Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Marmite effect

This weeks Economist dedicates a full page article to the inelasticity of demand for the foods you eat as a child ... or, in non-economo speak, why if you like Marmite as a child you still want to eat it as an adult, and if you move to somewhere where Marmite is not readily available (down under, the US, Asia) you'll happily pay over the odds to buy it from ex-pat stores.

These nostalgic food tastes aren't just linked to brand loyalty ... a study in India has shown that migrants within the country will eat less food so that they can continue to buy the pricier regional specialities from their home town rather than the cheaper local options.

Fortunately for me I was brought up on a diet of healthy inexpensive simple meals with plenty of fruit and veg and very little in the way of processed foods. Consequently I always prefer simple meals with fresh ingredients over rich fancy cooking or processed foods and snacks.
If, however, you were brought up on a diet of coca cola and wagon wheels that's not so good.

Whilst you can't change your own food history, if you have kids it's worth paying some attention to what you're feeding them and the habits you're getting them into for the future.
If you think of your regular breakfast, lunch and dinner options are these healthy options that will keep them fit and healthy through life, or is it just what's easy or what they want to eat? Often parents give children sugary sweets and snacks as a way of cheering them up or rewarding them ... which can encourage a lifetime habit of turning to sugar for comfort whenever thinks aren't going well.

It's not to say that children should never have sweets or unhealthy treats .. it's just good to remember that the food you feed them now may be what they'll be eating long after they've flown the nest.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

My secret fear

Whenever I get an injury and can't run, or am too busy to go to the gym, or if unhealthy foods start creeping back into my diet I start to get this fear that I'm going to turn into Kirstie Allie.

I think the fear originated from seeing a particularly unflattering picture of her in tight leggings and a huge t-shirt at one of her more obese moments which stuck in my mind as what would happen if I lost all self control when it came to food. I appreciate that given I've stayed pretty much the same size for almost ten years it's a pretty irrational fear, but nonetheless it kicks me into action.

Interestingly enough Ms Allie came up in conversation with a friend recently who'd apparently read a comment she'd made that she enjoyed getting fat. It's possible that, far from the image of someone with total loss of control when it comes to food, Kirstie actually enjoys periods of deliberate over-indulging and knows she has the self control to lose the weight once she's gained it. She has certainly gained and lost more pounds than anyone I can think of.

So what's the harm if you know you can lose the weight again?

Well unfortunately significant and repeated fluctuations in weight gain take a big toll on your health:

Firstly it's stressful for your heart - for every pound of weight you gain your body has to build hundreds of thousands of capillaries and then your heart has to pump harder to get blood round these capillaries. This is tough enough the first time round but if you keep repeating this by losing and then gaining weight you can wear your heart out.

Secondly, every time you lose weight you place a load on the liver which has to detoxify any toxins that were trapped in the fat. Not so bad as a one off exercise but definitely not something to be repeated over and over.

Thirdly, yoyo dieting ages you - the expanded fat cells stretch your skin and this isn't always reversible leading to saggy chins and bingo wings.

This is why any healthy weight loss regime needs to be sustainable in the long-run and not leave you feeling deprived of your favourite foods so that you don't end up bingeing on them ... or ending up like Kirstie.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Eat, pray, love

I love going to the cinema for a bit of escapism and Eat, Pray, Love was exactly that. The main character's travels in India, Italy and Bali are a life a million miles away from the city rat race and I'm sure the book has encouraged many a woman (and possibly man) to pack it all in and go globe trotting.

Food is the key theme of the time set in Italy ... the enjoyment of food, the time spent on preparing it, the use of the freshest best ingredients and the time set aside for the eating food. However in a city job where you can end up eating all your meals at your desk taking time to enjoy your food may feel like an impossibility.

Even if you can't take a proper lunch break you can still choose to buy a fresh and tasty lunch - look for freshly prepared meals that also look appealing or bring something tasty in from home. Take a moment to choose food you'll really enjoy, rather than eating anything that's just near to hand, and pay attention to the flavours and textures of your food whilst you eat it.

On the weekend, take the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and prepare some favourite home-cooked recipes whilst you have more time for cooking. Most of all enjoy your food - it is one of lifes great pleasures that shouldn't be overlooked.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Protein prosac

When it comes to comfort eating carbs are so much more comforting than chicken or fish, however if you want to lift your mood on a more permanent basis then protein is the key ingredient.

You might think how you feel is not really related to your food but every feeling and emotion is generated through a biochemical reaction in your nervous system (very unromantic I know!). The neurotransmitters that generate positive feelings such as motivation, drive add happiness are all made internally from amino acids, so if your diet is low in protein your levels of dopamine, adrenalin and serotonin may also be low leaving you feeling deflated and apathetic.

By making a conscious effort to eat a decent portion of protein with every meal you may instead find yourself feeling more upbeat and less inclined to comfort eat.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Autumn days

Wow what a change in the weather .... from super sticky to howling winds and
11 degrees ... so I guess that means Autumn has finally kicked in!

With the drop in temperature the usual winter bugs will start appearing but
as all Girl Guides know it pays to 'Be prepared'. This time of year I make
sure I'm well stocked with my favourite immune boosting herbs : echincea,
olive leaf, cat's claw (a plant ... not real cat's claws!) and a horseradish
supplement (a fantastic natural decongestant). For anyone not taking any
supplements now is definitely a good time to start on a multi and maybe some
extra zinc and vitamin C to keep the colds at bay.

Whilst prevention is obviously the preferred outcome, taking the right
supplements can also help shorten the duration of any bug you catch getting
you back on your feet as soon as possible.

As well as stocking up the cupboards it's also time to switch wardrobes and
bring out the woolly jumpers and warm winter coats. This isn't just to make
you feel nice and cosy ... your immune system works better at higher
temperatures, which is why your body induces a fever to help you fight a
cold, and so by keeping yourself warm you give yourself a better chance of
fighting off any bugs doing the round. Having hot meals and hot (caffeine
free) drinks also help keep you warm from the inside out, and if you work in
an over conditioned office leave a spare jumper or pashmina in your desk to
warm you up when you need it.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Ballet benefits

Usually going to the ballet involves watching twiglet thin dancers tottering around on pointe with perma-serene smiles on their faces, executing perfect moves with total grace.

However this evening I enjoyed a very different style of ballet from the super camp all male Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo with their own hammed up interpretations of ballet classics. Despite the distraction of the comedy it was hard not to notice what great shape the dancers are in.

Super toned and super strong, ballet dancers have always had enviable figures. But ballet isn't just good for your looks - one of the main benefits is that it encourages good posture and alignment. This in turn allows full breathing and oxygenation improving energy levels - just try sitting in deliberately poor posture for ten minutes and notice how much less energy you have.

Good posture also allows proper digestion as well as proper alignment of joints and increased flexibility - both important to avoid injury.

For the less dance inclined you'll be glad to hear you don't have to do ballet to get these benefits. Yoga, pilates and weights focused on core strength can all improve posture and making a conscious effort to have good posture in your day to day movements can reinforce the habit.

For anyone who does fancy trying ballet or who thinks ballet isn't really exercise try the New York City Ballet workout!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Lunchtime sunshine

Wow we had some glorious weather in the city today ... not that you'd always notice when you're cooped up in an office all day. Fortunately I managed to escape the office and catch some rays for a few minutes at lunchtime.

It's easy for busy city folk to become weekday vampires over autumn/winter - not seeing any daylight til the weekend. However in the absence of sun exposure your Vitamin D production can drop quite dramatically. Vitamin D is important for maintaining bone density and immunity including cancer prevention. This is why it's important to make a conscious effort to get outside for at least 10mins (preferably 20) everyday now that the days are shorter.

It's also good to show a bit of flesh - the greater surface area of skin exposed the more vitamin D you'll make - particularly important for ladies wearing spf moisturisers and makeup which inhibit vitamin D production. I wouldn't recommend stripping off entirely! But taking of your cardi or rolling up your sleeves is a good place to start!


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Innocent & Instant

I often spend time thinking up handy tips for eating healthily but I'm also quite happy to pass on ideas I've heard elsewhere.

Last week a friend mentioned that he makes a super quick healthy hot lunch by combining an Innocent brand veggie pot with some bought cooked chicken. This is a great suggestion for pulling together a healthy instant meal for two reasons.

Firstly vegetarian ready meals are usually much higher in veggies and fibre than the meaty equivalents. The Innocent veg pots are a great example of this, but beware some veggie ready meals are laden with cheese and cheap additives.

Secondly it gives you more flexibility as to your protein choices - you can add pre-cooked chicken or salmon for a super quick option but also if you're at home you can quickly steam or steam-fry some fish, chicken or seafood or even poach an egg and add that.

It seems that my flatmate has also had the same brain wave and tonight she combined a Cauldron vegetarian ready meal with some tofu for a tasty super-quick dinner. Even if you are vegetarian I would recommend adding some extra protein to a vegetarian ready meal as they are often low in protein which is vital for good health.

So next time you find yourself grabbing a ready meal for dinner it might be an idea to browse the vegetarian section.

Innocent & Instant

I often spend time thinking up handy tips for eating healthily but I'm also quite happy to pass on ideas I've heard elsewhere.

Last week a friend mentioned that he makes a super quick healthy hot lunch by combining an Innocent brand veggie pot with some bought cooked chicken. This is a great suggestion for pulling together a healthy instant meal for two reasons.

Firstly vegetarian ready meals are usually much higher in veggies and fibre than the meaty equivalents. The Innocent veg pots are a great example of this, but beware some veggie ready meals are laden with cheese and cheap additives.

Secondly it gives you more flexibility as to your protein choices - you can add pre-cooked chicken or salmon for a super quick option but also if you're at home you can quickly steam or steam-fry some fish, chicken or seafood or even poach an egg and add that.

It seems that my flatmate has also had the same brain wave and tonight she combined a Cauldron vegetarian ready meal with some tofu for a tasty super-quick dinner. Even if you are vegetarian I would recommend adding some extra protein to a vegetarian ready meal as they are often low in protein which is vital for good health.

So next time you find yourself grabbing a ready meal for dinner it might be an idea to browse the vegetarian section.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Nap time

On Sunday afternoon I had a wonderful afternoon nap, which helped me catch up on some lost sleep from a couple of late nights in a row and recover from a particularly long run.

Whilst napping is usually associated with babies and old people it shouldn't be overlooked as a useful antidote to the busy city life.

Research has shown that napping can help reverse the effects of missed sleep (though not on an hour for hour basis) as well as improve cognitive function and recovery from injury, illness and exercise.

However whilst great as an occasional restorative if you find you need a nap every day this may be a sign that something is amiss.

Firstly you may not be getting enough sleep overnight so try getting at least 8 hours and see if you still need a nap. If you need a snooze after lunch then you may have blood sugar imbalances or food allergies that should be addressed.

If you have an afternoon nap and then wake too early the next day or have a restless nights sleep then you probably are better off without the nap which could be disturbing your sleep patterns.

However if you are feeling unwell or particularly tired after a hectic week try putting your head down for a few extra zzz on the weekend and it might just perk you up again.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A bit of life laundry

A couple of weeks ago I blogged on 'Fitting it all in' ... how to fit in all
the healthy habits that we know we should do but are all too easily
abandoned when life/work gets in the way.

The flip side is that as well as trying to fit certain things in it's worth
evaluating your life for what you can cut out ... Is there anything that you
are doing too much of that you could pull back from to free up some time for
more beneficial activity.

This might be something simple like chores, that can be delegated to a
cleaner or shared out amongst the household, or something a bit bigger like
spending a lot of time commuting where you might want to move somewhere more
convenient for work.

It can also be useful to evaluate broader categories which we don't often
think about .. such as how much time and energy do you dedicate to your
work, social life and family.

For these bigger questions a tool like a life wheel can be very helpful to
help you take a step back and decide if there are any areas of your life you
should be cutting back on and others you should be dedicating more time and
energy to. Try the out one below ... it doesn't have to take you more than
a few minutes and you might be surprised at the results.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Thrive with a little help from your friends

Nowadays there seems to be a research study on pretty much every health related topic! Which is great news for the advancement of health (and anyone working in research!) and also great news for me as it provides plenty of blog inspiration.

The study that's inspired todays blog, has found that people who have no social life are fifty per cent more likely to die early than those who are well connected, and that those who socialise regularly with family and friends live an average of 3.7 yeas longer than those who lead lonely lives.

According to the research people with little social support have a mortality rate as high as alcoholics, while the impact of making friends is comparable to the effect of giving up smoking, the research showed.

Not that having lots of friends should be a license to start smoking and drinking but it's comforting to know that my busy social schedule makes me more likely to live longer!

It is also interesting to think about why an active social life keeps you healthier. I think a key effect is on mental health - having friends and feeling supported will help reduce stress levels and feelings of depression and there is a huge volume of research on the damaging effects of stress and negative thought patterns on your health.

Infact the professor who led the study said: "Friends and supportive people can make life easier on a basic, every day level. They can lend you money, offer lifts or provide baby sitting.
"They can also encourage you to have better health practices, see a doctor, exercise more. They may also help you indirectly by making you feel you have something to live for."

I'd add to this that in my opinion not all friends are created equal. If you find you're always the one lending money, baby-sitting or helping people out or regularly end up feeling drained and depressed after listening to a friend complain about their lot for over an hour then maybe it's time for a friends upgrade ... surrounding yourself with like-minded positive people is definitely going to be better for your health.

Wishing you all a healthy, sociable weekend!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Spoonfed Suppers

Having blogged yesterday on the wonders of watercress it seemed somewhat serendipitous to then receive this recipe for trout with apple, beetroot and watercress salad today from Spoonfed Suppers. Obviously I haven't had time yet to try it out but it certainly looks good and is rich in low GI carbs, essential fats and health-giving greens.

Spoonfed Suppers offer a different simple, healthy dinner recipe every week day that you can prepare and serve within 30 mins. Perfect for busy city folk without much time to cook. Here's the site if you want to sign up for the e-mail.
Trout with Apple, Beetroot and Watercress Salad
2 x 110g / 8 oz trout fillets
410g / 14 ½ oz / 5 ½ cups butter / lima beans (can)
1 apple, cored and cut into chunks
2 cooked beetroot, cut into chunks
75g / 2 ½ oz / ¾ cup watercress
½ tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
(1) Preheat the grill to medium-high. Grill the trout for 10 mins, or until cooked, turning halfway. (2) Put the butter beans, apple, beetroot and watercress in a large bowl and toss together. (3) Mix the oil, lemon juice and mustard together in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss through the salad and then serve with the trout.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Wonderful watercress!

A pilot study quoted in todays telegraph has found that eating a single portion of watercress is enough to increase the number of cancer-fighting molecules in the bloodstream within hours and could prevent breast cancer from developing.

It also claimed that watercress could also prevent the recurrence of the disease in recovering breast cancer sufferers. Volunteers who ate 80 grams of watercress per day regularly were noticed to have significant health benefits, according to the pilot study.

Infact all the dark salad leaves are wonderfully good for you - rich in iron, magnesium and packed with antioxidants - and anyone who cares of their health should try to have a daily portion.

Have some rocket or watercress with a drizzle of olive oil as a side with dinner or mix some diced raw salad into a pasta salad.

If you struggle to greens regularly then juicing is a great way to up your intake. Juice two big handfuls along with a carrot, an apple and half a lime (rind removed) for a great nutrient boost.


Monday, 13 September 2010

The gender of gorging

I read a 'Hear is the City' article today on the difference between how men and women work and it got me thinking about the differences between the sexes when it comes to attitudes to food.

These are my observations/generalisations:

Men think about food a lot less than women ... women think about food alot, especially those who aren't naturally slender. What to eat, when to eat, amounts of calories, grams of fat etc. This can lead to distorted food choices. Whereas men tend to forget about food until they get hungry and are guided by their appetite as to when to eat, but this can lead to poor food choices through grabbing food on the go and not planning meals in advance.

Men are more likely to use exercise as an excuse to eat unhealthily. Although this can apply to both sexes I think that men are generally less conscious about their health so think that if they are doing enough exercise to stay slim (or are naturally slim) that it is a license to eat as much KFC, burger king, pizza and chocolate as they like and drink infinite quantities of beer. Men of course have the advantage naturally burning off more calories due to higher lean muscle mass.

Men see over-eating as something to be proud of ... as witnessed over the weekend at lunch where the guys took great pride in polishing off a big rack of ribs whilst their girlfriends stopped eating at half the portion! Women are infact more likely to over-indulge at home than socially, and a study last year found that if eating out with men women were less likely to over-eat than if dining in all female company.

So what can we learn from these differences?

Lessons for men:
-Try and be more conscious of the health effects of what you're eating even if you aren't over-weight and make sure you eat plenty of fruit and veg.

-Keep a food diary for a week so you are aware of any bad habits/unhealthy choices you've got.

-Drinking and eating challenges may be part of male camaraderie but can have serious health implications such as diabetes and heart disease, Use the 80/20 rule to limit over-indulging.

Lessons for women:
-If you want to be able to eat more you'll need to up your exercise to keep the weight off. Doing weights to increase lean muscle mass will speed up your metabolism, whilst just focussing or cardiovascular exercise may be counter productive by causing muscle loss.

-Calorie counting and a fear of fat can infact lead to unhealthy food choices. Following the latest low calorie diet can infact slow your metabolism down making it hard to lose weight. Try not to obsess or worry about food and instead be guided by your appetite and choosing healthy food groups and you'll make better choices.

-Keep a food diary too and watch out for any regular over-indulging .. note when it happens and if it's more likely when you're at home then give away your hoard of chocolate and stock your cupboards with healthy snacks.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Chocolatey goodness

In the spirit of my 80/20 blog from last week I think it's forgivable to
include an unhealthy recipe in my blog for once!

If you're going to indulge I really think you should have the best of
whatever treat you're having and so for any chocolate lovers out there here
is the recipe of my much loved chocolate cake ... I guess the natural
yoghurt makes it slightly healthier (and tastier) than usual chocolate cake
recipes but apart from that it's sheer chocolatey indulgence. Extra
delicious iced hot out the oven and served straight away. Enjoy!

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius and grease a 9 inch round cake tin,
line the bottom with grease proof paper.

Beat together 275g castor sugar, 175g margarine and 1 tsp vanilla essence

Beat in 3 eggs and once combined carefully stir in 175g low fat natural
yoghurt (to avoid curdling).

Sift in 225g self raising flour and 50g cocoa powder (rountrees is best if
you can get your hands on it, otherwise use green and blacks) + 1 tsp
bicarbonate of soda.

Stir until smooth and combined, pour into the baking tin.

Bake for 45minutes and leave to cool before taking out the tin. Put a plate
over the top of the cake and flip it over to give a perfectly smooth top for

For the icing melt 50g of margarine and then stir in 50g sifted cocoa
powder. Off the heat add 350g icing sugar and sufficient milk to get the
right consistency. Pour the icing over and smooth with a wet knife.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The 80/20 rule

For all the clean living and brown rice eating you do sometimes you just need some food for the soul.

Infact the psychological effect of permanently banning a particular food from your diet is usually to make you want to eat that food even more ... being forbidden makes it more desirable.

This is why nutritional therapists will sometimes advocate the 80/20 rule - sticking to healthy food 80 per cent of the time and eating whatever unhealthy indulgences you fancy the other twenty per cent of the time.

My more practical suggestion is to have one 'day off' per week, where you eat whatever you fancy rather than worrying about making healthy choices.

If like me, you actually like eating healthily there's no good reason to indulge this often, but if you find it hard to keep to a clean diet knowing you can have a day off on the weekend can help you stick to it ... if you crave something during the week just make a note of it and promise yourself that you can have it on your day off if you still fancy it ... chances are you won't and if you do then enjoy it guilt free knowing it's your day off!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A very late lunch!

I often talk about the importance of eating regularly but with the best will in the world sometimes you're just so busy you that you find yourself eating lunch at 4:30pm!

In a busy city job, courtesy of back to back meetings and short deadlines, it can be hard to find time to eat. When you're extremely busy or under a lot of pressure your stress response also suppresses your appetite so you won't always even feel like eating.

So how do you cope when you simply don't have time to eat?

Firstly make sure you drink plenty of water .. take it into meetings or have a good gulp as you swing by your desk - it's always important to stay hydrated.

Eat foods that are super easy to digest as your digestive process may be suppressed through stress. Smoothies, vegetable juices and natural yoghurt are great options. Keep some whey or rice protein powder in your desk to shake into smoothies or stir into yoghurt for some easy to digest protein.

Chew your food thoroughly - when you're in a rush the temptation is to wolf your food down but it's even more important to chew thoroughly when you're under pressure as this makes it easier for your stomach to digest your food properly.

Eat something small every 3-4 hours even if you're not hungry - have a small piece of fruit with a few nuts, a healthy snack bar (wallaby, nak'd, fruitus), a couple of oatcakes or a bounce protein ball.

Be prepared - if you know a busy day is coming up make sure you have a substantial breakfast before you get started and make sure you have some quick snacks to hand.

If you find yourself regularly skipping breakfast and/or lunch it may be time to examine your schedule ... having the odd day where this happens is fine but if you do this regularly your health is likely to suffer.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A happy cow makes a tasty steak

Despite the title of todays blog I'm actually a wannabe vegetarian. My desire to be vegetarian started with a lecture on intensive farming practices at school at which point I promptly decided to stop eating meat unless it was humanely reared. After passing on the content of my school lecture to my mother she started buying meat with the RSPCA Freedom Food badge of approval.

The downside of ethically rearing animals is that it is more expensive and so without my mum on hand to purchase my food, I became predominantly vegetarian at university. Sadly vegetarianism doesn't agree with me and after a lengthy period of anaemia I reluctantly returned to eating meat. Since then I have always tried to buy organic or Freedom Food meats and eggs which are from more ethically reared animals.

Freedom Food is the RSPCA's farm assurance and food labelling scheme. It is the only UK farm assurance scheme to focus solely on improving the welfare of farm animals reared for food. This means providing them with an environment that meets their needs – needs not confined to space, food and water but psychological needs too, providing a stimulating environment that enables the animals to exhibit their natural behaviour. The guidelines also cover the most humane slaughtering practices and the RSPCA inspects the farms to check they are complying with their guidelines.

Even if you're not that bothered about animal welfare it's worth buying ethically reared meats from a health and taste perspective,
An animal that is stressed will have higher levels of stress hormones in its tissues which reduce the quality and flavour of the meat. Some studies also suggest these substances are then transmitted to humans when the meat is eaten and may then contribute to disease and ill health.

The following supermarkets all stock freedom foods marked with a blue 'f' symbol:
Tesco (who have just started stocking Freedom Food smoked salmon)

For more information please see:

Monday, 6 September 2010

The big feed

I was explaining to someone over the weekend how eating a big meal can make you more hungry and I thought it was information worth sharing.

It's counter intuitive I know ... a big feed should surely keep you stoked up for hours but sadly not. I for one would find it tremendously convenient if I could just eat once a day. Alas this isn't great for your health, despite the fact that our wonderful stretchy stomachs are remarkably accomdating when it comes to over-eating.

So how does eating a big meal make you hungrier sooner than if you ate til you were full and then stopped?

The reason for this (here comes the science) is that your body has to keep your blood sugar levels within a strict range, too high or too low is dangerous for your health.

Therefore if you eat a big meal as it digests into it's constituent parts the carbohydrates will breakdown into sugars, causing a big rise in your blood sugar levels due to the large quantity of food. To keep your blood sugar at a safe level your pancreas will then have to produce a lot of insulin to carry the sugar out of your blood into your cells (to be used up or stored as fat). Unfortunately your pancreas doesn't know exactly how much you've eaten so can't produce the exact amount of insulin needed and therefore tends to over-compensate to be on the safe side. This means that after a big meal your blood sugar levels tend to fall quicker than after a smaller meal and it's when your blood sugar levels get low that your appetite kicks in.

Consequently if you want to lose weight, keep your energy levels stable or reduce your risk of developing type II diabetes then it's advisable to avoid regular gorging! Best save the elasticated waist band for something special like Christmas!

The magic elixir

Somewhat surprisingly I find myself once again inspired to blog by an article in the economist.

The article, subtitled "A magic elixir is shown to promote weight loss" reported the results of a study in the US which found that a group drinking half a litre of water shortly before each meal lost 40 per cent more weight on a calories restricted diet than those who didn't.

I've long recommended drinking more water to aid weight loss, partly because hunger can often reflect thirst so by drinking more water you are likely to eat less calories. However the individuals in this study were given a set calorie intake and therefore this doesn't explain the extra weight loss.

Water is also an input into the chemical reaction that creates energy, and therefore burns calories, in the body. Therefore if your water intake isn't sufficient you can limit your ability to produce energy and lose weight.

I personally wouldn't recommend as much as half a litre just before eating as water can dilute your gastric juices interfering with the proper digestion of your food, but a glass of water 15 minutes before a meal is a good habit to get into, both to keep your energy levels up and your weight down.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Beer vs. OJ

Heated discussions are common in the West household ... ones that I'm asked to settle are not! So I was rather pleased to be asked over the weekend to settle an argument over whether orange juice or beer was more fattening.

The argument was triggered by an article written in the telegraph, which I correctly guessed had been written by a man before being shown the paper! It definitely was a male reader pleasing article suggesting that beer was positively healthy and less likely to make you fat than orange juice.

I settled the argument without reading the article, but now I've read it some of you might be interested in the reasons I disagree and find this sadly another example of poor reporting when it comes to nutrition.

In particular I thought the following quotes were misleading:

"There's no fat in beer and no cholesterol either, and it's ridiculously low in calories and carbs,"
It's true that beer contains no fat, but excess carbohydrates are turned into fat in the body so this doesn't mean that beer isn't fattening. Beer has roughly similar calories per ml to orange juice (182Kcal per pint (574ml) versus 180kcal per 500ml orange juice) but it has a higher glycemic index than orange (66 versus 51) so it causes a faster rise in blood sugar levels causing greater insulin production and thereby greater fat storage.

"Your spare tyre is probably due to all those pork scratchings you ate alongside your pint or even due to your breakfast orange juice which, health clubs please note, does contain fat."
Ok so beer doesn't contain fat but neither does orange juice ... the journo who wrote this article apparently wasn't into fact checking! To be fair drinking lots of orange juice can also cause weight gain, but an equivalent intake is unlikely ... city boys and other beer drinkers are much less likely to drink six pints of orange juice in a row than six pints of beer!

"After all, beer is a rich source of soluble fibre, with just two glasses providing more than 30 per cent of our required daily intake;" Beer contains negligible fibre so I'm really not sure how it can be recommended as a healthy source of fibre.

Obviously if you want to enjoy a couple of pints after a hard day in the office that's not the end of the world health wise, but trying to make out that it's a healthy option is just wishful thinking!

For anyone interested here's the original article:


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

How to holiday

I think it's fair to say I have one of the more unusual combination of degrees (Economics and Nutritional Therapy) and consequently also have somewhat varied reading. I often get inspiration for my blog from nutrition and health magazines however it's less common to be inspired by my weekly subscription to the Economist.

Having said that, last weeks Lexington covered the topic of why Americans find it hard to take holidays. To be fair, they're given a measly average of 13 days a year (compared to our 26) and yet they still 'gave back' a total of 436m days last year. I've personally never had a problem using up my full holiday allowance each year thoroughly enjoying time off work, but maybe it's also because I realise how important proper downtime is for health.

Stress is a major contributor to ill health, most commonly linked to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, impaired immunity, infertility, diabetes, impaired digestion and weight gain but playing a role in almost all disease.

A good way to think of stress and how the body deals with it is to think of a bucket of water. A stressful lifestyle, which is the norm in the city, puts holes in the bottom of the bucket and the water starts to leak out, the more stressful life gets the bigger the holes and the faster the bucket empties. Ultimately if the bucket totally empties you've exhausted your reserves and this is when people crash experiencing exhaustion often leading to diagnoses of chronic fatigue, ME and/or depression.

But there's good news .. even if you've got holes in your bucket you can top up your reserves to keep the bucket full - counteracting the drain of stress. So what tops up the bucket?

Sleep - getting enough tops it up, too little puts more holes in the bucket.

Yoga, meditation, walking, gentle swimming or jogging - gentle exercise is restorative, whilst tough workouts aren't and so need to be counteracted with even more sleep and relaxation.

Proper downtime - not watching tv or surfing the net, but total relaxation without mental stimulus. If you find this hard to achieve on your own try a complimentary therapy such as massage or reflexology to help you relax.

Nutritious food - vitamin C and B vitamins along with other nutrients help the body deal with stress and so a healthy diet rich in fruit and veg, wholegrains and lean protein can help support the body in dealing with stress

Holidays - ok so not all holidays ... a weekend trying to keep track of your kids in euro disney or an action adventure holiday in the alps are not going to be restorative. This is why it's good to try and have one week a year of proper relaxation, this means going somewhere where you won't be tempted to run around sight seeing or do any very physically demanding activities, somewhere you can relax, both mentally and physically and get plenty of sleep and rest. Staying at home is not fully relaxing as you'll be aware of chores or other tasks that you could be doing instead of resting. If you've got kids and peace and quiet is a rarity even a weekend away on your own will can do a lot of good.

And if you're one of those people who brags about not using all their holiday allowance ... you may want to start taking it!.