Eating more healthily and getting fitter top the list of New Year’s resolutions, according to a YouGov poll1, yet many people have returned to old eating and lifestyle habits before the end of January.
Most people know what is wrong with the Western diet today – the over-reliance on processed foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats that contain low levels of essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre. However, even so-called ‘balanced diets’ can be high in hidden sugars, starches and low in essential fatty acids and therefore increase the likelihood of obesity, diabetes and other health conditions. People who think they are eating a healthy diet may still benefit from dietary improvements.
Although we know what’s wrong with current habits, there is a lot of confusion about making better choices – what is the optimal diet? Is it low fat, high fat, low carb or low calorie? Whilst the answer is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to our daily fare, there are some principles that can be followed that focus on eating nutrient dense foods, rather than empty calories.
We at Cytoplan have produced a new free booklet, available as a PDF, ‘Your Guide to Eating Well’, which outlines the principles and practicalities of a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory diet. You can download the booklet here. It is available for you to use yourself or with your clients. The booklet also gives information on portion sizes, a basic shopping list and a detailed step-by-step ‘how to carry out an elimination diet’ for those people who suspect they may have food intolerances or sensitivities. In this blog we outline some of the key points covered in the guide.
An anti-inflammatory diet is a beneficial way of eating that:
- Bases meals on a range of different vegetables
- Avoids sugary foods
- Avoids inflammatory fats
- Includes healthy fats daily
- Includes small quantities of lean meat, fish and eggs (or vegetarian / vegan sources of protein)
- Reduces or avoids gluten; and
- Reduces or avoids other inflammatory foods
Base meals on a range of different vegetables
Most people are not achieving the UK Food Standards Agency recommended intake of 5 portions of vegetables and fruit per day. The average intake is 3 portions per day, this compares to 10 that the Victorians ate. Eating large quantities of fruit is not a substitute for vegetables; while fruit has health benefits, including providing fibre and antioxidants, it is also high in sugar
Why are vegetables and fruit important for health?
Vegetables and fruit contain essential vitamins and minerals as well as fibre (important for healthy bowels) and phytonutrients. Research is accumulating showing that vegetables play an important role in preventing chronic diseases. For example, the phytonutrients in vegetables can reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a critical factor in virtually every degenerative disease from heart disease to diabetes, arthritis, obesity, periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
How many portions per day?
Increase vegetables until you have achieved the ‘half-plate rule’ i.e. half of your plate is vegetables (excluding potatoes) at both lunchtime and suppertime. If this is too much initially you can work on gradually increasing the number of vegetables over a period of weeks. Half a plate at both lunch and supper will provide approximately 6 portions of vegetables per day.
Some ways to increase vegetable consumption:
- Don’t rely on your evening meal for all your vegetable intake
- Include a variety of different vegetables at each meal;
- Take a Tupperware to work with raw vegetable to have with lunch
- Always order a side order of extra vegetables in restaurants
- Make extra vegetables in the evening and eat them cold for lunch with an olive oil/lemon juice and garlic dressing – add some raw vegetables as well
- Eat plant sources of protein e.g. nuts and seeds
- Have a green smoothie for breakfast or for a snack
- Be persistent with fussy eaters – encourage them to try at least 10 times! Tastes can be changed/trained
- Make vegetable soups – e.g. pea and broccoli is very quick to make and can be portioned and stored in fridge or freezer
Avoid sugary foods
Our traditional diet of 10,000 years ago was very low in concentrated sources of sugar – estimates suggest people ate around 2kg per year, which would have come from sources such as wild honey. Modern day tribes still consume sugar at this level i.e. around 2kg of sugar per person per year. In the UK, sugar consumption is closer to 1kg per person per week.
So where are we eating all this sugar? A lot of the sugar we eat is in processed foods and drinks. For example, there are 9 teaspoons of sugar in a can of cola. Even foods that are considered healthy may have high quantities of added sugar – for example yoghurts, breakfast cereals (including mueslis), fruit juice/smoothies and cereal bars.
When checking food labels be aware that sugar comes under many names and a food may contain many different types. For example, sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, malt, malt extract, syrup and honey are all different names for sugar.
Why is sugar an issue?
The government’s recommendation is that added sugar should not exceed 30g per day (8.5 teaspoons) for adults, 19g per day (5 teaspoons) for children aged 4 to 6 and 24g per day (6 teaspoons) for children aged 7 to 10 years. This is still a significant quantity of sugar and people suffering chronic health conditions should reduce their consumption below this level. Sugary foods are pro-inflammatory and inflammation is an important contributory factor to many health conditions.
Sugary and high carbohydrate diets can also lead to many symptoms such as
- Poor memory or concentration
- Mood swings or depression
- Frequent headaches
- Feelings of anxiety, irritability or weakness, especially if a meal is missed
- Tiredness in the afternoon
- Feeling stressed
- Difficulty losing weight
The first few days of reducing sugar can be difficult as cravings may be experienced. After this you are likely to have more energy, improved sleep and may notice an improvement in other symptoms.
Enjoy healthy fats
Despite the vital roles of fat, many people are fat-phobic as a result of the bad press fat obtained in the 1980s and 1990s. This resulted in the appearance of heavily marketed ‘low fat’ foods, which are often high in sugar. Since then, the importance of fat in the diet has been appreciated – the emphasis should be on eating appropriate quantities of the right types of good quality fats, rather than seeking to avoid all fat. The low fat diet advice heavily promoted is now recognised to be flawed.
Why are fats important?
As well as providing energy, fats perform numerous, essential functions in the body. For example, fats are used as structural components in cell membranes. Every human cell has a protective permeable membrane composed of phospholipids (fats), cholesterol and proteins. Omega-6 and omega-3 fats are also used to synthesise hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Different prostaglandins can act to increase or decrease inflammation in the body. In general, omega-6 fatty acids result in more inflammatory prostaglandins. Thus, the high proportion of omega-6 in the Western diet is pro-inflammatory.
Types of fat
Fat comes in many different forms. The nature of the fat depends on the predominant types of fatty acid it contains. All fats contain both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids (mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated) but are sometimes described as saturated or unsaturated according to proportions of fatty acids present. For example, olive oil is often described as a mono-saturated fat because a high proportion of the fatty acids are mono-unsaturated.
Saturated fats – Found in animal products (meat, full fat dairy products), coconut oil and palm oil. Some forms of saturated fat, for example the kind in coconut, are very healthy. Animal saturated fats that are solid at room temperature i.e. beef and lamb are not recommended in high quantities.
Trans fats – Found at low natural levels in some animal products. Of particular concern, are trans fats found in processed foods containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Consumption of trans fats is linked to heart disease.
Mono-unsaturated fats – Found in nuts, olives and avocado. Mono-unsaturated fats are heart-healthy; they lower bad cholesterol (LDL), raise good cholesterol (HDL) and lower blood pressure. Consumption is also linked to reduced risk of cancer and diabetes.
Fats to enjoy: extra virgin olive oil (and olives), avocados, nuts/seeds, oily fish, extra virgin coconut oil
Fats to avoid: deep fried food, meat pies, sausages, margarine, sunflower and corn oil
Reduce or Avoid Gluten
Wheat is a staple carbohydrate in Western diets, often being consumed in some form at every meal and snack. It contains a protein called gluten. Other grains that contain gluten are barley and rye; oats (unless gluten-free) may be contaminated with gluten. Gluten is ubiquitous in our food – bread, pasta, cous cous, beer, flour products – all contain gluten. Less obvious sources include soy sauce, gravies, sushi and fried foods in restaurants (including chips!).
Why does gluten cause a problem for some people?
The protein gluten cannot be digested by humans and increases gut permeability (i.e. leaky gut) for a while after it is eaten. This happens to some degree in everyone, every time foods containing gluten are eaten. This can lead to an immune response and be a contributory factor in inflammation. A healthy body will ‘mop up’ the inflammation and repair the leakiness of the gut until gluten is eaten again, and the process starts again. However, because gluten containing foods are often eaten at every meal and snacks in between – the body’s capacity to ‘repair’ the gut after eating these foods may be exceeded and this can increase the likelihood of developing a sensitivity to gluten – which is linked to many conditions and symptoms, for example autoimmune diseases, digestive symptoms, mood disorders, skin conditions etc.
How much gluten-containing food can I eat?
Those eating gluten containing foods should limit to maximum one portion per day. It is easy to choose alternative breakfast options and avoid at supper. Lunch ‘on the go’ is where people find they rely on a ‘sandwich’. Good alternatives to gluten containing foods are quinoa, rice, oats and sweet potatoes; commercially produced ‘gluten free’ foods may be low in nutrients and highly processed and so should only be eaten minimally.
However, people with symptoms that indicate the possibility of a sensitivity to gluten should carry out a trial elimination of gluten from their diet – a step by step ‘how to carry out an elimination diet’ is described in ‘Your Guide to Eating Well’.
|Foods to Enjoy|
|Fish – white fish and oily fish. Choose small, wild fish eg wild salmon, sardines (fresh or tinned in olive oil). Avoid farmed fish and fresh tuna, swordfish||Fruit – especially berries (frozen ok). Also apples, plums, pears|
|Eggs and small amounts of lean meats – beef, lamb, chicken, preferably organic||Vegetables – dark green leafy vegetables, cucumber, avocado, green beans, dark salad leaves, brightly coloured root vegetables. Tomatoes, peppers and aubergine in moderation|
|Nuts – almonds, walnuts (in smoothies), Brazil nuts
Pulses – beans and lentils
|Starchy carbohydrates – sweet potatoes, oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat (makes nice pancakes). Potatoes in moderation (or avoid)|
|Seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, Chia||Fats and oils – Extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, butter (in moderation)|
|Non-dairy milks such as coconut milk, almond milk. (Occasional sheep’s milk yoghurt if dairy tolerated)||70% or 85% dark chocolate (after a meal)
|Foods to Avoid|
|Sugary foods – cakes, biscuits, sweets, fizzy drinks, fruit juice, jam, white rice, dried fruit||Wheat, barley, rye – pasta, bread, cous cous, beer, flour products, sausages, also check food labels added to eg sushi|
|Sweeteners – aspartame, sucralose, xylitol, stevia (occasional stevia is ok||Gluten-free products – eat these in small amounts only. They are very refined and have no nutrients.|
|Fats and oils – Corn oil, sunflower oil, margarine, fried foods, processed foods||Large amounts of dairy.
Soya* and quorn products
*Soy products are often highly processed (eg soy milk, yoghurt etc). It is ok to enjoy small amounts of fermented soy products, as they do in Japan, eg natto and tempeh as well as tofu (most tofu is not fermented)
If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters, please do contact me (Clare) by email at any time (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Clare Daley and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
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