7 Common sense reasons to eat fat

A few weeks ago the government finally released its obesity strategy for children, which was heavily criticised by many health campaigners including Jamie Oliver. Jamie detailed the things that the plan was failing on (see link below), one of which is compulsory reduction of the sugar content of foods aimed at children.

Whilst sugar has been making headlines in this way again, there have also been headlines about butter and fat again in recent weeks. As usual it seems like scientists cannot decide whether it is good or bad. For example Dr Mozaffarian a researcher at Tuft’s University in Boston in America was involved with two pieces of research which were published over the summer (see the links below), one in support of eating butter (it did not lead to heart disease and may mildly protect you against type 2 diabetes) and the other against (saying replacing 5% of carbohydrates with polyunsaturated vegetable fat was better than saturated fat such as butter at keeping blood sugar stable). It is no wonder there is confusion.

But if you take the common sense view we need fat in our diet just as we need carbohydrates and protein. So here we are looking at what is good about fat, and there are quite a few things. So make room for foods containing fat in your diet such as meat, fish, eggs, and milk, but as usual steer clear of the processed versions and eat them in their most natural form.

What’s good about fat?

  1. It is a carrier of fat soluble vitamins – vitamins A, D, E, and K. For example whole milk is a good source of vitamin A, but skimmed milk contains much lower amounts of this vitamin. Vitamin A is needed for healthy eyes and a good immune system.
  2. It is essential for healthy cells – the building blocks of our bodies. Fat particles form part of the cells.
  3. It is needed to make hormones – which control a multitude of body functions including our response to illness, injury and telling us when we are full.
  4. It makes food taste good. Yes, fat is important for enjoyment of food! Diet foods that have had the fat taken out and replaced with starch and sugar (carbohydrates) and chemicals are not as satisfying as the full fat versions so you may end up eating more than we intend.
  5. It slows down the digestion of starches. If you eat a meal of rice with a low fat vegetable curry the starch is absorbed into the blood very quickly and leads to a peak in blood sugar levels soon after the meal. If you eat a meal of rice and a vegetable curry which contains some coconut fat or butter, the rice is broken down to glucose more slowly.
  6. It stimulates the release of hormones that make us feel full and stops us eating more. Think about if you eat a really fatty meal, say a takeaway curry. At some point you find it really difficult to eat any more, you feel extremely full. However think about when you eat a Chinese takeaway, typically low in fat and high in carbs. You don’t feel so full; you can eat more. This is because fat stimulates the release of hormones that make you feel full, whilst carbohydrate stimulates the release of insulin, which drives you to eat more. Somewhere in between these two extremes of fat content will provide you with a meal which satisfies your appetite and keeps you full until the next meal.
  7. Some fats are essential – you need to eat them for important body processes. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are in this category. However we generally have much more omega-6 in our diet (from vegetable oils) than omega-3 fats. Increasing omega-3 fats in the diet has been linked to benefits such as improved mental health, improved intelligence in children and heart health. Omega-3 fat sources are oily fish (sardines, mackerel, pilchards, herring), walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.


You can have a look at the two articles below and commentary about the government’s obesity strategy below:

‘Childhood obesity: Plan attacked as ‘weak’ and ‘watered down’’, BBC website, published 18th August 2016, available at:


‘Failings of our new government’s childhood obesity strategy’, Jamie Oliver website, published 19th August 2016, available at:


Is Butter Back? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Butter Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Total Mortality, Pimpin, L et. al. PLoS One 2016; 11(6): e0158118.


Effects of Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate on Glucose-Insulin Homeostasis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomised Controlled Feeding Trials, Imamura, F. et. al. PLoS Med. 2016 Jul; 13(7): e1002087.





Beetroot and tomato salad

Beetroot and tomato salad

Around this time of year our fridge is full of beetroot, courtesy of my Dad’s allotment. If you don’t grow it yourself, beetroot is available pre-cooked in supermarkets and now is a great time to eat it. Often called a superfood, beetroot is rich in nutrients including calcium, B-carotene (which is converted into vitamin A), folate (naturally occurring folic acid) as well as some vitamin C, iron and zinc and several other nutrients. It is fairly high in sugars giving it a sweet taste but it also contains a good amount of fibre.

Eating beetroot has been associated with many health benefits such as antioxidant and immune-boosting properties, helping to maintain a healthy gut, supporting the liver and helping to reducing blood pressure.

As far as taste goes, beetroot tends to be a bit like marmite, you either love it or hate it, but given that it is packed full of nutrients and it grows well in this country, it is well worth adding it to your diet in the summer.

Excellent in salads (but best kept in a separate pot if you are taking a salad to work as it will turn everything pink!), it also works well in chocolate cake and brownies. The leaves are nutritious and can be used in salads.

Beetroot goes really well with tomato which is what goes into this really simple salad.


One medium beetroot per person

2-3 tomatoes per person

Handful of fresh parsley (optional)

Olive oil

White wine vinegar


Slice the beetroot.

Slice the tomato.

Arrange on a plate.

Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar (to taste).

Sprinkle with parsley.

Serve with some protein and some carbs, such as bread and cheese, grilled mackerel and boiled new potatoes, or grilled chicken and jacket potato.

Nutrition in the News – vitamin D recommendations change

Raw salmon fillet

It has been a miserable day weather wise, so it’s a good time to look at the new vitamin D recommendations. Vitamin D is made by the body by the action of sunlight on skin.

New recommendations

A recent government report recommended that everyone needs 10 micrograms a day of the vitamin. This is a change from the previous recommendation which were that only those over 65, pregnant and lactating women and children needed supplements. It was believed that others could get enough from the action of sunlight on skin.

Now the recommendation has changed and a supplement is recommended in winter months to ensure people are meeting this amount, as it is recognised that it is difficult to meet the target amount by diet alone.

Which foods contain vitamin D?

Foods containing vitamin D include cod liver oil, oily fish, eggs, liver, margarine, and breakfast cereals, however if you don’t eat oily fish everyday (and it is not recommended to eat it every day due to fish stocks and contamination risk), it is difficult to come close to an intake of 10 micrograms per day.

How do you make vitamin D in the summer?

To produce vitamin D in the summer months, you need to get short bursts of sunlight without using sunscreen, but ensure you don’t get burnt.

Why is vitamin D important?

Vitamin D is important to maintain calcium and phosphate in the body, which is vital for growth and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Deficiency causes rickets (in children) and osteomalacia (in adults). It is also vital to maintain a healthy immune system.

This BBC article and NHS choices page explain more about the changes:




3 Tips for spring: foods, daylight, sunshine

Broccoli_FreeDigitalPhotos.net_James Barker

Purple sprouting broccoli courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love this time of year, when the days are lengthening, the birds are singing and everything is coming into bloom. It is also a good time to explore some seasonal changes that can give your health a much-needed boost after a long winter.

Tip one: eat some seasonal foods

The season still effects what we eat to some extent. Even though salad is available in the shops all year round, you probably eat less salad in the winter, going instead for hot food more often. But once the weather starts to get warmer salad looks appealing again. 

Radishes, watercress, rocket and spring onions are in season at this time and will add a good boost to the nutrition of your diet.

It’s not just salad veg that is good at this time of year, greens such as asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli and spring greens, good sources of folic acid and vitamin K, are all easy to find at this time of year.

Buying seasonally means you can ‘buy british’ , supporting our farmers and using less air miles to get food to our plate, which means the food will be fresher and more nourishing, and hopefully taste better. For example tomatoes are mostly tasteless throughout the winter, but when in season and grown closer to home have much more flavour. 

In terms of fruit, rhubarb is a good choice at this time of year. It can be stewed with a small amount of sugar and eaten with yoghurt or on your cereal. It is also great in a pie or crumble.

You may not expect meat and fish to be seasonal but their availability is also affected by the seasons. Lamb and venison are best at this time of year and lots of different fish and seafood such as crab, oysters, cockles, winkles, prawns, sardines, plaice and salmon.

For more information on seasonal foods have a look at:




Tip two: make the most of the extra hour of daylight

With the recent clock change we now have an extra hour of daylight in the evenings. You can make the most of it by going out for a walk or doing something outdoors in the evenings.

It is not so difficult to get out the house as having more daylight gives us an energy boost. I always feel as if I come out of hibernation at this time of year.

Tip three: get some sunshine at lunchtime

With more daylight, there is more opportunity for us to get some sunshine and now is the time of year when we can start producing vitamin D again (from the action of sunlight on skin). It is important to get some time in the sun (without sunscreen) every day. A lunchtime walk will ensure you get this. Make sure you don’t spend more that 15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen though.

I hope you enjoy the fresh seasonal foods, extra daylight and getting outdoors more.

A guide to replacing sugary foods (and drinks) in your diet

Walnuts by Mister GC

Walnuts by Mister GC, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It was good to hear the government are finally taking some action on sugar in soft drinks (in 2 years’ time!) with the soft drinks levy. Hopefully other measures to reduce sugar in foods will soon be announced.

It is difficult to escape the fact that, many soft drinks contain a lot of sugar, and so these are one of the first things to avoid when trying to reduce your sugar intake. But most processed foods also contain some sugar so reducing and replacing these in your diet, is a good way to reduce your sugar intake.

So what can you eat instead of processed foods such as chocolate, biscuits, shop-bought cakes, cereal bars, ready meals, sugary breakfast cereals? And what do you drink instead of soft drinks?

1. Chocolate. Sorry guys, chocolate contains a lot of sugar! Milk chocolate contains around double the amount of sugar that dark chocolate does, although some of this will be milk sugars (which are not classed as free sugars) but unfortunately this is not specified on the label. So try to reduce your chocolate intake if this is something you eat a lot of, or switch to dark chocolate (in moderation!). A few squares of dark chocolate with a handful of nuts makes a good alternative to a whole chocolate bar.

Maybe start to make the changes after Easter!

2. Biscuits, shop-bought cake, and cereal bars. These all contain a lot of sugar and processed fats so are best kept to a minimum, also for the moreish reasons. Make your own biscuits, cakes cereal bars where you can, reducing the sugar in the recipe and adding nutritious additives such as nuts, or dried fruit, and even making them with wholemeal flour or ground almonds. Home-baked cakes and cereal bars add some variety to your diet.

3. Ready-meals. Try to avoid these and check the amount of sugar they contain. If you are in a rush try these quick meals instead:

  • Omelette with mushrooms, chopped ham, or cheese, with a few boiled potatoes and some vegetables or salad.
  • Scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast with a fried mushrooms or smoked salmon and a handful of watercress.
  • Stir fried vegetables with frozen prawns and rice.
  • Pasta with a tomato-based sauce and chopped good-quality ham.

4. Breakfast cereals. The sugary versions can also add a lot of sugar to your diet. Check how much sugar they contain per 100g and go for the ones with the least amount of sugar, less than 5g per 100g if possible. Add some fresh fruit or a few raisins to sweeten.

5. Soft drinks (canned or bottled). Check labels for the amount of sugar per whole product and remember that one teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to 4g. If you find it difficult to stop drinking soft drinks, start reducing them and then gradually cut them out. The best thing to replace them with is water. Making this kind of change can take time and it is a process of building up the amount of water you drink.

Remember a can of cola has 9 teaspoons of sugar (over the maximum recommended amount for an adult of 30g or 7 ½ teaspoons per day). Also orange juice and other fruit juices count towards your free sugar intake as the fruit sugars have been taken out of the fruit. 150ml orange juice counts towards your intake of free sugars as 3-4 teaspoons. It is better to have the fruit instead.

6. Alcoholic drinks. Opt for wine or spirits as these contain less sugar and calories than other drinks, but drink in moderation (of course!). Most mixers contain lots of sugar so have these occasionally or have spirits on their own or with a dash of water.

I hope you have found this helpful. Remember it takes time to reduce your sugar intake, so do it in stages.

Have a good Easter,




8 Foods & drinks to beware of when trying to reduce your sugar intake.

SugarIn July 2015 the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a committee of scientist who advise the government, published a report on dietary carbohydrates (including sugar) and health and recommended an intake of no more than 5% of dietary energy as sugar. So I am starting this article with a run down of what this actually means. Then I will talk about foods to watch out for that contain a lot of sugar.

What does it mean ‘5% of dietary energy as sugar’? 5% of a person daily allowance of 2000kcal (often considered to be an average amount) is 25g. SACN also recommended that adults should consume no more than 30g of sugar per day. How much is 25g in lay terms? This is about 6 sugar cubes or teaspoons (or 7 teaspoons in 30g). What do they mean by sugar? They mean ‘free sugars’ that is sugar in unsweetened fruit juice, honey and syrups and the table sugar we add to food and drinks and that is added to many foods. What is excluded? Sugar found naturally in milk and sugar naturally present in whole fruit and vegetables. Why did they recommend this? Because of the link between sugar intake and tooth decay and drinks containing added sugar with type 2 diabetes and weight gain.

Which foods and drinks which contain a lot of sugar?

Sugar is in many different foods. It is naturally present in milk, fruit and vegetables and this isn’t a problem. But it is added to many processed foods, mainly as it makes things taste better. These can be foods that we would not consider to be ‘sweet’ such as soups, baked beans, sushi, ready meals, and sandwiches. Then there are the obviously sugary foods like sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, cereal bars and canned drinks. Being aware of the sugar in foods is one step towards reducing your intake. So which foods should you be aware of that contain a lot of sugar?

  1. Drinks. Many soft drinks contain a lot of sugar, particularly the fizzy ones. Or you may add sugar to your tea and coffee, which can easily mount up over the day. Even fruit juices with ‘no added sugar’ are a way of putting a lot of ‘free sugars’ into your diet.
  2. Chocolate. Particularly milk chocolate, but also dark chocolate, both contain quite a lot of sugar, that is why this is a food that it is best to eat in moderation (but as many of us know this is harder to do than it sounds).
  3. Biscuits. Lots of sugar goes into the average biscuit, and often chocolate too. One or two biscuits are okay, the problem is that biscuits are so moreish we often eat more than 2.
  4. Cake. Cake comes in many guises, some are seen as more healthy, such as the flapjack, but shop-bought versions can contain an eye watering amount of sugar. Eating regular cakes of any sort can add a lot of sugar to your diet.
  5. Cereal bars. Beware the cereal bar, as like the flapjack, it is seen as ‘healthy’ but it is very difficult to find one which has not got lots of sugar in it.
  6. Ready-meals. Best avoided in my opinion, but on the odd occasion you eat one, you may choose the one that is ‘low-fat’ but this often means it has more sugar than you would expect. This is a good reason for cooking, because you know what goes into it.
  7. Breakfast cereals. Some of the whole-grain versions are ‘sugar free’ but most have some sugar added. So even if you don’t add it yourself you are still getting sugar as part of your breakfast. Check the box.
  8. Alcohol. This can be a big source of sugar if you are drinking cocktails, alcopops, or anything with sugary mixers in, but alcoholic drinks themselves such as wine, spirits, and beer have relatively small amounts of sugar.

Next time: what to replace sugary foods with.

Thanks for reading,

Have a good weekend,


Useful links:

‘SACN’s sugars and health recommendations: why 5%?’, Public Health England, July 2015, accessed 10/3/16 at:


‘How much sugar is in your alcohol’, The Telegraph website, accessed 10/3/16 at: