Should we include soy in our diet?

Soy is a plant-based food deriving from soya beans, which are a legume native to Asia. It is consumed in many different forms, including tofu, tempeh, soy milk, edamame beans, vegetarian meat substitutes, dairy-free cheeses and yoghurts.

It is nutrient dense, rich in polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and –6), antioxidants, B vitamins and iron. Soy is also a great source of protein containing all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Soya beans and products using the whole beans (such as tempeh) are also a good source of fibre, which in itself is linked to a whole host of health benefits. 

So why does such a nutritious and versatile plant-based food have such a bad rep? 

There is a lot of misinformation around soy, as it is deemed one of the most controversial topics within nutrition. However, most of the negativity around soy seems to stem from poor studies conducted on animals, providing very weak evidence.  

So, let’s have a look at some of the common misconceptions of soya and see what the evidence has to say…. 

Eating soy can cause cancer 

The common myth that consumption of soy is linked to cancer originates from the misunderstanding of differences between oestrogen and isoflavones.  

Isoflavones are a type of plant-based compounds called phytoestrogens. Although they have a similar chemical structure, isoflavones function completely differently to oestrogen. In fact, phytoestrogens are estimated to be between 100 – 100,000 times weaker than oestrogen found in humans, and therefore any effect they have is very weak. 

However, by binding to oestrogen receptors, the isoflavones in soy act as antioxidants, as they block the oestrogen. There is plenty of research to show the protective effect this has against cancers and other diseases. In fact, human studies have shown consistently that regular, moderate soya consumption lowers the risk of not just breast cancer, but breast cancer reoccurrence in recovered patients.  

The reason for this misunderstanding is due to previous studies done on rodents. It has since been discovered that rodents metabolize isoflavones in a completely different way to humans, leading to the misleading conclusion that isoflavones promote the growth of breast cancer. 

Eating soy causes hormone imbalance in men 

Following on from the concern around phytoestrogen contained in soy, there have been multiple different myths and rumours regarding its effect on testosterone, and whether eating soy will cause ‘man boobs’. 

There is a strong evidence base that soy does not affect the production of testosterone in men whatsoever. There are several studies examining soy protein or isoflavone supplementation that suggest no significant changes on men’s testosterone, oestrogen, sex hormone binding globulin protein, or semen quality. 

In fact, there is good evidence to suggest that soy is linked to a significantly lower risk of developing prostate cancer. 

As for the ‘man boobs’, this rumour stems from a single, very scientifically weak, case study, in which a 60-year-old man developed breasts and sexual dysfunctions after consuming almost 3 litres of soy milk a day for 6 months. Not only is this an unrealistic amount of soy for anyone to consume, the man in question’s medical history is unknown, and his symptoms went away after he stopped consuming the soy. These findings have also not been reproduced in any studies since. 

Soy contains antinutrients 

This is based on the fact that soybeans contain high concentrations of phytate (phytic acid). Phytate is found in seeds, nuts, legumes, and grains. It can bind strongly to certain nutrients (such as iron and zinc), forming insoluble complexes that cannot be absorbed by the intestine. 

However, soaking, sprouting, cooking and fermenting are all ways to reduce the phytate content in soy, which it almost always is before consumed, meaning the effect of phytates is negligible. 

There are good and bad types of soy 

Soy can range from being minimally processed (such as edamame), moderately processed (tofu and soymilk), to isolated components that are used as ingredients (such as soy protein isolate, or soy fibre).  

The more processed the soy is, the less nutrients it contains as they are lost along the way. However, this does not make them ‘unhealthy’, they are still a great, low-fat source of complete protein. They just simply contain a little less nutrients. Furthermore, these more processed forms of soy are generally not consumed on their own, but as an ingredient, meaning the nutrients can be made up elsewhere. 

The bottom line 

Soy is a highly nutritious and versatile plant-based protein, and can be enjoyed by all, not just vegetarians and vegans. It comes with a whole host of health benefits when consumed moderately, and there is no need to be weary of the negative health claims that have derived from poorly conducted animal studies, that are not generalisable to humans. 

 

Sources:

Contribution by Rebecca Horton ANutr 

Deciphering Food Labels

Food labelling is there to help us stay informed about what we are consuming, but with all that information on one packet, we can often find ourselves a bit confused and overwhelmed.

SERVING SIZES

Serving sizes in the UK are not standardised, so it is important to eat what you feel is an appropriate portion, rather than what is suggested by the manufacturer. Serving sizes are normally based on data about how much people typically eat, not how much you should eat, and this data hasn’t been updated since 1993!

TRAFFIC LIGHTS

The traffic light system on the front-of-pack is not compulsory, so you may not find it on all products, but most major pre-packaged foods will provide this information. It’s a really useful way of quickly comparing the salt, sugar and fat content between products (but be sure to note whether the information is written per 100g or portion so you can compare like for like). The general idea is that you choose products that have more greens (low) and ambers (medium) and fewer reds (high).

However, the traffic light system falls short as it doesn’t tell you why the fat/salt/sugar is red or anything about the nutritional quality. This is when you need to do a bit of further digging and check the ingredients list. For example, if the fat content of a product is red, but the first ingredient on the list is something like nuts or avocado, then the fat content is likely coming from these natural sources and providing you with a dose of monounsaturated fat (the essential kind).

NUTRITION BREAKDOWN

The back of the packet will give you a more in-depth nutritional breakdown of the product than the front. This is where you can find the number of calories, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, fibre, protein and salt in either a ‘portion’ of the product or per 100g. You may also come across a column with % Reference Intakes (RIs). This column shows you what percentage of your reference intake is in a portion of the product. Reference intakes are guidelines about the maximum amount of calories and nutrients an adult should eat on average in a day – these are not targets!

NUTRITION & HEALTH CLAIMS

This is where things can get a bit misleading and food companies try to seduce us with bold health related claims that more often than not, don’t really mean anything. For example, you’ll find the term ‘superfood’ is plastered on packaging, but it has no regulatory approval and no accepted definition.

There are two categories of claims found on packaging in the UK that are strictly regulated: nutrition claims and health claims. Nutrition claims imply a food has beneficial nutritional properties because of either the calories it provides or does not provide (or reduces) or the nutrients it contains or does not contain, e.g., ‘sugar-free’ or ‘source of fibre’. However, to make things even more complicated, you need to be wary of wording. For example, ‘reduced fat’ and ‘low fat’ mean completely different things. A product that can use a ‘low fat’ claim must have 3g or less fat per 100g, whereas a product claiming ‘reduced fat’ only has to have 25% less fat than the standard product (meaning it may still be high in fat). On the other hand, health claims are ones made about the relationship between the product and your health. For example, ‘shown to reduce blood cholesterol’ or ‘calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones’. Thankfully, health claims on labels are not allowed to say that a food can prevent or cure any disease, nor are they allowed to mention an amount of weight loss.

These claims aren’t something you need to know in depth and off by heart but it’s important to remember not to be fooled by clever marketing.

DON’T BE SCARED OF THE UNKNOWN

We’re often fed the idea that we shouldn’t consume things we can’t pronounce, but it’s important to know that the food industry has its own language when it comes to listing ingredients. This means more often than not simple ingredients are given pretty scary sounding names. For example, E100 is masquerading as curcumin (aka the bioactive compound in turmeric), ascorbic acid (E300), cholecalciferol, ergocalcipherol and tocopherols are all just the chemical names for vitamins– not so scary anymore! Next time you see something you can’t pronounce on a food label, take the opportunity to learn about it rather than avoiding it! Also, don’t feel the need to get hung up on checking the labels of everything you buy.

REMEMBER…

Food labelling is there to guide you to make healthy and informed choices about what you eat. Food labels do not tell you how hungry you are, how much will fill you up or what your body is asking for.

References and other useful resources:

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/sugar-salt-and-fat/10-tips-for-understanding-food-labels

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/support/healthy-living/healthy-eating/food-labelling

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/publications/policy-documents/portion-distortion-report-2013

https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/helpingyoueatwell/324-labels.html?start=3

https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/nutrition_claims_en

https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/health_claims_en

 

Contribution by Sophie Gastman ANutr 

Tofu Scramble

An easy savoury, vegan breakfast option that comes together in no time!

Ingredients

  • 200 g firm tofu
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 6-7 Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Handful of spinach, chopped
  • 60 ml milk of choice
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • Black pepper
  • Salt (optional: use kala namak for an ‘eggy’ flavour)
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • To serve: bread (I used sourdough), sliced avocado, lime

Method (serves 2)

  1. In a pan over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic in oil for about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add in the cherry tomatoes, season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, mix together the milk, nutritional yeast, cumin, turmeric and black pepper in a jug and set aside.
  4. Crumble the tofu with your hands or a fork directly into the pan and then add the milk mixture.
  5. Mix together and cook until the tofu absorbs the liquid.
  6. Finally add the spinach and season with salt to taste.
  7. Serve on toast with sliced avocado and a squeeze of lime.

 

 

Everything You Need to Know about Sugar

Sugar often comes with negative connotations. Many people are advised to go completely sugar free or opt for ‘unrefined’ versions. Some common claims include it causing cancer, and it has even been claimed that sugar is as addictive as cocaine.

The world of nutrition can be a confusing place and so it is no wonder people are becoming increasingly worried about their consumption of sugar. Despite this, it’s fair to say many negative claims surrounding sugar are often untrue, and many have been oversimplified. Nutrition is complex, and there is rarely a simple answer to any one topic. “Bad”, “toxic”, “addictive”, are all examples of fear mongering language associated with sugar … however nutrition is not black and white. 

What is Sugar?

Sugar is the name for sweet tasting carbohydrates which are found both naturally or added to food. In its most simplistic form (1 unit of sugar), sugar is referred to as monosaccharides which includes glucose, fructose, and galactose. These molecules can also form together to make disaccharides (2 sugar units) which include lactose (milk), maltose (malt sugar), and sucrose (table sugar).

Most importantly, glucose, a form of sugar, is essential in fuelling the human brain. In order to function correctly, we need to consume around 120g/420kcal per day. Our bodies convert glucose into glycogen which is stored in the liver and muscle cells for daily use and in cells and tissues for long term use.

Quite often, manufacturers often replace the word ‘sugar’ on the list of ingredients on food and drink packaging, and instead use words such as fructose, lactose, sucrose, unsweetened fruit juices, carob, corn syrup, and many others in attempt to trick consumers to thinking there is little or no sugar in certain products.

Natural Sugars

Natural sugars are those that naturally occur in fruit, vegetables, and milk-based products. Foods containing natural sugars are essential for a healthy diet and we do not need to cut down on our consumption of them (unless diagnosed with a specific health condition). However, it may be useful to bear in mind that natural sugars are included in the ‘total sugars’ figure that is seen on food labels.  

Free Sugars

Free sugars are sugars which have been added to foods or drinks such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, flavoured yoghurts, and fizzy drinks. Free sugars are also found in honey, syrups, nectars, shop bought fruit juices, and smoothies. Although these sugars are naturally occurring, they are still classified as free sugars. As a population, we should aim to consume less of these types of sugar. If consumed in excess, they can have damaging effects on our health such as contributing to dental cavities and type 2 diabetes.

Unrefined VS Refined Sugar

In more recent years, expensive unrefined sugar options such as coconut sugar and maple syrup have become more popular due to them being marketed as a ‘healthier alternative’ to ordinary table sugar. Although unrefined sugars may contain extremely small amounts of potentially beneficial minerals and vitamins, you would have to consume excessive amounts (100g or more) to gain even a small health benefit from it. These are still classed as a free sugar. 

Health Implications

There are many health risks associated with excessive sugar consumption. One of the most common being tooth decay, which can occur due to the presence of acid in the mouth caused by dietary sugar leading to cavities and holes in the teeth. Although levels of tooth decay have declined in recent years, it continues to remain a big problem in the UK with 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 4 children affected.

There are various ways to reduce the risk of dental caries include:

  • Brushing teeth at least twice a day
  • Drinking more water, especially after consuming sugary products
  • Reducing the consumption of sticky, sugary foods

Various pieces of research have confirmed a link between sugary soft drinks and type 2 diabetes. Though sugar may not directly cause diabetes, it is likely due to high number of calories in soft drinks.  It has been found that soft drinks are the highest contributor of sugar in both adults and children’s diets. On average one can of soft drink contains around 40g of sugar, which alone exceeds the daily recommended allowance.

The Sugar Levy

To address some public health issues surrounding high sugar consumption, in 2018 the government implemented a sugar levy. This meant that manufactures were charged 24p per for drinks with 8g or more sugar per 100ml and 18p for drinks containing 5-8g of sugar. Whilst the sugar levy has encouraged some manufactures to reduce the amount of sugar in some of their recipes, the levy has some flaws. Milk based products such as sugary milkshakes and fruit juices are exempt from the levy due to them containing other nutrients such as calcium in the milk and various vitamins in smoothies.  It has also been argued that those on a lower income are negatively affected by the levy when they continue to buy soft drinks but end up suffering from the rise in prices.

Recommended Daily Intake

The government currently recommends that the daily  intake of free sugars should only equal approximately 5% of  daily energy intakes.  This equates to around:

  • Adults – 30g or 7 cubes of sugar a day
  • Children aged 7-10 – 24g or 6 sugar cubes a day
  • Children aged 4-6 – 19g or 5 sugar cubes a day

However, figures from the most recent National Diet & Nutrition Survey confirmed that male adults (aged 19-64) on average consume 64.3g of sugar and women consume 50g of sugar, both of which are well over the daily guidelines recommended by the NHS.

Should We Avoid Sugar Altogether?

Absolutely not. Firstly, when we restrict ourselves of certain foods, we end up craving them even more. This means that when we finally ‘give in’ and eat the foods we are trying to avoid/craving, we are likely to feel out of control around them and over consume.

Secondly, sugar makes food taste delicious. Of course, nutrition is important, but so is enjoying foods that you love! All food has a place in a healthy, balanced diet.

Just because a slice of cake contains sugar, it doesn’t take away all the other benefits you are getting from the other ingredients. For example, protein found in the eggs, fibre from the four, and calcium in the butter.

Takeaway Sugar Tips:

  • Where possible, opt for natural sugars over free sugars
  • Check labels for other words manufactures may use instead of sugar
  • Instead of focusing solely on sugar intake, find ways you can include more variety in your diet
  • Whilst it may be a good idea to be mindful about the amount of sugar we are consuming, we should also not restrict ourselves and know it is completely healthy and natural to enjoy a sweet treat

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22436/

https://www.nhs.uk/change4life/food-facts/sugar

http://www.actiononsugar.org/sugar-awareness-week/

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/

https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/sugar.html

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29659689/

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445503/SACN_Carbohydrates_and_Health.pdf

https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/eating-with-diabetes/food-groups/sugar-and-diabetes

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/699241/NDNS_results_years_7_and_8.pdf

https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003025

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/soft-drinks-industry-levy-comes-into-effect

https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/128174/3/sugar%20tax%20-%20debate%20piece%20for%20Royal%20Society%20for%20Public%20Health%2030%20Nov%202017.pdf

 

Contribution by Lily Foods ANutr

Seasonal Eating

Seasonal eating is something that humankind has been doing for centuries. However, recently is it becoming more conscious and spoken about, particularly because of the impact it can have on our environment. The more fuel, energy, or water it takes to deliver food to our tables; the more it costs our environment. Therefore we’re now re-discovering the ways how our (not so distant) ancestors lived and trying to implement the old ways to our modern, technology-driven Westernised world. Naturally, this is not an easy task, especially here in the UK, where the local diet is historically influenced by different cultures, bringing unique imported foods and ingredients.

What is seasonal eating?

To put it simply, seasonal eating means eating foods that are available in that particular season. This includes both produce and products of animal origin. Where the road splits is that you can eat either seasonally from a global perspective, meaning you eat imported strawberries from Spain in April as they are in season there, or from a local perspective, when you wait until they stock them at your local farm shop at the end of June when they are in season in the UK (1). But seasonal eating doesn’t have to restrict you to fresh food only, you can use various preservation methods, from the more traditional ones such as fermentation, drying, smoking, canning, and many others, to the trendy more modern favourites such as freezing or using vacuum sealers.

How can seasons affect our diet?

The changing seasons throughout the year directly affect the availability and quality of our local food, which then reflects in our dietary choices including the variety and nutrient levels. You may think that this would mainly affect our ancestors, but even now in the modern world where we are used to a wide range of food available in the supermarkets all year round, the seasonality may affect its quality linked to the ripeness, but even our food choices may change depending on the season.

Autumn is the main season of harvest and brings us a lot of carbohydrate-rich foods, including fruit and different grains (2), and leading up to Winter, we are more likely to consume such foods including more fat and dairy (3). Our natural satiety levels also change during the seasons, meaning during Autumn and Winter, we tend to eat more due to reduced satiety (4).

With Spring presenting a variety of freshly grown greens and warming weather conditions, our intake of rich foods, as well as cereals, tends to decrease, whilst our vegetable intake increases (2). Again, with the factors including improved satiety in warmer months, higher intake of fibrous foods lower in energy, the raising temperature and therefore ability to spend more time outside in natural daylight, Spring becomes more favourable to reducing our extra energy storage (7), as well as summer for the UK population (8). 

Benefits and challenges of seasonal eating

Even though focusing on eating foods that are in season may feel like you are narrowing down your choices, discovering seasonal and local produce can actually help you to increase the variety of food as well as nutrients in your diet by trying something that you wouldn’t usually go for. Eating seasonally within your locality also contributes to reducing the carbon footprint and food waste(1), as well as supporting the local economy.

In terms of our health, the food which has been harvested when the season is at its peak tends to be full of flavour as well as have a wider nutrient spectrum to support your health and wellbeing. Some ways of preserving such foods can even improve the bioavailability of different nutrients such as β-carotene or lycopene in tinned tomatoes (9). Whilst this tends to be the rule in produce, animal products may and may not be affected by seasonality as much in terms of nutrients unless their feed is affected by seasonal availability. For example, in grass-fed cattle where the nutrients from grass consumed can be projected on the quality of the final product, be that either meat or dairy (10).

Sometimes eating locally grown fruit and vegetables may not be so convenient due to our location or it may simply work out to be more expensive. When budgeting is our priority, we can still focus on buying seasonal if not local, as even supermarkets have seasonal offers on produce, as they want to turn it around faster. Buying seasonally or even in bulk and then freezing produce often works out cheaper and ends up being more sustainable in the long-term. Furthermore, eating only what’s in season throughout the whole year in our climate would end up being very restricting and time-consuming, resulting in not a good variety of nutrients to sustain good health (1).

Incorporating seasonality in our dietary choices is a great way to support our health as well as the planet, and it doesn’t have to break the bank or come from a drastic change to our lifestyle. Starting with little changes such as trying out a seasonal recipe, buying some salad at your local market, or learning how to make jam in the summer can bring a great change overall.

What food is in season now?

Food seasonality varies depending on the region where it’s harvested, as well as its climate, which in the UK is affected by the Atlantic. In the spring, we mainly harvest green vegetables including broccoli, leeks, cabbage, lettuce, rocket, spinach, spring onions, etc. The first fruit we harvest here is rhubarb and apples, being joined by apricots, nectarines, grapefruits, and pomegranates closer to the summer (11,12). To explore more food growing at different times of the year, you can use the EUFIC Interactive seasonal fruit & veg map, where you can view fruit and veg harvest by month.

 

 

References 

(1) Macdiarmid, J., 2013. Seasonality and dietary requirements: will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability?. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 73(3), pp.368-375.

(2) Boeing, H., Colamesta, V., Kleiser, C., La Torre, G., Linseisen, J., Lojko, D., Nimptsch, K., Palys, W., Peñalvo, J., Saulle, R., Stelmach-Mardas, M., Suwalska, A. and Uzhova, I., 2016. Seasonality of food groups and total energy intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(6), pp.700-708.

(3) Froom, P., Kristal-Boneh, E., Lubin, F., Shahar, A., Shahar, D. and Yerushalmi, N., 2001. Seasonal variations in dietary intake affect the consistency of dietary assessment. European Journal of Epidemiology, 17(2), pp.129-33.

(4) De Castro, J., 1991. Seasonal rhythms of human nutrient intake and meal pattern. Physiology & Behavior, 50(1), pp.243-248.

(5) Doruk, H., Ersoy, N., Özgürtaş, T., Salih, B., Taşçi, İ. and Rakicioğlu, N., 2018. Effect of seasonal changes on nutritional status and biochemical parameters in Turkish older adults. Nutrition Research and Practice, 12(4), p.315.

(6) Bremer, A., Cronise, R. and Sinclair, D., 2014. The “Metabolic Winter” Hypothesis: A Cause of the Current Epidemics of Obesity and Cardiometabolic Disease. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, 12(7), pp.355-361.

(7) Fahey, M., Klesges, R., Kocak, M., Krukowski, R. and Talcott, G., 2019. Seasonal fluctuations in weight and self-weighing behavior among adults in a behavioral weight loss intervention. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 25(4), pp.921-928.

(8) Duarte, C., Heitmann, B., Horgan, G., Larsen, S., O’Driscoll, R., Palmeira, A., Stubbs, J. and Turicchi, J., 2020. Weekly, seasonal and holiday body weight fluctuation patterns among individuals engaged in a European multi-centre behavioural weight loss maintenance intervention. PLOS ONE, 15(4), p.e0232152.

(9) Bowen, P., Hwang, E. and Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis, M., 2012. Effects of Heat Treatment on the Carotenoid and Tocopherol Composition of Tomato. Journal of Food Science, 77(10), pp.C1109-C1114.

(10) Abbott, A., Daley, C., Doyle, P., Larson, S. and Nader, G., 2010. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal, 9(1).

(11) EUFIC, 2021. Explore Seasonal Fruit and Vegetables in Europe. [online] Eufic.org. Available at: <https://www.eufic.org/en/explore-seasonal-fruit-and-vegetables-in-europe?fbclid=IwAR29iGk3WXQ1efeSZv81IEcHDjLRD6N2ETL8aHO2yYziTABrlFr42S5WPBU&gt; [Accessed 26 March 2021].

(12) Vegetarian Society, 2021. Seasonal UK grown produce. [online] Vegetarian Society. Available at: <https://vegsoc.org/cookery-school/blog/seasonal-uk-grown-produce/&gt; [Accessed 26 March 2021].

Contribution by Denisa Dufkova, ANutr Apothecary 21

What is Oxidative Stress and how can we Prevent it?

You’ve probably heard the term ‘oxidative stress’ buzzing around the health and wellness community, but you may be wondering “what does it actually mean?”

In simple terms, oxidative stress is the term given to an imbalance between free radicals and the antioxidant defence system in the body. Free radicals are the unpaired electrons resulting from various internal, physiological and external, environmental processes, such as inflammation, obesity, diets rich in sugar and processed foods, exposure to radiation and cigarette smoking. Due to their uneven number of electrons, free radicals can easily interfere and react with other molecules in the body. This leads to large chain chemical reactions, known as oxidation, which can be both positive and negative in the body. Oxidation and free radicals can help fight off pathogens; therefore, reducing risk of infection. However, excessive oxidation and free radicals without the antioxidant defence to counterbalance can cause cell and tissue damage. Furthermore, this damage has been suggested to increase the risk of a variety of diseases. So to put it simply, we want to limit oxidative stress in the body!

This is where antioxidants – another word we’ve been hearing a lot of lately – come into play. The body’s natural antioxidant defence system can counteract the effects of free radicals, as antioxidants are able to donate spare electrons to stabilise the free radical, preventing oxidative stress and subsequent damage from occurring. However, when there is a build up of free radicals and oxidative stress, we often look to the diet as a method for obtaining further antioxidants and counteracting this oxidative stress.

How can oxidative stress affect the body?

When there is an imbalance in free radical activity and the body’s antioxidant activity, free radicals can begin reacting with the DNA, proteins and lipids of the body, increasing the risk of disease over time.

A review from Senoner and Dichtl (2019) concluded that free radicals and oxidative stress promote hypertension, arrhythmia, changes in the shape and size of the heart (cardiac remodelling) and the formation of atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries, which further exacerbates hypertension and may lead to cardiovascular disease.

Similar reviews suggest oxidative stress is involved in the development and progression of a variety of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and general signs of ageing.

So, how can we prevent oxidative stress from occurring?

While avoiding some of the risk factors for free radicals and oxidative stress, such as inflammation or pollution, may be impossible, enhancing and improving the antioxidant defence system of the body through the diet can significantly reduce oxidative stress and its negative effects.

Antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene and selenium can be found throughout many of the foods we commonly consume; however, certain foods have been suggested to have higher levels of antioxidants than others. The Carlsen et al (2010) database contains over 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements, tested and ranked based on total antioxidant content and free-radical scavenging abilities – or in layman’s terms – how effective these foods and other items may be for reducing and preventing oxidative stress through their antioxidant content.

Interestingly, the Carlsen et al (2010) study found that, overall, plant-based foods had significantly higher antioxidant content in comparison to animal-based foods and mixed food products. This means that fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds typically contained a higher antioxidant content in comparison to meat, fish, dairy products and eggs. The mean antioxidant content in the various plant-based foods was between 5-33x higher than that in animal-based foods! This finding suggests that a diet based primarily on plant-based foods is richer in antioxidants in comparison to a primarily animal-food based diet. This may be why diets such as the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in plant-based foods, have been associated with increased lifespan and a reduction in negative connotations of ageing, including prevalence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The Carlsen et al (2010) study found that, of the day-to-day foods we may consume, foods such as herbs, spices, blackcurrants, wild strawberries, goji berries, dark chocolate, artichokes, dried apricots, kale, chillies, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, tea, coffee, fruit juices, buckwheat, millet, barley and wholemeal bread were some of the most antioxidant-rich foods. Incorporating any of these foods and other plant-based foods into your diet is recommended in order to increase antioxidant intake and reduce oxidative stress in the body.

Aside from nutrition, there are several other healthy lifestyle changes you can make in order to reduce your oxidative stress and the risk of its negative health associations.

  • Exercise: While strenuous, excessive exercise (especially in individuals who do not exercise often) has been suggested to increase oxidative stress in the body, a progressive, regular exercise regime has been suggested to lead to an adaptive response in the body to this oxidative stress, finding an increase in natural antioxidant levels.
  • Sleep: Getting an ample amount of sleep and increasing time sleeping to between 7 and 9 hours per night has been suggested to improve the body’s ability to defend against oxidative stress and the production of free radicals. Research has also suggested that antioxidant levels reduce during sleep deprivation, leading to relative cell damage. During sleep recovery, these antioxidants levels improved.
  • Stop smoking: Tobacco fumes, whether directly inhaled or consumed through second-hand smoke, have been suggested to increase oxidative stress and free radical production in the body. By stopping smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke where possible, we reduce this risk.
  • Reduce alcohol intake: Likewise, consuming alcohol, especially in large quantities, increases free radical production and oxidative stress in the body. One exception to this is red wine! While the alcohol in red wine does exacerbate oxidative stress, some research has found red wine to increase blood plasma antioxidant levels due to the rich antioxidant content of red grapes. However, this research still found oxidative damage to lipids following a 4-week red wine trial.
  • Wear sun cream: Research suggests that UV radiation from the sun also increases oxidative stress in the skin cells, increasing risk of skin inflammation, premature signs of ageing and cancer development. Wearing sun cream with sufficient UV protection has been found to increase the antioxidant response and defend against oxidative stress.

 

References

https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-9-3

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6769522/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996922/#:~:text=Oxidative%20stress%20plays%20a%20pivotal,and%20also%20in%20the%20myocardium.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4840676/

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.118.313348

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6162669/#:~:text=Thus%2C%20regular%20exercise%20may%20affect,exercise%20%5B84%2C85%5D.

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2015/234952/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5175512/#:~:text=In%20conclusion%2C%20smoking%20as%20a,results%20in%20increased%20oxidative%20stress.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22859618/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5548995/

 

Contribution from Beth Addey ANutr

 

 

My Second Trimester

I will start with the fact that it is so much more enjoyable than the first trimester! If you read my previous blog, you’ll know I suffered with all day nausea and ate very little colour! But the 12 week mark was a real turning point and although I have had occasional headaches and fatigue, my body started to feel more alive again in the second trimester.

Things I am eating

I have had so much interest in regards to what I am eating right now! The truth is (since entering my second trimester), my diet hasn’t really changed. I still eat pretty much how I did before falling pregnant and am of course taking prenatal supplements. The only thing that slightly differs is I fill up much more easily in the evening and I like to make sure that I am not going to bed uncomfortable so I have been eating dinner pretty early to give my tummy enough time to settle after a big meal. Foods I am particularly loving right now are fresh fruits, chocolate (obvs), cheese, savoury snacks and kombucha! I know there are mixed opinions around drinking kombucha in pregnancy but it is my own personal choice to include it – I drank it lots beforehand and my body really enjoys it. There have definitely been days where I feel I need more food and I am genuinely just listening to what my body wants. I am making sure I include lots of nutrient dense foods (like I was before anyway) and I still enjoy chocolate everyday too!

Things I love

Feeling my little boy kicking around inside of me is a feeling like no other. I feel more and more connected to him every day! I started to feel him move around 18 weeks (Ash started to feel his kicks at 20 weeks) and I can almost predict when I will feel him awake now. I love the trust that my body has in me and I have never felt more confident in regards to the fact that I am looking after my wellbeing in the best way (for me). This will look different for everyone but I have dedicated years after recovering from an eating disorder to make sure I do everything I can to support my physical and mental wellbeing.

I loved my workouts pre-pregnancy and have continued throughout. Thanks to my gorgeous friend Georgie and her GS method, I tend to workout 4-5 times a week, mixing low impact cardio, Pilates, strength and pelvic floor exercises of course. I also make sure I get a walk in every day. This is just the type of movement that MY body loves. I don’t thrive off of high impact and you won’t catch me on a run. We know that movement is so important whilst pregnant and it really does keep me in a positive place physically and mentally.

I am so lucky to have an incredible Husband, amazing family and friends! They have all been such an important and helpful part of this journey so far in different ways. I am also superrr excited and lucky that my best friend of 15 years is also pregnant (just 7 weeks behind me) and going through this journey with someone is just magical. I find it imperative to talk to people. Talk to people who have experienced pregnancy before, ask for advice, seek support, you need it! Yes, pregnancy is a miracle but it can also be tough, so speak up and use your support system.

Things I struggle with

I know everyone’s pregnancy journey is so different… some people love it, some people don’t, but I personally feel so grateful to have the opportunity to carry my own baby. If you know my background you will know that I was always unsure if pregnancy would be a possibility for me so the fact that this has happened, kind of helps override any negatives that have cropped up. That being said, I have had my struggles. In all honesty, there have been days where I felt uncomfortable in my body. Some people love the free boob job but I am not feeling it! I was quite content with small boobs and not having to wear a bra. But hey, I’ll get over it and hope they reduce to their normal size in the future. The growing tummy, although of course necessary, has also been a struggle at times. Like I said when these negative feelings crop up, I address them and then remind myself how lucky I am that my body is growing my baby. But I don’t want to sugar coat anything and these feelings are normal regardless of size and history of body image issues. I also used to love having big meals, particularly at dinner – since hitting week 19 I started to get terrible discomfort if I ate too much in one go and this would trigger heartburn too! So I have had to spread out when I eat a little more to cater to this.

Other unwanted symptoms that have cropped up are back pain, occasional headaches and I have to admit my mood can go from feeling on top of the world to crying for no reason!

Tips

These are my personal tips for anyone in their second trimester…

Drink water!

I drank a lot of water any way but have realised I really do benefit from drinking more now that I am pregnant. Because I feel like I need to pee every hour still, it sometimes deters me from drinking more water but I notice I feel like I haven’t drank enough when it gets to the end of the day so just make sure you stay hydrated. I use a litre water bottle to keep track and make sure I am refilling it at least 2-3 times a day.

Get your vaccines

I know there are mixed opinions here but I personally believe that with the research that we have, it is a safe way to protect your baby. I had both the flu and whooping cough vaccine and have no regrets. The last thing I would ever want is to be terribly ill whilst nurturing a baby in my tummy.

Move

Like I said this can really help support your mental and physical health so find something you love and commit to it when you can. I feel so empowered after a good workout!

Relax

Although it is important to stay active in pregnancy, it is also important to relax. I found benefit from an acupuncture session as like I said my back has been pretty achy for the last few weeks. I also have a facial, pregnancy massage and reflexology appointment booked – if now isn’t the time to pamper ourselves I don’t know when is! I have also been prioritising at least 8 hours of sleep every night. I also use a lovely pregnancy safe belly oil to keep my skin supple whilst its stretches out to grow my little boy!

Get a Swiss Ball

If like me you are struggling with back pain or even achiness (some people also suffer with cramps), try not to sit in awkward positions that may make this worse. I spend at least 70% of my working hours sat on my swiss ball which I feel really helps keep any discomfort at bay!

Listen to your body

I will say it again – every pregnancy is different and you know your body better than anyone. If you think something might be wrong or something feels out of the ordinary, call your midwife. If something makes you feel good, go with it. People will offer their advice and opinions whether you ask for them or not – you don’t have to listen. Stand up for you and your

Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Muffins

Apple cinnamon – has to be one of the best flavour combos right?! These oat based muffins are perfect for grabbing for breakfast or as snack to pick you up throughout the day! They are easy to make and are super nutritious!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 3 tbsp date sweetener 
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup 
  • 1 flax seed egg
  • 3 tbsp nut or seed butter 
  • 1/3 cup oat milk
  • 1 small Apple, diced 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 

method (makes 6)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius and line a 6 case muffin tin with cases or grease with olive oil.
  2. Add the flax seed egg, nut butter, vanilla, oat milk and maple syrup into a bowl and mix.
  3. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and fold in the diced apple. Divide the mix across 6 muffins cases, pressing them down into the muffin yields. Bake in the oven for 16 mins, allow to cool and enjoy! 

How can Nutrition Support our Brain Health?

Our brains are the most powerful, metabolically active organs in our bodies as they use an astonishing 20% of our overall daily energy produced by the body (1) . However, it isn’t always a common thought to think to ourselves about how best we can look after and provide high quality and nutritious foods to our brains in order to optimise our brain health.

Here we will uncover the research behind nutrition, diet and brain health as well as the role food can have on our mood and mental health.

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids

Previous research has shown that a range of specific nutrients can have an influence on our brain function and health. When breaking down the brain into its nutritional parts, fats also known as lipids form a large proportion (nearly 60%) of the brain and they determine the brains function and performance (3).

Both Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are essential in the body ie our bodies cannot make them and therefore they must be obtain from foods.

Omega 3 fatty acids are crucial to the development and maintenance of cell membranes in the brain. In particular, DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid that is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants and it is also required for the maintenance of normal brain function in adults (4). The strongest evidence for the role of specific nutrients on brain health is with omega 3 fatty acids. They have been shown to be associated with the prevention of degenerative brain conditions and cognitive decline including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease due to their role in reducing low-grade inflammation in the early stages of neurodegenerative disease (5).

Sources of omega 3 fatty acidsconsisting of EPA and DHA include

  • Nuts and seeds including walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds,
  • Oily fish including salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, kippers and trout
  • Plant oils including flaxseeds oil, soybean oil and canola oil

In addition to the beneficial fats for our health, long-term consumption of other types of fat including saturated and trans fats may compromise and have detrimental impacts on our brain health (6).

Micronutrients

A variety of micronutrients have been shown to support brain function and cognition (7). Anti-oxidants found in a range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes can strengthen our brains to fight off free radicals which are molecules produced when your body breaks down food or when you have been exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation. These free radicals can cause oxidative damage ie destroy brain cells. However, antioxidants have been shown to delay or reduce age-related cognitive decline caused by free radicals, prolonging our brains health and longevity (7).

Antioxidant rich sources of foods include:

  • Oranges, kiwis, strawberries, lemons, peppers which are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids and raspberries and blueberries
  • Artichokes and coloured vegetables including red peppers, red cabbage, spinach, beetroot, kale containing lutein
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes including pecans, pumpkin seeds and beans

B-vitamins consist of eight essential dietary micronutrients that work closely together and form an essential component of brain function (8).

It is interesting to note that a dietary deficiency of B-vitamins during critical periods of development can result in permanent changes to the brain (9), highlighting the importance of B-vitamins for brain function.

Without these vital micronutrients including vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid, our brains are more susceptible to brain disease and mental decline (8).

Dietary sources of folate include:

  • Leafy green vegetables, fruit, legumes, fortified cereals

Dietary sources of B-vitamins B1, B3 & B12 include:

  • Wholegrains, meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

Trace amounts of minerals and vitamins including iron, copper, zinc and selenium, iodine, vitamin A and choline are also fundamental to brain health and early cognitive development (10).

Dietary Patterns of the Mediterranean Diet and Mental Health

However, single nutrient trials and their effects can often be limited as we consume wholefoods and not single nutrients.

Recent and emerging evidence has delved into the impact of dietary patterns on our mental health and has found strong evidence for a potential benefit of a Mediterranean style diet in the aid of treatment for depression.

This ‘low MED diet’ included the consumption of wholegrain, vegetables, fruit, legumes, low fat dairy, fish, chicken and olive oil and emphasised reducing sweets, refined cereals, fast/fried food and sugary drinks. Results of this study demonstrate that the dietary intervention group consuming a Mediterranean style diet showed significantly greater improvements in symptoms of depression after 12 weeks when compared with the social support group (11).

In regards to Omega-3 fatty acids and our mental health, patients with depression and mental health disorders have been found to have low-levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in their blood and omega-3 fatty acids have been previously used as the basis for treatment in patients with mood disorders (12)(13). Therefore, another study has shown that healthy dietary changes through Mediterranean style diet supplemented with fish oil can improve mental health in people with depression (14).

It must be noted that depression is a mental health disorder that can be caused by various factors. However, this research does provide the first sign of evidence that improving our diets and nutrition can provide an effective treatment option alongside current treatments for depression including medications and psychotherapy.

Food and Mood

The common term ‘Food and Mood’ evolved from the idea that food can affect our brains emotional and mental state.

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO,2014) as a ‘state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’ (15). Essentially, mental health disorders are experienced as problems with emotions, behaviours, thoughts or perceptions. Anything that affects how your body functions will affect how your brain functions. The foods that we eat can impact on the way we feel. Drinking a cup of coffee or glass of wine can make us feel good, sleepy or drowsy, providing a clear example as to how particular compounds and combinations of compounds in foods can impact our brain and mood.

When looking at how certain nutrients can have an impact on our mood however, the process is usually slower and occurs gradually.

In particular, protein and amino acids have been associated with our mood and behaviour. Amino acids which are the building blocks of protein can directly impact the conversion of neurotransmitters which are chemical messengers in the brain that can influence brain function and mood(16).

The complex combination of nutrients in foods that we consume can stimulate our brain cells to release mood altering norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin hormones. Therefore having a diverse, nutrient dense diet could provide beneficial effects to our mood and emotions.

The main source of energy for the brain is glucose which is required to fuel physiological brain function, generation of neurotransmitters and the maintenance of brain cells (17). High quality carbohydrates including wholegrain sources and low glycaemic index (GI) foods can reduce a spike in blood sugar levels and thus changes in mood.

Sources include:

  • Wholegrains, beans, legumes and plant-based foods to provide enough fibre to your gut microbiome.

Lastly, it is not only nutrition which has been shown to be strongly linked with our brain health, other lifestyle factors are also highly involved too.

The role of the gut-microbiota and immune system has been linked to mental health also. IBS is a disorder of the gut-brain axis. Stress is one of the diagnostic criteria for IBS which can increase stress hormones, impact gut microbiome, increase the speed at which food moves through your gut and an individual’s perception of pain in the gut. Therefore, psychological stress can have physiological effects on the body. Addressing stressful stimuli could help improve IBS symptoms.

 

References

  1. Raichle ME, Gusnard DA. Appraising the brain’s energy budget. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Aug 6;99(16):10237–9.
  2. Raichle ME. Two views of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2010 Apr 1;14(4):180–90.
  3. Chang C-Y, Ke D-S, Chen J-Y. Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2009 Dec;18(4):231–41.
  4. Horrocks LA, Yeo YK. Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacol Res. 1999 Sep;40(3):211–25.
  5. Thomas J, Thomas CJ, Radcliffe J, Itsiopoulos C. Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Early Prevention of Inflammatory Neurodegenerative Disease: A Focus on Alzheimer’s Disease. Biomed Res Int [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2021 Feb 14];2015. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4537710/
  6. Impact of fatty acids on brain circulation, structure and function | Elsevier Enhanced Reader [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 14]. Available from: https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0952327814000052?token=B2976F92968EC9ACAA380EEE5F7D9B5934A43A8CCD267C9926EE7F9F2E04411B625B15CCC27F923B46017EB168C3866C
  7. Packer L, Sies H, Eggersdorfer M, Cadenas E. Micronutrients and Brain Health. CRC Press; 2009. 444 p.
  8. Kennedy DO. B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. Nutrients [Internet]. 2016 Jan 28 [cited 2021 Feb 14];8(2). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772032/
  9. Anjos T, Altmäe S, Emmett P, Tiemeier H, Closa-Monasterolo R, Luque V, et al. Nutrition and neurodevelopment in children: focus on NUTRIMENTHE project. Eur J Nutr. 2013 Dec;52(8):1825–42.
  10. Georgieff MK. Nutrition and the developing brain: nutrient priorities and measurement. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007 Feb 1;85(2):614S-620S.
  11. Jacka FN, O’Neil A, Opie R, Itsiopoulos C, Cotton S, Mohebbi M, et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med. 2017 Dec;15(1):23.
  12. Sinn N, Milte C, Howe PRC. Oiling the Brain: A Review of Randomized Controlled Trials of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Psychopathology across the Lifespan. Nutrients. 2010 Feb 9;2(2):128–70.
  13. Freeman MP, Hibbeln JR, Wisner KL, Davis JM, Mischoulon D, Peet M, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. J Clin Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;67(12):1954–67.
  14. Parletta N, Zarnowiecki D, Cho J, Wilson A, Bogomolova S, Villani A, et al. A Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression: A randomized controlled trial (HELFIMED). Nutritional Neuroscience. 2019 Jul 3;22(7):474–87.
  15. Mental health: strengthening our response [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response
  16. Research I of M (US) C on MN. Amino Acid and Protein Requirements: Cognitive Performance, Stress, and Brain Function [Internet]. The Role of Protein and Amino Acids in Sustaining and Enhancing Performance. National Academies Press (US); 1999 [cited 2021 Feb 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224629/
  17. Mergenthaler P, Lindauer U, Dienel GA, Meisel A. Sugar for the brain: the role of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function. Trends Neurosci. 2013 Oct;36(10):587–97.

Contribution from Emily Stynes Nutritionist