very strict and not always compatible with the way most of us live our lives. Cutting out carbs means more than just avoiding the bread, pasta, rice and potatoes that we think of as carbohydrates, but also other foods, including many fruits and a number of starchy vegetables and even some nuts, such as cashews.
Patrick argues that it is actually more desirable to teach your body how to alternate between periods of fuelling with glucose (from low GL foods) and fat. He calls this the ‘dual fuel advantage’, where your body learns to grow healthy and repair as well as learning to use carbohydrates more intelligently, and this keeps weight and energy levels balanced.
The Hybrid Diet
His new book, The Hybrid Diet (£16.99, Piatkus) explains the concept and benefits of the ketogenic diet and the ‘slow carb’ low GL diet, and how you can combine them to reap the health benefits of both. He also introduces intermittent fasting (a regime of having extended periods of not eating anything) as an additional tool for weight and health management. His book guides you through an initial two weeks of a ketogenic diet, followed by alternating three weeks on a ‘slow carb’ diet and another week of keto. Sample menus and recipe ideas are provided. This equates to nine months a year with your body running on glucose and three months on fat – a very similar pattern to the one our ancestors would have had.
If you your energy is flagging, your brain feels ‘foggy’, you can’t sleep or you’re worried about your weight, this approach is certainly one to consider. Making substantial changes to your diet can feel tough, particularly if your regular way of eating is very different from the regime you are embarking on. You will have questions and need solutions to have your new plan fit into your lifestyle. As a nutrition practitioner, I work with my clients, so they achieve their health goals and feel supported as they put the changes into practice. If you know your diet needs to change and you’re not sure where – or how – to start, I warmly invite you to book a free no obligation 30-minute nutrition MOT with me. During this time, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss your goals, and I will share my top tips to help you get started.
Nine Foods a Nutritionist Never Eats
There is an argument that all foods are OK in moderation, and this is largely based on not having ‘being healthy’ become something that feels a chore or that has you missing out on some of the things you really enjoy. But as a nutrition professional, there are a number of things that I NEVER eat.
1 Low fat/ reduced fat foods/ diet foods
These foods are, by definition, very highly processed. Where fat is taken out of a food, what nearly always goes in instead is either sugar or artificial sweeteners. The idea that fat is bad or leads to weight gain has now been acknowledged as being entirely wrong. We now know that sugars (and excess starchy carbs) are what mostly leads to weight gain and keep you craving sweet things. Many artificial sweeteners aren’t great for gut health either. I’d far rather stick to the natural, full fat version.
2 Margarine and butter substitutes
Margarine and vegetable spreads are the nutritionally poorer relations of real butter, coconut oil and other healthy fats like olive oil. Again, they are heavily processed. Often what draws people to them is the thought that they are somehow healthier because of their lower levels of saturated fats. Given that saturated fat is not the enemy to your health – while artificially hardened vegetable oils (think trans-fats) are - it’s far better to stick to unadulterated fats, using ghee (clarified butter) and coconut oil, or olive oil for cooking at lower temperatures.
3 Sugar free fizzy drinks, diet drinks and energy drinks
Sometimes I see clients ‘filling up’ on diet drinks, which (although they contain no actual calories) are doing your body no favours. They’re still conditioning your body to expect more sweet stuff, and the jury is still out on whether artificial sweeteners are not great or seriously detrimental to health. Energy drinks often provide a dual hit of very large amounts of caffeine accompanied by either a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners. When I’m working with clients who are propping themselves up with these drinks, I like to get to the cause of their fatigue, because what’s in the tin of Red Bull (or similar) will not be helping.
4 Hotdogs and processed meat
It is quite shocking how little actual meat goes into hotdogs, and processed deli-style meats are often pumped with water, sugar (even if it’s not actually called sugar, look out for anything ending in ‘-ose’ – like dextrose) and preservatives. Some of the additives in processed meats have been linked to increased risk of colon cancer. If my family demand ham, it’s pretty easy to pick up a small ham joint and cook it myself.
5 Shop-bought cereals
Most supermarket cereals are filled with sugar and very high in starchy carbs, which will have your energy levels crashing come mid-morning. Better options include home-made granola (like the cinnamon pecan granola from Deliciously Ella), which are easy weekend jobs and last a good while, porridge or overnight oats, omelettes or poached eggs (in fact, any kind of eggs) on wholemeal toast.
6 Rice cakes
These are often a go-to food for anyone counting calories. Unfortunately, they will skyrocket your blood sugar levels. A better choice would be a couple of oat cakes topped with unsweetened nut butter or a little hummus.
7 Agave nectar/ syrup
Agave syrup comes from a cactus, and the syrup is made from the pulp of the leaf. It’s very highly processed and is mainly fructose, which needs to be processed by the liver, causing more stress for an already over-worked organ. Fructose is actually worse for you than glucose (which is effectively what we are talking about when discussing ‘blood sugar’). Agave syrup (or nectar) is very similar to the (deservedly) much-demonised high fructose corn syrup, that has contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic in the US. My advice? Do not use it!
8 Mycoprotein like Quorn
Quorn is a very processed food that comes from a fungus Fusarium venenatum and is fermented. It has a lot of other ingredients added – like flavourings, yeast, starches and colourings, gluten to give it the texture and flavour of meat. Lentils and pulses are a much healthier alternative if you’re after vegetarian choices.
9 Fruit Juice
The easiest way to get lots of sugar into your system in a short space of time is by drinking it. And since it comes in as liquid, the body doesn’t register it as “eaten”, so it cunningly slips past any detectors that might otherwise signal satiety or ‘satisfaction’. Fruit juice – particularly when freshly squeezed – certainly contains lots of lovely vitamins and minerals, but it contains just as much sugar as that can of Coke. So, don’t kid yourself: fruit juice is not healthy. If you want fruit, eat fruit. Don’t drink it.
What is a Keto diet and does it really work?
Burn fat faster than ever! Watch your fat disappear!
Ketogenic (‘keto’) diets are back in fashion.
You’ve probably read the headlines and wondered whether you should take the plunge if the results are really that dramatic and that easy. But are they, though? Here I'll give you the inside line on what the diet involves, whether it’s healthy and even sustainable for ‘normal’ people.
The keto diet is the ultimate low carb diet. It’s also moderate in terms of protein and very high in fat. In essence, it’s pretty much like the Atkins diet, but its fans like to describe it as a more modern version of it, now with a solid scientific basis. Recent research over the last decade or so has provided evidence of the therapeutic potential of ketogenic diets in many health conditions, including diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), acne, neurological conditions and the management of respiratory and cardio-vascular risk factors.
Although dieters tend to lose weight, there is more of an emphasis of the ketogenic diet as a therapeutic diet, which may improve compliance for those that follow it for health reasons. Like the Atkins diet, the ketogenic diet aims at keeping the body in permanent ketosis. Let’s take a look at what that actually is …
Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy so that it will be chosen over any other energy source. Insulin is produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream by taking it into the cells. It’s the fat storage hormone produced in direct proportion to the type and quality of carbs consumed. When you lower the intake of carbs in your diet, you force the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a natural process that helps you survive when food intake is low. When in this state, you produce ketone bodies or ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver. They are an alternative source of energy, when glucose is not available. Energy from ketones works just as well and feels no different – better, if anything, and the brain actually prefers ketones.
What do you eat?
The ketogenic diet is largely based on protein and fat, and is filling and satisfying. This means no hunger cravings and consistent energy levels. The downside is the diet is very strict. Cutting out carbs means more than just avoiding the bread, pasta, rice and potatoes that we think of as carbohydrates, but also other foods including many fruits and a number of starchy vegetables and even some nuts, such as cashews. What you might not be prepared for is having to cut back on alcohol (it’s not cut it out entirely – spirits are OK but watch the sugary mixers, and champagne and wine are not so bad in moderation but it very much depends on your sensitivity to carbs), and your favourite cappuccino or latte, too.
Getting into ketosis
There are no fixed percentages for macronutrient distribution (ie not a specific ratio of fats, carbs, etc.) as not everyone is equally sensitive to carbohydrates. This means you’ll have to test where your carb threshold lies by measuring ketone bodies in the urine, blood or breath.
You might be reading this thinking, ‘I can do this’, but the reality can be very testing. One client of mine was committed for 16 days and didn’t, during that time, ever reach ketosis. It can, in fact, take 4 weeks to get there and during the transition period many experience ‘keto flu’ – flu-like symptoms, headaches, tiredness, and weakness. This happens when the body runs out of glucose and has not yet learned to switch to using fat for energy – that’s because it hasn’t had to for such a long time. Until you become ‘fat adapted’ (i.e. your body has re-learned to use fat) there is a period of low energy. It is this taxing time that can put people off.
The people that do well on a ketogenic diet are those with a really compelling reason to do it, perhaps one of the chronic health conditions this diet can help. The rest of us mere mortals will struggle to be committed enough to get into and stay in ketosis.
If you are keen to find out more about ketogenic diets or if you'd like to book a complimentary call to discuss which approach to weight loss would best suit you, please do get in touch.