Snacking 101

When I first developed an interest in nutrition, it wasn’t uncommon to be told that several smaller meals throughout the day were beneficial. The tides have begun to turn, however, and science is now telling us that in a generally healthy individual there are many more benefits to having three, well-balanced and satisfying meals each day, with a window of 4-6 hours fasting in between.1,2 More frequent eating can result in dysregulation of blood glucose, increased fat storage and even increased risk of metabolic disease.2 Regular fasting between meals (i.e. that 4-6 hour window) is now thought to potentially improve circadian rhythm (your sleep-wake cycle), improve stress resistance, improve modulation of the gut microbiome and reduce inflammation.

So what to do if you’re a hardcore snacker?

My first tip would be to make sure that you have three balanced meals, regularly spaced throughout the day. Include some protein, some complex carbohydrates, some good fats and some vegetables. The macronutrients and fibre in a meal like this will give you your best shot at avoiding hunger and cravings between meals.

However, scientific studies don’t take into account the nuances of life so we need some wiggle room! There are times when you might actually need to snack - for instance if you’ve done a lot of exercise or if your schedule has unexpectedly made you miss a meal or eat later than planned.

This leads me to my second tip - if you're going to have a snack, eat it, enjoy it and be done with it! Don't graze throughout the day. Whist a snack when needed is nothing to worry about, constantly picking at food throughout the day will not be doing you any favours. Think of it as though you're trying to get some work done but every half hour someone keeps calling you - you won't be able to get on with what you need to do. Similarly, if you're constantly eating, your body (and gut specifically) can't get on with what it needs to be doing to function optimally.

Thirdly, make sure that if you do snack, your snacks are protein-based and unprocessed. Junk food might satisfy your cravings but high sugar, high saturated and trans-fat snacks will dysregulate your blood sugar and will leave you hungry and craving more shortly afterwards.

Here are some of my favourite, balanced snacks to recommend to clients – most of which are quick and convenient:

  • Apple slices dipped in a small tablespoon of nut butter.
  • Carrot sticks dipped in hummus (bonus points if the hummus is home-made).
  • Smoothie – check my recipes for some ideas!
  • Protein shake – choose your protein powder wisely – look for minimal ingredients and nothing ending in -ose! Brands I like are Nuzest, Purition and Pulsin.
  • Oat cakes and cottage cheese, or a vegan alternative.
  • Mixed nuts and seeds – I sometimes roast them for extra yumminess.
  • Greek yoghurt and berries.
  • Celery sticks dipped in cream cheese, or a vegan alternative.
  • Kale or cavolo nero chips – I have a delicious cheesy cavolo nero crisp recipe!
  • A couple of squares of 85% dark chocolate dipped in almond butter.
  • Edamame beans.
  • Hard boiled eggs dipped in a little paprika.
  • Leftovers! Snacks don’t have to look like conventional snacks – I quite often have a few bites of last night’s dinner if I get peckish between meals.

 

References:

  1. Paoli A, Tinsley G, Bianco A, Moro T. The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):719. Published 2019 Mar 28. doi:10.3390/nu11040719
  2. Piya, M., Reddy, N., Campbell, A., Hattersley, J., Halder, L., Tripathi, G., Tahrani, A., Barber, T., Kumar, S. and McTernan, P., 2014. Meal size and frequency influences metabolic endotoxaemia and inflammatory risk but has no effect on diet induced thermogenesis in either lean or obese subjects. Endocrine Abstracts,.

 

 


The Game Changers

This is the Netflix documentary that everyone seems to be talking about. I have a lot of opinions on a lot of the documentary but I’ve narrowed them down to three key points:

 

  1. I’ve had several people tell me they’ve ‘gone vegan’ on account of the documentary – but this is where my first issue with it lies. The Game Changers consistently refers to a ‘plant-based’ diet without defining what that actually is. Newsflash – it’s not a vegan diet! A plant-based diet is one based predominantly on plants, but can also include all other food sources. We don’t actually know whether the athletes in the programme are strictly vegan, or if, for example, they’re also taking whey protein supplements which are based on dairy.

 

  1. The studies are ‘cherry-picked’ to display the desired results. Nothing in the documentary said anything positive about meat or fish consumption – yet there are a mountain of studies demonstrating the potential benefits, when consumed as part of a balanced diet.1, 2, 3, 4, 5   Let’s take the ‘cloudy blood’ study… it lasted 2 hours, was based on 3 people, didn’t account for what they’d eaten before the study, nor how long the effects lasted. Physiologically, fat in the blood is a normal effect of digestion.6Let’s also look at the wrestlers – I don’t think anyone would try to argue that eating steak twice a day is at all healthy or conducive to optimum performance! It’s an extreme example and not representative of the differences between a diet that includes meat versus a diet that does not. Another poor example is the athlete who eats KFC before a game – fried, poor quality chicken cannot be compared to high quality sources of animal products.

 

  1. The subjects are athletes who often have diets carefully constructed for them, like in the experiments shown on the documentary – those veggie burritos were a careful combination of plant protein, fat, carbohydrates and micronutrients. Many of the people now ‘going vegan’ do not have access to the same resources that professional athletes do and whilst a vegan diet can be healthy when carefully planned, it is likely to cause nutrient deficiencies if not done properly.7Despite what the documentary might lead you to believe, the scientific literature shows that vegans are at risk of deficiency of nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, as well as protein – see my article on veganism for more details.7

 

The conclusion? In my opinion, the documentary is not based on accurate scientific evidence and I worry that it will inspire a lot of people to change their diets due to misleading information. I’m a great advocate for a plant-based diet, but if you are thinking of becoming a strict vegan I would encourage you to seek professional advice to ensure that you are getting adequate nutrition.

 

  1. Jacob, J., Peter, S. and Chopra, S. (2013). A fish a day, keeps the cardiologist away! - A review of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the cardiovascular system. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 17(3), p.422.
  2. Tørris, C., Molin, M. and Småstuen, M. (2017). Lean Fish Consumption Is Associated with Beneficial Changes in the Metabolic Syndrome Components: A 13-Year Follow-Up Study from the Norwegian Tromsø Study. Nutrients, 9(3), p.247.
  3. Bowen, K., Harris, W. and Kris-Etherton, P. (2016). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Are There Benefits?. Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine, 18(11).
  4. Li, D., Siriamornpun, S., Wahlqvist, M., Mann, N. and Sinclair, A. (2005). Lean meat and heart health. [ebook] Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, pp.113-119. Available at: http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/14/2/113.pdf [Accessed 11 Nov. 2019].
  5. Wyness, L. (2015). The role of red meat in the diet: nutrition and health benefits. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 75(3), pp.227-232.
  6. Iqbal, J. and Hussain, M. (2009). Intestinal lipid absorption. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 296(6), pp.E1183-E1194.
  7. Rogerson, D. (2017). Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1).

 


Top tips to support your Immune System

We’re reaching that time of year when colds and coughs are circulating. With more than 200 different common cold viruses you’d be forgiven for thinking that catching one is inevitable but I have some top tips for you to help fight them off.

My first tip is probably not one you’d expect – I’m not talking about vitamin tablets or superfood powders – I’m talking about your gut!

Did you know that more than 70% of your immune system is based in your gut? Research has shown that it’s possible to reduce the frequency of catching coughs and colds by supporting the beneficial bacteria that live there. This is often my first step with clients who come to me seeking advice on boosting their immune system. Luckily, there are lots of simple ways you can keep your gut happy.

Gut bacteria thrive on fibre, so increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables is an easy way to help them. Aim for five a day – more if you can, (one portion is about 80 grams) and try to ‘eat a rainbow’. Just as we have different preferences so do different strains of bacteria, so eating a wide variety is the best way to ensure that each strain is getting what they need. Another way to pack more fibre into your diet is to swap refined carbohydrates for complex carbohydrates – choose brown pasta and grains over the white varieties which are much lower in fibre and nutrients.

Another way to support your gut health so that it can keep your immune system working effectively is to try fermented foods. These are foods that contain live bacteria to populate the gut – sometimes referred to as ‘probiotic’ foods. Unsweetened, natural live yoghurt, milk or water kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso are all examples of fermented foods and most can be found in large supermarkets or your local health food store. You could try adding some natural yoghurt or kefir to some granola and berries for breakfast, or sip on some warm miso as a comforting drink (don’t make the miso too hot or it will kill off the bacteria).

Vitamin C is claimed to be another well-known cold remedy and at this time of year there are adverts for high-street or supermarket own brand supplements everywhere. Interestingly, the evidence behind these claims is weak. There is limited evidence to suggest that vitamin C can actually prevent a cold, and only slightly more to suggest it can reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. My advice would be to steer clear of vitamin C supplements (check out my blog post on supplements for more reasons!) but to include fruit and vegetables rich in it instead – dark leafy greens are an excellent source and the wide variety of other nutrients in them will help you much more than the fillers in the cheap supplements!

Finally, zinc – another well-known ‘anti-cold’ nutrient. The evidence here is a little stronger but again inconclusive – and also stronger in terms of reducing duration and severity, rather than prevention. Foods to include to ensure you’re getting enough zinc are meat and shellfish or legumes, nuts and seeds for the vegetarians and vegans out there.

There are of course specific foods that are traditionally used for fighting coughs and colds, such as chicken soup, garlic and ginger. I’ll save these for another blog post so keep checking back.

In the mean time, wrap up warm, eat your vegetables and stay healthy! X