Your guide to eating well

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.

Skip to Key Takeaways

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’.

Key Takeaways

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 (clare@cytoplan.co.uk)

Clare Daley and the Cytoplan Editorial Team


Related Cytoplan products

Foundation Formula 1

Foundation Formula 2

Nutri Bears

Omega 3 Vegan

Krill Oil


References

  1. https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/01/16/63-brits-are-planning-make-new-year-resolutions/

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12 thoughts on “Your guide to eating well

  1. A very interesting article but could you please tell me why quorn should be avoided. Is it because it is a processed food?

    1. Dear Marion – Yes that is the reason for suggesting the avoidance of quorn, it is a processed food. There are many different quorn products available on the market and it would be easy to eat some form most days of the week. If you do choose to eat it, then I would recommend that you limit it to once per week.

      Best regards,
      Clare

  2. Excellent article. I am really going to pay more attention to what I am eating. And, that is why I consider I eat well and balanced. But somehow, I have problems of nutrition deficiency and weak immune system. The second is slow improving, hoping to improve nutrition deficiency as well.

    1. Dear Elbia,

      Good to hear that you are going to pay more attention to what you are eating, even though you consider you already eat well! There are often additional improvements that can be made. If your immune system needs support you might like to read our recent blog on immunity Boost your immune system this winter. For additional nutrition support, include an all-round multivitamin / minerals with good levels of vitamin D (eg our Foundation Formula 1 or CoQ10 Multi; in addition extra vitamin D may be useful over the winter – Vitamin D3 2,500 iu. Finally, we have a supplement called Immunovite that contains beta-glucans, zinc, selenium and vitamin C – this can be taken alongside the multi.

      I hope this helps.

      Regards,
      Clare

  3. Hi,

    I have 2 questions regarding the use of seeds:
    1. Do you need to grind chia seeds like you do with flax seeds?
    2. How long can you keep grinded flax seeds or it’s imperative to eat them right away?

    1. Dear Ana,

      Thanks for your questions on our blog. Yes chia seeds need to be soaked or ground, otherwise they are likely to pass through the intestines, which is what they are designed to do.
      It is ideal to grind flaxseeds and use them straight away. However if you are grinding enough to last a few days then keep in a sealed container in the freezer or fridge.

      Best wishes,
      Clare

  4. You mention gluten, but I believe there is new research to suggest for that those who are wheat intolerant it may not be the gluten but another element contained in wheat (sorry I forgot the name) Would you care to expand on that, since I was told some time ago I was not intolerant to gluten but to wheat.

    1. Dear Veronica-Mae,

      Yes you are correct there may be other factors in wheat that can cause a problem:

      1) Wheat allergy – this is an IgE allergy to the proteins in wheat. It may cause hives or other allergic type reaction. It can be diagnosed by a blood test from the doctor.
      2) FODMAPs – Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols. These are short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. They are found in a number of foods, including wheat and can cause IBS type symptoms for some people. We have written about FODMAPs in another blog.
      3) Wheat germ agglutinin – this is a lectin (lectins are also found in some other foods), lectins can be a contributory factor to leaky gut and give rise to a number of symptoms.
      4) During the digestion of gliadin (a component of gluten) substances called gluteomorphins are produced. These are opioid like substances that can impart an opioid effect on the brain as they have both sedating and addictive properties. Therefore they can contribute to food addictions, making it difficult to remove gluten from the diet, post meal slumps and some studies have linked them with conditions such as brain fog, depression and autism.

      The other problem of course is that wheat is very high in starchy carbohydrates. Dr William Davies (author of Wheat Belly) says in his book that 2 slices of wholemeal bread raise blood sugar as much as 1 tablespoon of sugar!

      Regards,
      Clare

      1. It should be remembered that gluten has been consumed in various grains for centuries without the problems (apart from true coeliac disease) that have appeared in the 20th and 21st centuries. Hybridising grains is a major factor that must be taken into consideration rather than just stating that humans can’t digest gluten containing foods. For centuries bread has been referred to as the “staff of life” and many populations in the world would have starved without it. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) wrote on the health giving benefits of spelt. Modern lifestyles have weakened the human gut and hybridised and genetically modified grains can wreak havoc on the body. Ancient grains such as spelt, emmer, kamut and einkhorn are often well tolerated and should be tried as alternatives to modern wheat.

  5. I have enjoyed reading this article very much. I have just a couple of questions please. Is coconut oil and butter safe to eat if you have high cholesterol and are on Statins? There is so much conflicting advice on healthy fats.
    I make cow’s milk Kefir, do the benefits outway the negatives of eating dairy? I also love Roquefort cheese. Is all cheese bad?

    1. Dear Aly,

      Coconut oil increases HDL cholesterol (which is the good type). I would however watch the amount of both coconut oil and butter that you are eating. To manage cholesterol there are a few things to consider:

      1) Choose low sugar / low starchy carbohydrates. Sugar and starchy carbohydrates alter blood lipid profiles by stimulating the production of insulin which increases the liver’s production of triglycerides and cholesterol. Most cholesterol is made in the body in response to eating carbohydrates.
      2) Eat a diet high in fibre. When cholesterol has performed its useful functions in the body it is excreted via the bile into the bowel from where it is eliminated in stools. If constipated the cholesterol may be reabsorbed from the bowel back into the circulation – contributing to high levels. Thus fibre helps to remove cholesterol from the body by increasing bowel regularity and preventing constipation.
      3) Eat foods high in monounsaturated fats (avocado, nuts, olives, olive oil) which have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.
      4) Include plenty of vegetables (and some fruit) which are high in antioxidants and vitamin C – this protects cholesterol from being oxidised and causing damage. When cholesterol becomes oxidised is when it really becomes a problem.

      Regarding your second question, Fermented milk products like yoghurt and kefir do have benefits in terms of providing live bacteria, ideal is to make with sheep’s milk. However, if you have no particular health issues or suspect intolerance then I would continue to eat it. Yes I love cheese too! It is high in salt but again can offer benefits from the bacteria perspective, particularly cheese made using raw milk. Just don’t eat too much of it.

      I hope this helps.

      All the best,
      Clare

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