What do we Need to Know About Plant Milk?

Plant-based milks have been rising in popularity in recent years, with a wide variety of non-dairy alternatives now available on the market – soya, almond, oat, rice, pea, coconut, hemp, cashew, to name a few. There are many reasons why individuals opt for these non-dairy alternatives, whether it be due to allergies, intolerances, following a vegan diet or for ethical reasons. But how do these compare to cow’s milk? And what key nutritional components should we be looking out for when choosing a plant-based milk alternative?

Cow’s milk and dairy products are a rich source of a number of nutrients important in a healthy balanced diet, including protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B12. The majority of plant-based milks are lower in protein than cow’s milk, however soya milk has a high protein content, and there are a number of non-dairy products available with added protein.

Although dairy is known for being calcium-rich, the majority of non-dairy milk alternatives are fortified with calcium – meaning that calcium is added to these products. Even better, the level of calcium added to plant-based milks often equals or exceeds the quantities of calcium found in cow’s milk. Although these milk alternatives have high levels of calcium, it is also important to consider whether how easily our bodies are able to absorb this calcium, known as it’s bioavailability. The more bioavailable the calcium, the more we our bodies can absorb. More research is needed to determine the bioavailability of calcium in non-dairy milks (1), however some studies suggest that the bioavailability of calcium in plant-based milks are lower than that in cow’s milk (2). If you’re concerned about the bioavailability of calcium from non-dairy milks, opt for a product that is also fortified with vitamin D. When vitamin D is consumed at the same time as calcium, it’s able to boost the absorption of calcium in our bodies (3).

Due to legislation in the UK, most organic products will not be fortified with any additional nutrients, so it’s important to take this into consideration when selecting milk alternatives to ensure you are meeting a healthy balanced diet.

Milk and dairy products are the main source of iodine in the UK diet, followed by fish and eggs. Hence, if you are excluding dairy from your diet, it is important to ensure you are obtaining iodine from other sources, particularly if you are following a vegan diet that also excludes fish and eggs. Iodine is less commonly fortified in plant-based milks so it’s important to check the labels to see if your favourite milk alternatives are fortified with iodine. As mentioned before, if a product is organic, it won’t be fortified with iodine. Some common brands that do fortify with iodine are Oatly and Mighty Pea. The Innocent brand of plant-based milks don’t specifically fortify with iodine, however they use seaweed to fortify their products with calcium, and seaweed naturally contains high levels of iodine!

Cow’s milk is also a great source of vitamin B12. If you are consuming other animal-based products, then you probably don’t need to worry about whether you’re meeting your requirements of vitamin B12. However, if you’re following a vegan diet that omits all animal products, it’s more important that you look for plant-based milk products that are fortified with vitamin B12. If following a vegan diet that excludes all animal-derived products, you should aim to consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, however if your favourite products aren’t fortified, a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.

The nutrient profile of different plant-based milks will vary, so it’s important to always read the food labels when purchasing milk alternatives. If a product is fortified with different nutrients, these will often be listed in the ingredients list and may also be included in the back of pack nutrition tables.

My top tips for selecting a plant-based milk are:
1.     Always read the labels! Keep an eye out for products fortified with calcium, iodine and vitamin B12. Fortification with vitamin D is a bonus!
2.     Organic doesn’t always mean better – remember that most organic products won’t be fortified.
3.     Opt for unsweetened where you can. Many plant-based milks will be sweetened, meaning that they’re higher in added sugars compared to dairy milk.

References

1.     Singhal S, Baker RD, Baker SS. A Comparison of the Nutritional Value of Cow’s Milk and Nondairy Beverages. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2017;64(5): 799-805. Available from: doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001380.
2.     Buzinaro EF, Alves de Almeida RN, Mazeto GMFS. Bioavailability of Dietary Calcium. Brazilian Archives of Endocrinology & Metabology. 2006;50(5): 852-862. Available from: doi: 10.1590/S0004-27302006000500005.
3.     British Dietetic Association. Calcium: Food Fact Sheet. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/calcium.html [Accessed 29th January 2022].

Vitamin D: Why is it so important?

What is it?

Vitamin D, often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, is needed by the body to support healthy teeth, muscles, and bones. It is a fat-soluble vitamin (along with vitamins A, E, and K) which means it can only be absorbed by the body in the presence of fat. Unlike all other vitamins, Vitamin D is unique in that it is the only vitamin that our body can make on its own and is not required from dietary sources. The process of the body creating it starts with the skins exposure to natural sunlight, followed by a cascade of events in the body which lead to the production of Vitamin D in its biologically active form, known as calcitriol. It is the calcitriol that is important for regulating calcium and phosphorous levels within the body which plays an essential role for healthy teeth, muscles, and bones (1).

How much do we need?

Despite our bodies ability to produce Vitamin D from UVB radiation from the sun, in the UK sunlight exposure becomes limited in the autumn and winter months. It is therefore recommended that we take a supplement during this time (October – March). The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommend a daily intake of 10 micrograms (mcg), or 400IU, throughout the year for individuals aged 4 and over in the UK (2 & 3). However, it is still possible to reach the recommended intake through sources within the diet (see below).

Sources of vitamin D (4)

Other than sunlight, there are also dietary sources which contain vitamin D, including:

  • Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight
  • Red meat and offal, such as liver and kidneys
  • Fortified foods, such as milk and plant-based alternatives, and breakfast cereals

Health benefits of vitamin D

Vitamin D has numerous health benefits, which emphasises its importance. Adequate intake can help to slow down the process of and improve bone mineral density loss in peri- and post-menopausal women and ageing populations, to prevent and/or manage adverse implications, such as osteoporosis. It is recommended that post-menopausal women consume between 500-800IU a day of Vitamin D (5), whilst older adults should consume the recommended 10mcg per day (2).

Vitamin D is an important nutrient needed during pregnancy to ensure good maternal and foetal health. Some studies have found an association between inadequate Vitamin D intake and an increased risk of preeclampsia (a potentially life-threatening disease in pregnancy which can be harmful to both mother and baby), whilst others show the importance of sufficient Vitamin D intake in the development of a healthy baby (6).

Sufficient intake of Vitamin D has also been associated with a protective relationship against the risk of cancer by inhibiting the proliferation (rapid increase) of cancerous cells (7), as well as helping the immune system to reduce susceptibility to disease and infection (8).

So, in conclusion…

Although we can make Vitamin D within our bodies, it is still an essential nutrient to include within our diets, in the form of foods such as oily fish, eggs yolks, meat and offal, and sunlight-exposed mushrooms, and a 10mcg supplementation during the winter months within the UK. The positive health outcomes discussed associated with adequate Vitamin D intake also highlight its importance.

References

Contribution by Associate Nutritionist, Ellie Morris

Can we Eat to Boost our Immunity?

With flu season and COVID-19 unfortunately on the rise again we need to find ways that we can support our immune system to help us fight off any nasty infections. We’ve all been in a situation where we feel a cold coming on and so we start to increase our fruit and veg intake, take some vitamin C tablets, or drink a big glass of orange juice. But, how much can our diets and nutrition actually impact the way our immune system functions?

The link between nutrition and immunity

Recent research has shown that the functioning of our immune system can be affected by the food we eat (1), with some studies even suggesting that diet and nutrition are some of the most important external factors that play a role in our immune response to disease (2). During times of infection or illness our body’s immune system works quickly and efficiently to help fight it and to make us feel better. Without certain nutrients, particularly those known as micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals), the body would be unable to do this. Below are some important nutrients which help to support immune function and some examples of foods in which they are found (3).

Vitamin A: anti-inflammatory

  • Animal products – cheese, eggs, oily fish, liver, milk and yoghurt
  • Plant products – yellow, red and green veg (spinach, carrots, sweet potato, peppers) and yellow fruits (mango, apricots)

Vitamin C: encourages the production of white blood cells which are important in getting rid of infections

  • Citrus fruits such as oranges, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, brussels sprouts

Vitamin D: decreases susceptibility to infections

  • Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, red meat, liver, egg yolks, fortified foods
  • The body creates Vitamin D from sunlight and so in the winter (October to March), when sunlight exposure is reduced, it is advised to take a Vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms or 400 IU)

Copper: helps improve immune response to infections

  • Nuts, shellfish, offal

Folate: helps maintain white blood cell function

  • Broccoli, brussels sprouts, leafy green veg, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans, liver, fortified breakfast cereals

Iron: encourages the production of white blood cells

  • Animal products – liver, red meat
  • Plant sources – beans such as kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas, nuts, dried fruits, fortified breakfast cereals

Selenium: reduces susceptibility to infection and disease

  • Brazil nuts, fish, meat, eggs

Zinc: helps maintain white blood cell function

  • Meat, shellfish, dairy foods such as cheese, bread, cereal products

Immunity and gut health

Having a healthy gut microbiome is also super important when it comes to our immune function as almost 70% of our immune system can be found within our gut (4)!! Here are some top tips to keep your gut happy and healthy to help support your immune system:

  1. Aim for the recommended 30g of fibre per day
  • High fibre foods include, fruit and veg, wholegrains, nuts, and seeds
  1. Eat foods which are high in polyphenols such as fruits, veg, and dark chocolate
  2. Include probiotics or fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi

Although nutrition is important, here are some other ways that you can help to boost your immune system (5)

  • Exercise regularly – even just a walk or some gentle yoga
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Keep stress to a minimum
  • Maintain good personal hygiene
    • Frequently wash your hands
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Keep up to date with all the current vaccines

So, in conclusion the food we eat can have an impact on our immunity. Like most things in nutrition, eating a balanced and varied diet will help to benefit our immune systems. Issues arise when important nutrients, like the ones mentioned above, are not consumed and this means that our immune systems cannot function adequately. This leads us to having an increased susceptibility to infections and disease.

It is important to note that we cannot actually ‘boost’ the activity and function of our immune systems, it is more that we can supporthealthy immune function by consuming the right foods, such as vitamins and minerals.

 

Contribution by Registered Associate Nutritionist, Ellie Morris

References

Type 2 diabetes: Can changing dietary habits delay diagnosis?

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disorder characterised by either insulin deficiency or resistance [1]. It is the most common form of diabetes as it affects 90-95% of patients [2]. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than 400 million people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes on a global scale [3]. Most patients report symptoms of excessive urination, tiredness, excessive thirst as well as weight loss [4]. Type 2 diabetes has been associated with dramatic consequences on overall health as it has been linked with cardiovascular and mental health disorders [5]. Also, it has been named as the sixth superior cause of disability worldwide [5]. All of the above contribute to premature mortality. This is further supported by research which illustrated that life expectancy of patients with diabetes is reduced by seven years when compared to healthy individuals [6].

The roots of origin of type 2 diabetes have not been clearly established yet. However, scientists have identified a range of risk factors which have been proven to assist its development [7]. Such factors include both non-modifiable (e.g. increasing age, family history and ethnicity) as well as modifiable (e.g. diet and lack of physical activity) all of which can contribute to type 2 diabetes. Given this, healthcare practitioners thrive to promote a range of lifestyle changes targeting the aforementioned modifiable risk factors in an attempt to prevent or delay the progression of type 2 diabetes in high risk individuals.

Dietary Advice

  • Switch to wholegrain carbohydrates and fibre: Fibre refers to complex carbohydrates which neither be digested nor absorbed. As a result, glucose release in the bloodstream slows down thereby stabilizing blood sugar levels. Fibre has been proven to improve glycemic control as well as blood lipids and body weight in a recent systematic review which evaluated the impact of wholegrains on diabetes prevention [8]. The recommended daily intake of fibre for adults is 30 grams per day. Examples of fibre-rich food include brown rice, oats, pulses as well as brown pasta.
  • Reduce consumption of free sugars: Free sugars are defined as “all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer and sugars naturally present in honey, syrup, fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates” [9]. Every day sources of free sugars include biscuits, added sugar in coffee or tea as well as shakes. Apart from their lack of nutrients, such products provide a substantial amount of calories leading to weight gain. Weight gain has been one of the most common risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes therefore high risk individuals are highly recommended to stick to no more than 30 grams of free sugar per day.
  • Reduce dietary salt intake: Increased consumption of sodium has been globally associated with increasing blood pressure. Likewise to weight gain, high blood pressure is a strong predictor of type 2 diabetes. As such high risk patients are advised to eat a maximum of 6 grams of salt per day.
  • Limit alcohol: The recommended alcohol intake for adults is no more than 14 units per week. A unit of alcohol is measures as 10ml of a drink such as a glass of wine or 1⁄2 pint of beer. Alcohol is a source of both excess calories and free sugars both of which contribute to type 2 diabetes development. As such, susceptible individuals are advised to stick to the above recommendation.
  • Reduce consumption of red and processed meat: Processed meat is defined as “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation” [10]. Examples include bacon and sausages. Red and processed meat is an independent risk factor of type 2 diabetes development. Large epidemiological studies conducted in previous years illustrated a strong positive correlation between intake of red and processed meat and type 2 diabetes development [11; 12; 13]. Further to the above, red and processed meat has been linked with weight gain, smoking and a reduction in physical activity further increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. As such high risk individuals are recommended to eat a maximum of 70 grams per day.
  • Increase consumption of oily fish: Oily fish describes a species of fish which have oil in their soft tissues such as salmon and tuna. In recent years, oily fish has been linked with a lower risk of developing diabetes urging susceptible individuals to meet the recommendation of at least 2 portions per week [14].
  • Consume more fruits and vegetables: An increase in fruit and vegetable intake has been associated with a reduction in dietary free sugars. Given this, UK practitioners encourage high risk individuals to follow the 5 a day recommendation in an attempt to stabilise blood sugar levels. Examples of 1 portion include 1 medium-sized fruit, 150 ml of fruit juice and half a plate of vegetables.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet originated from the dietary preferences of individuals living in Crete, the rest of Greece and South Italy [15]. It has been described as one of the healthiest eating practices worldwide [16]. The main constituents of the Mediterranean diet are plant-based food products, fresh fruit, olive oil, dairy products as well as wine [15]. Another key feature of the diet is the lack of processed and red meat which reduces the intake of saturated fats to no more than 8% of the daily energy intake [15]. The characteristics of the Mediterranean diet are concurrent with the dietary advice offered to susceptible individuals therefore it is of no surprise that healthcare practitioners encourage people to adapt to this diet. A recent publication concluded that adherence to the Mediterranean diet significantly reduces the prospect of developing any form of diabetes by 21% [17]. This is further supported by the ATTICA study which took place in Greece and illustrated a negative relationship between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and the risk of developing any form of diabetes [16].

Herbal Medicine

The WHO has recommended the use of herbal plants as potential approaches for the management of type 2 diabetes. Up to date, more than 800 plants with hypoglycaemic properties have been identified, two of which have been proven to be effective. Given this, researchers are now investigating their potential as a means of prevention or delayed progression of type 2 diabetes. These include:

  • Fenugreek: Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) was originally produced in the Middle East and belongs to the family of Leguminosae plants which contain an alkaloid trigonelline and choline [18]. These are derived from the dried ripe seeds and exert hypoglycaemic effects [18]. The high fibre content of the seeds slows down carbohydrate absorption thereby stabilising blood sugar levels [19].
  • Ginger: Ginger (Zingiber officinale roscoe) belongs to the family of Zingiberaceae plants [20]. It is the most widely consumed spice worldwide [21]. It consists of volatile oils and non-volatile pungent compounds which exert anti-diabetic properties [22].

References & Resources 

  1. Chatterjee S., Khunti K. and Davies M.J. (2017) ‘Type 2 diabetes’, The Lanchet, 389, pp. 2239-2251
  2. Forouhi N.G. and Wareham N.J. (2014) ‘Epidemiology of Diabetes ‘, Medicine, 42, pp. 698-702.
  3. WHO (2017) Diabetes Fact Sheet, Available at: http://www.who. Int/media centre/factsheets/fs312/en/ (Accessed: 13th July 2021).
  4. Bagchi D. and Sreejayan E. (2012) ‘Nutritional and therapeutic interventions for diabetes and metabolic syndrome’ Amsterdam Press
  5. GBD (2015) ‘Disease and injury incidence and prevalence collaborators. Global, regional and national incidence, prevalence and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease study’, The Lanchet, 388, pp. 1545-1602.
  6. Morgan C.L., Currie C.J. and Peters J.R. (2000) ‘Relationship between diabetes and mortality: A population study using record linkage’, Diabetes Care, 23, pp. 1103-1107.
  7. NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC) (2016) ‘Worldwide trends in diabetes since 1980: a pooled-analysis of 751 population-based studies within 4.4 million participants’, The Lanchet, 387, pp. 1513-1530
  8. ReynoldsA.N.,AkermanA.P.andMannJ.(2020)’Dietaryfibreandwholegrains in diabetes management: systematic review and meta-analyses’, PLoS Medicine, 17(3), [Online]. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32142510/ (Accessed: 12th July 2021)
  9. World Health Organization (2021) Reducing free sugars intake in children and adults, Available at: https://www.who.int/elena/titles/guidance_summaries/sugars_intake/en/ (Accessed: 12th July 2021).
  10. World Health Organization (2015) Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red and processed meat, Available at: file:///C:/Users/Pavlina/Desktop/Presentation/Studies/Cancer_%20Carcinogen icity%20of%20the%20consumption%20of%20red%20meat%20and%20processe d%20meat.html (Accessed: 13th July 2021)
  11. Schulze M.B., Manson J.E., Willett W.C. and Hu F.B. (2003) ‘Processed meat intake and incidence of Type 2 diabetes in younger and middle-aged women.’ Diabetologia, 46, pp. 1465-1473
  12. Song Y., Manson J.E., Buring J.E. and Liu S. (2004) ‘A prospective study of red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes in middle-aged and elderly women’, Diabetes Care, 27(9), pp. 2108-2115.
  13. Steinbrecher A., Erber E., Grandinetti A., Kolonel L.K. and Maskarinec G. (2011) ‘Meat consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: The Multiethnic Cohort’, Public Health Nutrition, 14(4), pp. 568-574.
  14. Guo-Chong C., Rhonda A., Li-Qiang Q., Li-Hua C., Zhendong M., Yan Z., Yang L., Tao W., Thomas E. R. and Qibin Q. (2021) ‘Association of Oily and Nonoily Fish Consumption and Fish Oil Supplements With Incident Type 2 Diabetes: A Large Population-Based Prospective Study’, Diabetes Care, 44(3), pp. 672-680.
  15. Willett W.C., Sacks F., Tsichopoulou A., Drescher G., Ferro-Luzzi A., Helsing E. and Tsichopoulos D. (1995) ‘Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61(6), pp. 1402-1406.
  16. Panagiotakos D.B., Tzima N., Pitsavos C., Chrysochoou C., Zampelas A., Toussoulis D. and Stephanidis C. (2007) ‘The association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and fasting indices of glucose homeostasis: the ATTICA study’, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 26, pp. 32-38.
  17. Panagiotakos D., Pitsavos C., Koloverou E., Chrysohoou C. and Stephanidis C.I. (2014) ‘Mediterranean diet and diabetes development: a meta-analysis of 12 studies and 140 001 individuals’,Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 63(12), pp. 1139-1144.
  18. Gong J., Fang K., Dong H., Wang D., Hu M. and Lu F. (2016) ‘Effect of fenugreek on hyperglycemia and hyperlipidaemia in diabetes and prediabetes: A meta- analysis’, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 194, pp. 260-268.
  19. Ranade M. and Mudgalkar N. (2018) ‘A simple dietary addition of fenugreek seed leads to the reduction in blood glucose levels: A parallel group randomized single-blind trial’, International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda, 38(2), pp. 24-27.
  20. Attokaran M. (2017) ‘Ginger ‘, Natural Food Flavours and Colourants, 57, pp. 209-214.
  21. Arzati M.M., Honarvar N.M., Saedisomeolia A., Anvari S., Effatpanah M., Arzati R.M., Yekaninejad M.S., Hashemi R. and Djalali M. (2017) ‘The Effects of Ginger on Fasting Blood Sugar, Hemoglobin A1c, and Lipid Profiles in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes’, International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 15(4), pp. 1-7.
  22. Li Y, Tran VH, Duke CC, Roufogalis BD. (2012) ‘Gingerols of Zingiber officinale enhance glucose uptake by increasing cell surface GLUT4 in cultured L6 myotubes’, Planta Medica, 78(14), pp. 1549-1555

Contribution by Pavlina Konstantinou ANutr

All you Need to Know About Protein Powders

The importance of protein intake for our health is due to the critical role this essential macronutrient plays in our metabolism of cells and tissues, hormone production, immunity and healthy skin (1). For those of you who actively enjoy exercise and training, protein plays an important role for muscle growth, maintenance and repair (1).

So, when thinking about the amount of dietary protein we need on a daily basis, just how necessary is it to have protein powdered supplements in our diet?

Benefits of Protein Powders

  • One of the potential reasons as to why the consumption of protein powders has really increased in popularity over the last few years is due to the suggested benefits for weight loss and muscle gain (2). This is because intakes of protein have been reported to result in early satiety and fullness (3).
  • Protein provides 17kJ (4kcal) of energy in a process known as ‘diet-induced thermogenesis’ in which a higher energy expenditure is produced by the body to process the protein we have ingested (3). Protein also provides less calories per gram compared to fat (9kcal/g) and alcohol (7kcal/g) (4).
  • Protein powders have also become a convenient way for people to increase the protein content of their meals without exceeding the fat and calorie content for weight related goals and muscle building (2).
  • They are often consumed post-training to help build muscle mass and repair following strength and resistance exercise in a process known as ‘muscle protein synthesis’ (5).

How Much Protein Do We Need?

The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein for a general population of inactive adults (over 18 years) is 0.8g/kg of bodyweight per daywhich results in approximately 45-56g per day for women and menaged 19-50 years respectively (1). According to the British Nutrition Foundation, the average daily intake of protein in the UK is 64g for women and 88g for men (1)which demonstrates that the current UK population is getting more than enough protein required for their general health.

Do We Need to Consume Protein Powders?

Our protein requirements do change throughout the lifespan as well as depending on our physical activity levels (8)(9).

Higher intakes of dietary protein are required for pregnant/lactating women (60g/day) (10). Older people also require higher protein intakes to prevent the loss of muscle mass, strength and function otherwise known as a condition called sarcopenia (11).

When it comes to population groups who may benefit from taking protein powders, individuals who participate in intense exercise including athletes and sports team players require significantly higher intakes of protein to support building muscle mass, repair and performance (12). Therefore, the majority of exercising individuals should consume approximately 1.2-2.0g of protein per kg bodyweight per dayto optimize their exercise induced training (13).

For those of us who engage in regular moderate exercise, the BDA reports that when energy requirements are met, a balanced diet will usually provide enough protein to meet the increased requirements associated with exercise (13).

In regard to the general population needing 0.8g/kg of protein per day, it is best to obtain protein from foods as protein supplements can lack other essential nutrients for health that can be obtained from high, quality protein foods.

Overall, the evidence base to support protein powders over whole food protein sources is low and should not be seen as a replacement for whole food sources of protein. These include –

Animal sources:

  • Eggs
  • Salmon
  • Chicken

Plant-based sources:

  • Tofu
  • Soya and soya products
  • Nuts, beans and legumes.
  • Wholegrains

Ingredients to Look Out for in Protein Powdered Supplements

Protein powders may include other ingredients including added sugars, artificial sweeteners, colourings and flavourings, thickeners, vitamins and minerals.

In general, when opting for protein powder products, choose products with a shorter ingredients list wherever possible.

Below is a list of ingredients to be aware of as to how well they are tolerated in the body.

These include:

  • Dextrin/Maltodextrinis a simple carbohydrate (sugar) often derived from genetically modified corn starch. It is used as a filler to bulk out protein and enable it to mix well. However, it can cause spikes in blood sugar due to their high glycaemic index (GI) which would be important to consider in people with diabetes as well as for our general health (14). However, this ingredient is particularly found in ‘recovery’ branded drinks as it aids a rapid replenishment of muscle glycogen stores post exercise (15). Therefore, it isn’t a ‘bad’ ingredient as such, it just depends on what your workout or training involves.
  • Artificial sweetenersincluding sucralose, aspartame, saccharin. Although they contain very little calories, high intakes can lead to gastrointestinal disturbances in some people including abdominal gas and diarrhoea.
  • Thickening agents and gumincluding xanthan gum manufactured from soy, corn and wheat may cause bloating and gas in some people
  • Glutenis important to be aware of if you are a coeliac or gluten intolerant.
  • Skim milk powders and milk solidscan cause an upset stomach in some people. They are used as an inexpensive bulking agent, but they can lack nutritional value and also trigger gut issues for those who are lactose intolerant. This ingredient is not suitable for vegans or vegetarians

Animal vs Plant-Based Proteins

Opting for animal-based protein powders commonly whey and casein obtained from milk proteins can be an efficient way of consuming protein as they contain all essential amino acids which are not made in the body and must be consumed through the diet.

Whey protein which is rapidly digested has been found to stimulate the build-up of muscle mass (muscle protein synthesis) to a greater extent than casein and also soy (16). However, whey is not suitable for vegans or those with an intolerance to dairy.

There are a variety of plant protein powders and blends available including soy, pea, rice and hemp.

Soy is a complete protein containing all EAA’s and rice protein is a medium to slow absorbing protein containing leucine which is an EAA that stimulates muscle protein synthesis (17). Pea protein has been suggested as a good, high quality vegetarian source of protein for anyone looking for an alternative to whey or soy protein (18). Hemp protein is also a great plant protein option as it is a complete protein containing all nine essential AA’s however these are in lower quantities compared to whey protein (19).

Overall, plant-based proteins are not inferior as long as you choose one or a combination of plant protein sources to ensure you get a complete essential amino acid profile or else consume higher amounts to reach your protein targets(20). There are also mixed sources of plant-based protein powders on the market that would help to avoid deficiency in certain essential amino acids.

Summary

Overall, protein powders can be used as a convenient, cost-effective and efficient way of meeting your protein targets. However, they should be combined with whole food sources in the diet and not used as an alternative. If you are struggling to meet your protein requirements, it is always best to try to increase your protein intake through high quality protein sources first to ensure you get the vitamins and minerals required to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.

References

  1. Protein – British Nutrition Foundation [Internet]. [cited 2021 May 23]. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html
  2. Bodybuilding and sports supplements: the facts [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2018 [cited 2021 Jun 6]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/body-building-sports-supplements-facts/
  3. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Nieuwenhuizen A, Tomé D, Soenen S, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2009;29:21–41.
  4. Energy intake and expenditure – British Nutrition Foundation [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jun 13]. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=263:energy-intake-and-expenditure&catid=65&Itemid=199&showall=1&limitstart=
  5. Cintineo HP, Arent MA, Antonio J, Arent SM. Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Front Nutr [Internet]. 2018 Sep 11 [cited 2021 Jun 2];5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142015/
  6. Deighton K, Stensel DJ. Creating an acute energy deficit without stimulating compensatory increases in appetite: is there an optimal exercise protocol? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2014 May;73(2):352–8.
  7. Appetite-regulatory hormone responses on the day following a prolonged bout of moderate-intensity exercise | Elsevier Enhanced Reader [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jun 9]. Available from: https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0031938415000025?token=4146C0FAC7EE66A36FCFE86214279241B249A52B1ADE1487A46B60284EE4E4022693A21B8097D38BB5B3A7AB159ABDBD&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20210609153319
  8. Energy and protein requirements [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jun 13]. Available from: http://www.fao.org/3/aa040e/AA040E03.htm
  9. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, Cribb PJ, Wells SD, Skwiat TM, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Dec;14(1):20.
  10. Kominiarek MA, Rajan P. Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016 Nov;100(6):1199–215.
  11. Baum JI, Kim I-Y, Wolfe RR. Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake? Nutrients [Internet]. 2016 Jun 8 [cited 2021 Jun 2];8(6). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4924200/
  12. Nutrition for sport and exercise – British Nutrition Foundation – Page #1 [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jun 2]. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/an-active-lifestyle/eating-for-sport-and-exercise.html?start=2
  13. BDA. Sport and exercise [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jun 6]. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/sport-exercise-nutrition.html
  14. Maltodextrin: What Is It and Is It Safe? [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jun 6]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-maltodextrin-bad-for-me#is-it-safe
  15. Décombaz J, Jentjens R, Ith M, Scheurer E, Buehler T, Jeukendrup A, et al. Fructose and galactose enhance postexercise human liver glycogen synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Oct;43(10):1964–71.
  16. Devries MC, Phillips SM. Supplemental Protein in Support of Muscle Mass and Health: Advantage Whey. Journal of Food Science. 2015;80(S1):A8–15.
  17. Wolfe RR. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017 Aug 22;14(1):30.
  18. Banaszek A, Townsend JR, Bender D, Vantrease WC, Marshall AC, Johnson KD. The Effects of Whey vs. Pea Protein on Physical Adaptations Following 8-Weeks of High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): A Pilot Study. Sports (Basel) [Internet]. 2019 Jan 4 [cited 2021 Jun 6];7(1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6358922/
  19. Callaway JC. Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica. 2004 Jan 1;140(1):65–72.
  20. Gorissen SHM, Witard OC. Characterising the muscle anabolic potential of dairy, meat and plant-based protein sources in older adults. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2018 Feb;77(1):20–31.

 

Contribution from Emily Stynes ANutr and Emily Bowden, ANutr.

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 

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