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Unfold Close  ABOUT THIS SECTION
Unfold Close  FOOD and DIET

Most adults and children in the UK eat too much sugar. Cut down by eating fewer sugary foods, such as sweets, cakes and biscuits, and drinking fewer sugary drinks.

The kind of sugar we eat too much of is known as "free sugars". Free sugars are any sugars added to food or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices.

Many foods and drinks that contain added sugars can be high in energy (measured in either kilojoules/kJ or calories/kcal) and often have few other nutrients. Eating these foods too often can mean you eat more calories than you need, which can lead to weight gain and obesity.

Adults are advised not to eat more than 30g of free sugars a day, which is roughly seven sugar cubes. Children should have less than this.

Your weight and sugar
Tooth decay and sugar
How much sugar can we eat?
Tips to cut down on sugars
Nutrition labels and sugars

Your weight and sugar

Eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain, which in turn increases your risk of health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes

For a healthy, balanced diet, we should get the majority of our calories from other kinds of foods, such as starchy foods and fruits and vegetables, and only eat these foods occasionally.

Learn more about how to have a balanced diet.

Tooth decay and sugar

Sugary foods and drinks can also cause tooth decay, especially if you eat them between meals. The longer the sugary food is in contact with teeth, the more damage it can cause.

The sugars found naturally in whole fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay, because the sugars are contained within the structure of the fruit. But when fruit is juiced or blended, the sugars are released. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth, especially if fruit juice is drunk frequently. When fruit is dried, some sugars can be released, and dried fruit has a tendency to stick to teeth.

Limit fruit juice to a small (150ml) glass a day from juice, smoothies or both. Remember to keep it to mealtimes, as it can cause tooth decay. Watch out for drinks that say "juice drink" on the pack, as they are unlikely to count towards your 5 A DAY and can be high in sugar.

Try to swap dried fruit for fresh fruit. To reduce the risk of tooth decay, dried fruit is best enjoyed as part of a meal, such as dessert, and not as a between-meal snack.

How much sugar can we eat?

The government recommends that free or added sugars shouldn't make up more than 5% of the energy (calories) you get from food and drink each day. That's a maximum of 30g of added sugar a day for adults, which is roughly seven sugar cubes.

Children should have less – no more than 19g a day for children aged 4 to 6 years old (5 sugar cubes), and no more than 24g (6 sugar cubes) for children aged 7 to 10 years old.

Added sugars are found in foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and some fizzy drinks and juice drinks – these are the sugary foods we should cut down on. For example, a can of cola can have as much as 9 cubes of added sugar.

Sugars also occur naturally in foods such as fresh fruit and milk, but we don't need to cut down on these types of sugars.

Find out what the top sources of added sugar are.

Free or added sugars shouldn't be confused with "total sugars", which you'll see on food labels. Find out more about nutrition labels and sugar.

Tips to cut down on sugars

For a healthy, balanced diet, cut down on foods and drinks containing added sugars.

These tips can help you to cut down:

  • Instead of sugary fizzy drinks or sugary squash, go for water, lower-fat milks, or sugar-free, diet and no added sugar drinks. Remember that even unsweetened fruit juice is sugary, so limit the amount you have to no more than 150ml a day.
  • If you prefer fizzy drinks, try diluting fruit juice with sparkling water.
  • If you take sugar in hot drinks or add sugar to your breakfast cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether.
  • Rather than spreading jam, marmalade, syrup, treacle or honey on your toast, try a lower-fat spread, sliced banana or lower-fat cream cheese instead.
  • Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar, or go for the lower-sugar version.
  • Try halving the sugar you use in your recipes – it works for most things except jam, meringues and ice cream.
  • Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup.
  • Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals, but not those coated with sugar or honey.

Find more ways of cutting out sugar from your diet.

Nutrition labels and sugars

Nutrition labels often tell you how much total sugar a food contains, but they don't tell you the amount of "free sugars". You can compare labels and choose foods that are lower in total sugar.

Look for the "Carbohydrates (of which sugars)" figure in the nutrition label.

  • high – over 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
  • low – 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

If the amount of sugars per 100g is between these figures, that is regarded as a medium level.

The sugars figure in the nutrition label is the total amount of sugars in the food. "Total sugars" describes the total amount of sugars from all sources (free sugars plus those from milk and those present in the structure of foods such as fruit and vegetables).

For example, a plain yoghurt may contain 9.9g total sugars but none of these are free sugars as they all come from milk. The same applies to an individual portion of fresh fruit salad that might contain around 20g of total sugars, depending on the fruits selected, all of which are naturally present within the cellular structure of the fruit (rather than "free").

This means that food containing lots of fruit or milk will be a healthier choice than one that contains lots of free sugars, even if the two products contain the same total amount of sugars. You can tell if the food contains lots of added sugars by checking the ingredients list.

Sometimes you will see a figure for "Carbohydrates", and not for "Carbohydrates (of which sugars)".

The "Carbohydrates" figure will also include starchy carbohydrates, so you can't use it to work out the sugar content. In this instance, check the ingredients list to see if the food is high in added sugars.

Labels on the front of packaging

There are labels containing nutrition information on the front of some food packaging.

This includes labels that use red, amber and green colour-coding and advice on reference intakes (RI) of some nutrients, which can include sugar.

Labels that include colour-coding allow you to see at a glance if the food is high, medium or low in sugars.

  • red = high
  • amber = medium
  • green = low

Some labels on the front of packaging will display the amount of sugar in the food as a proportion of the reference intake. Reference intakes are guidelines about the approximate amount of particular nutrients and energy required for a healthy diet. The reference intake for total sugars is 90g a day, which includes the 30g of "free sugars".

For more information, see Food labels.

Ingredients list

You can get an idea of whether a food is high in added sugars by looking at the ingredients list. Added sugars must be included in the ingredients list, which always starts with the biggest ingredient. This means that if you see sugar near the top of the list, the food is likely to be high in added sugars.

Watch out for other words used to describe added sugars, such as cane sugar, honey, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, glucose, crystalline sucrose, nectars.

For more information on terms you might see on food label terms, such as "no added sugar", see Food labelling terms.


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Unfold Close  ATHLETES and NUTRITION
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nutri1.jpgYour main source of advice for healthy eating, weight loss, nutrition (for babies, toddlers, children, pregnant women, athletes and adults), fruits, vegetables, nutrients and much more...

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Athletes need extra nutrition because of the heavy demands of physical activity. When you’re exercising, your body relies on three basic fuels—carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Athletes require more calories from these fuels to sustain energy levels and maintain lean body mass.

A balanced diet high in carbohydrate, low in fat, and adequate in protein is the recommended diet for athletes. Because of its high carbohydrate and low fat content, a low–fat, plant–based diet—that is, a vegan diet—is an optimal sports diet.

Vegan diets are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—important nutrients that help the body use energy and protect itself from the stress of exercise.

High Intensity vs. Low Intensity

Your body is always burning a mixture of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. The duration of exercise, intensity of exercise, level of physical conditioning, and initial muscle glycogen levels will determine which primary fuel your body will use. In general, carbohydrate is the primary fuel used during high–intensity exercise.

About 55 to 80 percent of calories in the diet should come from carbohydrate. Individuals who compete in endurance or ultra–endurance events need to be at the high end of this range (70 to 80 percent). Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrate.

With prolonged exercise at lower intensities, fat (in the form of fatty acids) becomes the primary fuel source. The shift to fatty acids during exercise helps spare the carbohydrate (glycogen) stores in your body and allows for prolonged exercise. However, there is no need to increase fat in your diet beyond the commonly recommended 10 to 30 percent of calories. That’s because fat is taken from storage sites in the muscles when needed. Increasing fat in the diet is not recommended for improving performance.

Compared to carbohydrate and fat, protein is used only minimally for fuel, since its primary function is building and maintaining the tissues of the body. Overall, a high–carbohydrate diet is most important in ensuring optimal storage of carbohydrate in the body, fueling the body for exercise, sparing protein for cellular repair, and supporting performance in both endurance and strength training.

A vegetarian diet, which emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, provides the high carbohydrate content needed to fuel your body through training sessions and competition. Find carb–friendly meal plans and recipes here >>


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Athletes need water. Maintaining optimal hydration is important for promoting peak performance and preventing injury. Dehydration, defined as body weight loss of 1 percent or more because of fluid loss, can result in many symptoms, some of which are quite dangerous. These range from headache, fatigue, heat intolerance, and dark urine with a strong odor to more serious effects, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Maintaining adequate hydration can easily prevent these problems. Fluid needs increase with exercise, especially at high altitudes or when humidity is low or temperatures are high.

Hydration Tips

The following guidelines, endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine, can help you stay hydrated:

  • Two hours before exercise: Drink 17 ounces (or about 2 cups) of fluid.
  • During exercise: Drink 4 to 8 ounces (or about 1/2 to 1 cup) of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • After exercise: Drink 16 to 20 ounces (or about 2 to 2–1/2 cups) of fluid for every pound lost during exercise; weighing yourself before and after exercise can help you determine your fluid loss.
  • Water is ideal as a fluid replacer, particularly for activities lasting less than one hour. For activities lasting more than 60 to 90 minutes, sports drinks containing carbohydrate or electrolytes may be useful both during and following exercise. Electrolytes and carbohydrate can also be easily ingested through food, in addition to water, following a training session or event.

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Beverages containing caffeine, such as sodas, tea, and coffee, and those containing alcohol, such as wine, beer, or spirits, cause you to lose water. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics. Therefore, beverages containing these substances should not be counted toward your daily fluid intake.


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Think only body builders need protein? Actually, both strength and endurance athletes have increased protein needs. Protein, composed of chains of molecules called amino acids, plays an important role in the building, maintenance, and repair of the tissues of the body, including muscle.

Protein requirements are very individualized and depend primarily upon body size. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for the average sedentary or lightly active adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. For most people, this is more than enough.

But some authorities believe that protein needs for athletes may range from 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for the highly active adult athlete. Diets should also be high in carbohydrate to ensure that protein is spared for those activities it does best: the building and repairing of muscle and other body tissues.

Understanding Essential Amino Acids

There are 20 different amino acids in the foods we eat, but our body can make only 11 of them. The nine essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body must be obtained from the diet. A healthy diet based on a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables easily provides all of the essential amino acids.

It was once thought that various plant foods had to be eaten together to get their full protein value. This method was known as “protein combining” or “complementing.” We now know that intentional combining is not necessary to obtain all of the essential amino acids. Instead, simply consume a variety of nutrient–dense plant foods to meet your energy requirements and you'll also meet your protein needs.

Some protein will be broken down into amino acids for fuel during exercise, but the primary role of protein is for structure and support. While athletes need more protein, they should not consume excessive levels. Adequate intake is about 10 to 15 percent of calories, or enough to meet your calculated requirements.

Which Protein Sources Are Best?

Protein should come from plant sources, rather than meat, dairy products, and eggs, which tend to be high in fat and cholesterol and are always devoid of fiber and complex carbohydrates.

Concentrated protein sources include beans, nuts, tofu, soymilk, tempeh, seitan, and various meat analogues that can be purchased in any health food store or the vegetarian section of your grocery store.

If you aim to boost your protein intake, try these tips:

  • Top salads with a variety of beans, including chickpeas, kidney beans, great northern beans, and black beans. Or start your meal with a cup of veggie chili or curried lentils. These legumes have as much as 7 to 10 grams of protein per serving.
  • Shake it up! Blend non–dairy frozen desserts or soft tofu with your favorite fresh or frozen fruits and soymilk or rice milk for a thick, delicious, creamy, high–protein shake.
  • Marinated tempeh or veggie burgers, grilled on a bun or added to pasta sauce, offer a quick protein boost to any meal.
  • On the go? Try an eggless “egg salad” sandwich on whole–grain bread or slices of baked tofu with mustard on whole–grain crackers. In addition, sports bars and soy–powder shakes are quick and convenient supplements that can help increase the protein content of any well–balanced vegetarian diet.

 


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The sports diet must be as carefully planned as the training regimen. A well–balanced vegetarian diet, emphasizing the consumption of a variety of foods from the new four food groups—grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables—is an optimal sports diet for both performance and health. When you choose generous servings of these foods with a focus on variety and wholesomeness, your body will reap the benefits. 

Whole grains: Choose whole–wheat or enriched breads, cereals, rice, and pastas. They are rich in complex carbohydrate, fiber, zinc, and B vitamins. A single serving also provides about 2 to 3 grams of protein.

Vegetables: Choose a variety of colorful red, orange, and yellow vegetables in addition to leafy greens for vitamin C, beta–carotene, and other antioxidants that will protect your body from the stress of exercise. These foods also provide iron, calcium, fiber, and a modest 2 grams of protein per serving.

Legumes: Choose a variety of beans (chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, great northern beans) as well as soymilk, tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein. They are not only high in protein (about 7 to 10 grams per serving), but also rich in complex carbohydrate, fiber, iron, calcium, and B vitamins.

Fruits: Choose a variety of fruits and fruit juices for extra vitamins, especially vitamin C.

Vitamin B12 supplement: A multivitamin/mineral supplement or vitamin B12 supplement can be taken daily or every other day to cover nutritional needs. Fortified foods, such as Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Product 19, and Total Cereal, or fortified soy and rice milks, may also contain the active form of vitamin B12, cyanocobalamin.

Powerful Protein:

  • Top salads with a variety of beans, including chickpeas, kidney beans, great northern beans, and black beans. These legumes have as much as 7 to 10 grams of protein per serving.
  • Shake it up! Blend non–dairy frozen desserts or soft tofu with your favorite fresh or frozen fruits with soy or rice milk for a thick, delicious, creamy, high–protein shake.
  • Marinated tempeh or veggie burgers, grilled on a bun or added to pasta sauce, offer a quick protein boost to any meal.
  • On the go? Sports bars and soy powder shakes are quick and convenient supplements that can help increase protein intake.

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Unfold Close  ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS

The 8 Essential Amino Acids and Their Importance To Your Body

The eight essential amino acids are valine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, and lysine.

They are called essential amino acids not because they are more important than other amino acids but because it is essential that they are included in the daily diet since they are not produced naturally by the body.

Valine

Valine, apart from being an essential amino acid, is one of the three Branched-Chain Amino Acids the other two being leucine and isoleucine. Foods rich in valine include cottage cheese, fish, poultry, peanuts, sesame seeds and lentils.

Together with leucine and isoleucine, valine belongs to the group of proteinogenic amino acids, building blocks of proteins that are produced by cells that are recorded in the genetic code of each living thing.

Rich sources of valine are tofu, egg white, nuts, beef, lamb and gelatin.

Role of valine

Valine is an important source of nitrogen, an important component in alanine and glutamine synthesis in the muscles.

Isoleucine

Isoleucine is another Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). It cannot be produced in the body and thus should be obtained from the food we eat, most of them you already have in your daily diet such as eggs, chicken, fish, cheese, soy beans, seaweeds and turkey.

Research studies show that isoleucine is an indispensable part of man's diet and that lack of it can lead to serious negative nitrogen balance more seriously than the experience with other amino acids.

Production of isoleucine starts with pyruvic acid with the action of the enzymes valine aminotransferase , acetohydroxy acid, isomeroreductase, dihydroxy acid dihydratase, and acetolactate synthase.

Role of isoleucine

  • It regulates blood sugar and boosts the body's energy levels.
  • It plays a key role in the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the various parts of the body and the production of hemoglobin, the part of the blood that contains iron.
  • Isoleucine is important in the efficient metabolism of glucose as manifested by the increase in the absorption of sugar.

When given orally, isoleucine reduces the level of sugar in the blood by 20 percent and increases sugar absorption in the muscles by 71 percent without necessarily increasing the level of insulin in the blood.

Leucine

Leucine is another Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). It is not produced naturally by the body and has to be taken through the food we eat.

Leucine is called a buffer protein because it has the ability to protect the body when it lacks iron and at the same time provides protection the moment leucine becomes poisonous to the body.

Leucine is used to produce sterols, substances that resemble fats (popular example is cholesterol) and are found in the liver, adipose and muscles tissues, but many times more active in the muscle and adipose tissues.

It is used as dietary supplement for body building and for enhancing physical performance because it delays the deterioration of muscle tissues through the significant increase in the production of muscle proteins.

It is due to these characteristics that leucine is highly recommended as dietary supplement for athletes and body builders to increase their stamina and endurance. This also makes leucine an ideal dietary supplement for patients who are recovering from major surgical procedures or those who were subjected to serious trauma or extreme muscle pain.

An overdose of leucine can lead to Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD), a disorder characterized by deficiency in keto hydrogenase complex that can cause the accumulation of leucine, isoleucine and valine in the blood and urine. It is called Maple Syrup Urine Disease because an infant suffering from MSUD has urine that smells much like maple syrup, thus the name of the disease which can cause delirium, neurologic disorders and death.

Role of leucine in weight loss

  • It can be used for losing weight because it has the ability to dissolve visceral fat, the kind of fat found in the deepest layer of the skin that does not respond to the usual weight loss exercises or non-surgical procedures.

Role of leucine in the metabolism of protein during physical exertion and recovery

  • Leucine is the branched chain amino acid that plays a major role in the production of proteins.
  • Leucine is a great energy source especially during intense athletic performance and other extreme physical activities. It protects you from getting tired easily during exercise and it regulates your glucose level.

Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine is a forerunner of tyrosine, the anti-depressant dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and the skin pigment, melanin. It is also a precursor of phenylethylamine, a popular anti-depressant dietary supplement. It is naturally present in mammalian breastmilk.

Eating foods rich in phenylalanine will help prevent mood swings, help you out of lethargy, sluggishness, feelings of low morale and anxiety.

There are three forms of phenylalanine: L-phenylalanine, D-phenylalanine and DL-phenylalanine.

L-phenylalanine is converted to L-tyrosine, then to L-DOPA and to dopamine.

D-phenylalanine produces endorphins which are released by the pituitary glands during exercise, excitement, orgasm, when experiencing pain and after eating spicy food.

Compared to L-phenylalanine, D-phenylalanine cannot efficiently cross the blood brain barrier. D-phenylalanine is excreted in the urine without entering the central nervous system.

DL-phenylalanine is sold as a nutritional supplement to assert its analgesic and antidepressant characteristics. Its ability to relieve pain can be attributed to the ability of D-phenylalanine to block the enzyme carboxypeptidase to cause enkephalin damage.

Role of DL-phenylalanine in the body

DL-phenylalanine relieves pain and fights depression. Its pain-relieving property can be attributed to its ability to block the enzyme carboxypeptidase that causes enkephalin damage.

Threonine

Threonine, like valine and phenylalanine is not produced by the body, therefore it has to be taken through the food we eat.

Threonine is an important ingredient in the formation of bones and cartilages, hair teeth and nails. The mucin content in threonine, serine and proline which account for 20% to 55% of the total amino acid content in the intestines is responsible for this activity. This characteristic of threonine makes it a perfect ingredient for most gel-like preparations and lubricants.

Threonine can be found in abundance in cottage cheese, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, beans, poultry, fish, meat, lentils, corn, and various grains.

Role of threonine

  • Threonine is responsible for the growth and development of liver muscles, skeletal muscles and small intestines of young animals.
  • Threonine may also prevent cancer. This occurs during the process of phosphorylation which usually occurs on threonine, serine, and tyrosine residues.

Tryptophan

Tryptophan: The sleep-inducing amino acid

Tryptophan is a sleep-inducing amino acid which is an important component in the production of serotonin, vitamin B3 or niacin, and auxin (a plant hormone).

It is the tryptophan content found in milk, chocolates, oats, bananas, dried dates, cottage cheese, turkey and peanuts that makes you sleep. This is attributed to the high serotonin, (a neurotransmitter that calms the brain) and high melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) levels in the brain when a substantial amount of tryptophan-containing foods have been eaten.

The "feel-good" hormone serotonin sets you in a good mood, stops you from oversleeping and prevents you from feeling depressed. It is this property of serotonin that makes it a popular treatment for anxiety and depression.

Another sleep-inducing hormone is melatonin which is produced in large quantities when there is no sunlight. This explains why you are in a low mood, feel sleepy and lethargic when there is no sunlight, and why, according to statistics, so many people go into deep depression, some of them committing suicide during wintertime.

Role of tryptophan

In low levels of serotonin in the brain

Tryptophan is also used to treat seasonal affective disorder or SAD and premenstrual disorder, diseases associated with low levels of serotonin in the brain. Seasonal affective disorder is the term that refers to the winter blues experienced by some people which manifests through extremely low levels of serotonin and melatonin caused by the absence of sunlight during the gloomy winter months.

In the development of bladder cancer

Research studies show that metabolites of tryptophan have something to do with the onset and development of bladder cancer. The metabolites kynurenic acid, acetyl-L-kynurenine, L-kynurenine, 3-hydroxy-L-kynurenine, and 3-hydroxyanthranilic acid were found in large quantity in the urine of urinary bladder cancer patients.

Methionine

Methionine

Together with cysteine, methionine is one of two sulfur-containing proteinogenic amino acids. Methionine is important in the manufacture of cysteine, carnitine, taurine, lecithin, phosphatidylcholine, and other phospholipids. Improper conversion of methionine can lead to atherosclerosis.

Like its sulfur-containing pair cysteine, methionine also serves as an effective antioxidant and helps in body metabolism in the cellular level. It is a perfect scavenging agent against oxidative stress due to its ability to be converted to methionine sulfoxide. It is important because it can provide the body with the sulfur and methyl elements essential for human growth.

Role of methionine

  • Methionine is used to treat diseases of the liver especially those caused by carbon tetrachloride and arsenic.
  • Methionine is also known to possess the ability to minimize the spread of the flu virus by inhibiting their further proliferation in the body.

An overdose of methionine increases acidity of urine and causes the elimination of calcium from the body. This is the reason why this amino acid is given to dogs as a dietary supplement to protect damage to plants by reducing the pH level of the animal urine. Calcium supplementation is recommended to compensate for the lost amount of calcium in the body.

This amino acid is also used by plants for synthesis of ethylene. The process is known as the Yang Cycle or the methionine cycle.

Methionine and atherosclerosis

  • Methionine can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. Taking methionine beyond its allowable levels can increase the amount of fat in the blood and contribute in the accumulation of plaque in the arterial walls which is the main cause of atherosclerosis.

Excessive methionine intake can also cause injury and damage to the endothelial cells

Lysine

Lysine, like the rest of the essential amino acids, cannot be produced naturally by the body and must be taken through dietary intake and supplements. It is one of the essential building blocks of proteins.

Lysine is a key component in the production of hormones and enzymes and plays an important role in collagen production, a substance that is critical in bone, muscle, cartilage, and skin formation.

Lysine can be obtained by eating protein-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, soybeans, poultry products, nuts and other dairy products. This amino acid may be taken as a supplement in the form of tablets, powder or injection.

Role of lysine

  • Lysine plays a key role in calcium absorption by reducing the amount of calcium being excreted in the urine.
  • It promotes the growth of hair, nails, teeth and bones. It also prevents bone loss that leads to osteoporosis, though there's no evidence that lysine prevents osteoporosis.
  • It also prevents the occurrence of herpes simplex infections, or cold sores, but again, further study has to be conducted to prove this claim.

Side effects of lysine

Lysine is considered safe except for a few cases of abdominal cramps and diarrhea when taken in high doses. Patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases and those under medications must consult with a physician or health practitioner before taking lysine.

Lysine should be taken by athletes who engage in strenuous physical activities for stamina and endurance. Vegetarians need a bigger amount of lysine intake since vegetables, except for legumes, contain very minimal amount of lysine.

Continuous research is being conducted on the potential of lysine as an important component in muscle-building, reducing cholesterol level and speeding up recovery after surgery.


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The body can make some of the fats it needs from the foods you eat. However, two essential fatty acids cannot be made in the body and can be taken in the diet from plant foods. These basic fats—linolenic and linoleic acid—are used to build specialized fats called omega–3 and omega–6 fatty acids.1

Omega–3 and omega–6 fatty acids are important to the normal functioning of all tissues of the body. Deficiencies are responsible for a host of symptoms and disorders, including abnormalities in the liver and kidney, changes in the blood, reduced growth rates, decreased immune function, depression, and skin changes, including dryness and scaliness.

Adequate intake of the essential fatty acids results in numerous health benefits. Prevention of atherosclerosis, reduced incidence of heart disease and stroke, and relief from the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain have also been documented.2,3

While supplements and added oils are not typically necessary with a vegetarian diet, good sources of omega–3 and omega–6 fats should be included daily. It is important to take these two fats in the proper ratio, as well.

Omega–6 fatty acids compete with omega–3 fatty acids for use in the body, so excessive intake of omega–6 fatty acids can be a problem. In many Western countries, including the United States, diets have become heavy in omega–6 fats and low in omega–3 fats. That is because many people consume too many processed foods and oils. The problem can be solved by eating a low–fat diet that is low in processed foods and with fat mainly coming from omega–3 fatty acids.

1.- Omega–6 Fatty Acids

Omega–6 fats are found in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower). Other omega–6 fatty acids, such as gamma–linolenic acid (GLA), can be found in more rare oils, including black currant, borage, evening primrose, and hemp oils.4 Most diets provide adequate amounts of omega–6 fatty acids.

2.- Omega–3 Fatty Acids

Alpha–linolenic acid, a common omega–3 fatty acid, is found in many vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits. It is important for vegetarians to include foods that are rich in omega–3 fatty acids on a daily basis.

The best sources of alpha–linolenic acid are flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. More concentrated sources can be found in oils such as canola, soybean, walnut, and wheat germ. Omega–3 fatty acids can be found in smaller quantities in nuts, seeds, and soy products, as well as beans, vegetables, and whole grains. Corn, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils are generally low in omega–3s.

Plant Foods Rich in Omega–3 Fatty Acids

  • Green leafy vegetables (lettuce, broccoli, kale, purslane, spinach, etc.)
  • Legumes (mungo*, kidney, navy, pinto, or lima beans, peas or split peas, etc.)
  • Citrus fruits, melons, cherries
  • Ground flaxseed

*Mungo beans are particularly high in omega–3 fatty acids. They are sold in many Indian groceries and may be found under the name "urid."

Omega–3 Content of Natural Oils5,6

  • Flaxseed 53–62%
  • Linseed 53%
  • Canola 11%
  • Walnut 10%
  • Wheat germ 7%
  • Soybean 7%

Flaxseeds for Omega–3s

Flaxseed oil and ground flaxseeds are particularly high in omega–3 fatty acids. One teaspoonful of flaxseed oil or a tablespoonful of ground flaxseed will supply the daily requirement of alpha–linolenic acid.

To protect it from oxygen damage, flaxseed oil or ground flax seed must be stored in the refrigerator or the freezer. Don't try to cook with this oil, however, as heat damages its omega–3s.

For you to absorb omega–3s from flaxseeds, they must be ground. Simply put fresh flaxseeds in a spice or coffee grinder for a few seconds. Some people grind a cup every week or so and store it in the freezer. A spoonful can be added to a smoothie or sprinkled on breakfast cereal, a salad, or other dish.

3.- Pregnancy and Lactation

In pregnancy and lactation, it is especially important to obtain adequate essential fatty acids from the diet.

Recent research suggests that pregnant women may have increased needs for these fatty acids, as they are needed for fetal growth, brain development, learning, and behavior. Essential fatty acids are also important for the infant after birth for growth and proper development, as well as the normal functioning of all tissues of the body. Infants receive essential fatty acids through breast milk, so it is important that the mother's diet contain a good supply of omega–3s.

Pregnant women and lactating mothers may also opt to take a DHA supplement (DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is a form of omega–3 fatty acids). A DHA supplement based on cultured microalgae, under the trademark Neuromins, is available in many natural food stores.

4.- Fish for Essential Fatty Acids?

Some people may have heard that fish are good sources of essential fatty acids. However, the high amounts of fat and cholesterol and the lack of fiber make fish a poor choice. Fish are also often high in mercury and other environmental toxins that have no place in an optimal diet.

Whether you are interested in promoting cardiovascular health, ensuring the proper growth and development of your child, or relieving pain, a vegetarian diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes can help you achieve adequate intake of the essential fatty acids.

5.- References

1. Groff JL, Gropper SS, Hunt SM. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. West Publishing Company, New York, 1995.

2. Linscheer WG, Vergroesen AJ. Lipids. In: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, eds. Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, 1994.

3. Barnard N. Foods That Fight Pain. Harmony Books, New York, 1998. ; Omega–3 fatty acids and depression: new data. Harv Ment Helath Lett 2003 Jun;19(12):7.

4. Barnard N. Foods That Fight Pain. Harmony Books, New York, 1998.

5. Hunter JE. n–3 Fatty acids from vegetable oils. Am J Clin Nutr 1990;51:809–14.

6. Mantzioris E, James MJ, Gibson RA, Cleland LG. Dietary substitution with an alpha–linolenic acid–rich vegetable oil increases eicosapentaenoic acid concentrations in tissues. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59:1304–9.

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I.- Introduction and classification

With the exception of the organically bound elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, there are about 20 or so inorganic mineral elements which are considered to be essential to animal life, including fish and shrimp. The essential mineral elements are usually classified into two main groups according to their concentration in the animal body; the macroelements and the microelements (Table 11)

Table 11. The essential mineral elements 1

Macroelements Trace or microelements
Principal cations Principal anions
Calcium (Ca) Phosphorus (P) Iron (Fe) Fluorine (F)
Magnesium (Mg) Chlorine (Cl) Zinc (Zn) Vanadium (V)
Sodium (Na) Sulphur (S) Manganese (Mn) Chromium (Cr)
Potassium (K) Copper (Cu) Molybdenum (Mo)
Iodine (I) Selenium (Se)
Cobalt (Co) Tin (Sn)
Nickel (Ni) Silicon (Si)

1 Underwood (1971); Reinhold (1975)

II.- General function

The general function of minerals and trace elements can be summarised as follows:

  • Minerals are essential constitutents of skeletal structures such as bones and teeth.

  • Minerals play a key role in the maintenance of osmotic pressure, and thus regulate the exchange of water and solutes within the animal body.

  • Minerals serve as structural constituents of soft tissues.

  • Minerals are essential for the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contraction.

  • Minerals play a vital role in the acid-base equilibrium of the body, and thus regulate the pH of the blood and other body fluids.

  • Minerals serve as essential components of many enzymes, vitamins, hormones, and respiratory pigments, or as cofactors in metabolism, catalysts and enzyme activators.

III.- Macroelements

1 Calcium

Biological function: The principal biological functions of calcium may be summarised as follows;

  • Calcium is an essential component of bone, cartilage and the crustacean exoskeleton.

  • Calcium is essential for the normal clotting of blood, by stimulating the release of thromboplastin from the blood platelets.

  • Calcium is an activator for several key enzymes, including pancreatic lipase, acid phosphatase, cholinesterase, ATPases, and succinic dehydrogenase.

  • Through its role in enzyme activation, calcium stimulates muscle contraction (ie. promotes muscle tone and normal heart beat) and regulates the transmission of nerve impulses from one cell to another through its control over acetylcholine production.

  • Calcium, in conjunction with phospholipids, plays a key role in the regulation of the permeability of cell membranes and consequently over the uptake of nutrients by the cell.

  • Calcium is believed to be essential for the absorption of vitamin B12 from the gastro-intestinal tract.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of calcium include limestone, oystershell grit, bone meal, rock phosphate (40–30%); crab meal, shrimp meal, meat and bone meal (20–10%); white fish meal, poultry manure, meat meal (10–5%); and brown fish meal, delactose whey powder, dried skim milk, poultry by-product meal, kelp meal, alfalfa meal (5–1%).

Calcium is readily absorbed through the gastro-intestinal tract (through vitamin D3 action), gills, skin and fins of fish and crustacea. In general, dietary calcium absorption is facilitated by dietary lactose (by forming a soluble sugar-calcium complex) and by high gastric acidities (by aiding solubilization of the calcium salt).

2 Phosphorus

Biological function: The principal biological functions of phosphorus may be summarized as follows;

  • Phosphorus is an essential component of bone, cartilage and the crustacean exoskeleton.

  • Phosphorus is an essential component of phospholipids, nucleic acids, phosphoproteins (casein), high energy phosphate esters (ATP), hexose phosphates, creatine phosphate, and several key enzymes.

  • As a component of these important biological substances, phosphorus plays a central role in energy and cell metabolism.

  • Inorganic phosphates serve as important buffers to regulate the normal acidbase balance (ie. pH) of animal body fluids.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of phosphorus include rock phosphate, dicalcium phosphate, bone meal (20–10% P); meat and bone meal, meat meal, white fish meal, shrimp meal, poultry by-product meal, dried poultry manure (5–2%); and rice bran, rice polishings, wheat bran, wheat mill run, dried brewers yeast, sunflower seed meal, cottonseed meal, rapeseed meal, sesame seed meal, dried delactose whey (2–1%).

Although soluble phosphorus salts can be absorbed through the skin, fins and gills of fish and shrimp, the concentration of phosphorus in fresh and sea water is low, and consequently body phosphorus requirements are usually met from dietary sources. Within plant foods, including cereals and oilseeds, 50–80% of the phosphorus occurs in the form of the calcium or magnesium salt of phytic acid; phytic acid being the hexaphosphate ester of inositol. This organic form of phosphorus must first be hydrolyzed within the gastro-intestinal tract by the enzyme phytase to inositol and phosphoric acid before it can be utilized and absorbed by the animal. As with calcium, the absorption of inorganic phosphorus salts is facilitated by high gastric acidity; the more soluble the salt the higher the availability and absorption of phosphorus.

3 Magnesium

Biological function: The principal biological functions of magnesium may be summarised as follows;

  • Magnesium is an essential component of bone, cartilage and the crustacean exoskeleton.

  • Magnesium is an activator of several key enzyme systems, including kinases, (ie. enzymes that catalyse the transfer of the terminal phosphate of ATP to sugar or other acceptors), mutases (transphosphorylation reactions), muscle ATPases, and the enzymes cholinesterase, alkaline phosphatase, enolase, isocitric dehydrogenase, arginase (magnesium is a component of the arginase molecule), deoxyribonuclease, and glutaminase.

  • Through its role in enzyme activation, magnesium (like calcium) stimulates muscle and nerve irritability (contraction), is involved in the regulation of intracellular acid-base balance, and plays an important role in carbohydrate, protein and lipid metabolism.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of magnesium include; meat and bone meal, rice bran, kelp meal, sunflower seed meal (1.0–0.75% Mg); and wheat bran, wheat mill run, rice polishings, rapeseed meal, shrimp meal, cottonseed meal, linseed meal, poultry manure and crab meal (0.75–0.5%).

Magnesium is readily absorbed through the gastro-intestinal tract, gills, skin and fins of fish and crustacea. As with calcium and phosphorus, a proportion of the magnesium contained in plant foodstuffs may be present in the form of phytin (Ca or Mg salt of phytic acid).

4 Sodium, Potassium and Chlorine

Biological function: Sodium, potassium, and chlorine occur almost entirely in the fluids and soft tissues of the body, sodium and chlorine being found mainly in the body fluids, and potassium occuring mainly in the cells. They serve a vital function in controlling osmotic pressures and acid-base equilibrium. They also play important roles in water metabolism.

Sodium is the main monovalent ion of extracellular fluids; sodium ions constituting 93% of the ions (bases) found in the blood stream. Although the principal role of sodium in the animal is connected with the regulation of osmotic pressure and the maintenance of acid-base balance, sodium also has an effect on muscle irritability, and plays a specific role in the absorption of carbohydrate.

Potassium is the major cation of intracellular fluid, and regulates intracellular osmotic pressue and acid-base balance. Like sodium, potassium has a stimulating effect on muscle irritability. Potassium is also required for glycogen and protein sysnthesis, and the metabolic breakdown of glucose.

Chlorine is the main monovalent anion of extracellular fluids; chlorine ions constituting about 65% of the total anions of blood plasma and other extracellular fluids within the body (ie. gastric juice). Chlorine is therefore essential for the regulation of osmotic pressue and acid-base balance. Chlorine also plays a specific role in the transport of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, and the maintenance of digestive juice pH.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of sodium, potassium and chlorine include: kelp meal, condensed fish solubles, dried delactose whey, shrimp meal, white fish meal, meat meal, meat and bone meal (4–1% Na in decreasing order); dehydrated cane molasses, condensed fish solubles, delactose whey powder, alfalfa meal, dried torula yeast, soybean meal, rice bran (4-2% K in decreasing order); dried brewers yeast, dried distillers solubles, wheat bran, cottonseed meal, meat and bone meal, wheat mill run, copra meal, rapeseed meal, peanut meal, and sunflower seed meal (2–1% K in decreasing order); salt (sodium chloride, 60% Cl) and potassium chloride (48% Cl).

Potassium, sodium and chloride are readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, skin, fins and gills of fish and crustacea.

5 Sulphur

Biological function: The principal biological functions of sulphur may be summarised as follows;

  • Sulphur is an essential component of several key amino acids (methionine and cystine), vitamins (thiamine and biotin), the hormone insulin, and the crustacean exoskeleton.

  • As the sulphate, sulphur is an essential component of heparin, chondroitin, fibrinogen and taurine.

  • Several key enzyme systems such as coenzyme A and glutathione depend for their activity on free sulphydryl (SH) groups.

  • Sulphur is believed to be involved in the detoxification of aromatic compounds within the animal body.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of the sulphur containing amino acids include fish meal, chicken eggs, and hydrolysed feather meal (the latter containing primarily cystine, Table 5). Sulphur containing amino acids and to a lesser extent inorganic sulphates are readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract of fish and shrimp.

IV.- Microelements

1 Iron

Biological function: The principal biological functions of iron may be summarised as follows;

  • Iron is an essential component of the respiratory pigments haemoglobin and myoglobin.

  • Iron is an essential component of various enzyme systems including the cytochromes, catalases, peroxidases, and the enzymes xanthine and aldehyde oxidase, and succinic dehydrogenase.

  • As a component of the respiratory pigments and enzymes concerned in tissue oxidation, iron is essential for oxygen and electron transport within the body.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of iron include; blood meal (0.3–0.2% Fe); kelp meal, coconut meal, meat and bone meal, sunflower seed meal, dried distillers solubles (1000–500 mg/kg); alfalfa meal, crab meal, condensed fish solubles, fish meal, meat meal, poultry by-product meal, linseed meal, dried brewers yeast, dehydrated cane molasses, rice bran, delactose whey powder, and dried poultry manure (500–200 mg/kg).

Iron is readily absorbed through the gastro-intestinal tract, gills, fins and skin of fish and crustacea. Dietary iron availability and absorption is usually depressed by high dietary intakes of phosphate, calcium, phytates, copper and zinc. In general, inorganic sources of iron are more readily absorbed than organic sources; the ferrous iron (Fe++) being more available for absorption than ferric iron (Fe+++). Reducing substances such as vitamin C enhance the absorption of non-haem iron.

2 Zinc

Biological function: The principal biological functions of zinc may be summarised as follows;

  • Zinc is an essential component of more than 80 metalloenzymes, including carbonic anhydrase (required for the transport of carbon dioxide by the blood and for the secretion of HCI in the stomach), glutamic dehydrogenase, alkaline phosphatase, pyridine nucleotide dehydrogenase, alcohol dehydrogenase, superoxide dismutase, pancreatic carboxypeptidase, and tryptophan desmolase.

  • Zinc serves as a cofactor in many enzyme systems, including arginase, enolase, several peptidases, and oxalacetic decarboxylase.

  • As an active component or cofactor for many important enzyme systems zinc plays a vital role in lipid, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism; being particularly active in the synthesis and metabolism of nucleic acids (RNA) and proteins.

  • Although not proven, it has been suggested that zinc plays a role in the action of hormones such as insulin, glucagon, corticotrophin, FSH and LH.

  • Zinc is believed to play a positive role in wound healing.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of zinc include chick hatchery meal (0.15% Zn), dried Candida yeast, dehydrated fish solubles, dried distillers grains with solubles, dried poultry manure (500–200 mg/kg); fish meal, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal, wheat bran, rice mill run, dehydrated cattle manure, wheat middlings, crab meal, sunflower seed meal, dried torula yeast (200–100 mg/kg Zn).

Zinc is readily absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, gills, fins and skin of fish and crustacea. Dietary zinc availability and absorption is reduced in the presence of phytates, and high dietary intakes of calcium, phopshorus and copper.

3 Manganese

Biological function: The principal biological functions of managanese may be summarised as follows,

  • Manganese functions in the body as an enzyme activator for those enzymes that mediate phosphate group transfer (ie. phosphate transferases and phosphate dehydrogenases), particularly those concerned with the citric acid cycle including arginase, alkaline phosphatase and hexokinase.

  • Manganese is an essential component of the enzyme pyruvate carboxylase

  • As a cofactor or component of several key enzyme systems, manganese is essential for bone formation (re. mucopolysaccharide synthesis), the regeneration of red blood cells, carbohydrate metabolism, and the reproductive cycle.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of manganese include kelp meal (0.10% Mn), rice bran, dehydrated poultry manure, palm kernel meal, crab meal, wheat bran, wheat germ meal, wheat mill run, wheat middlings (300–100 mg/kg); dehydrated cattle manure, corn distillers dried solubles, rye grain, dehydrated cane molasses, dehydrated fish solubles, copra meal (100–50 mg/kg); wheat, rapeseed meal, sesame seed meal, linseed meal, brewers dried grains, safflower seed meal, shrimp meal and oats (50–30 mg/kg).

Manganese is readily absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, gills, fins and skin of fish and crustacea. Dietary manganese availability and absorption is reduced in the presence of phytates, and high dietary intakes of calcium.

4 Copper

Biological function: The principal biological functions of copper may be summarised as follows;

  • Copper is an essential component of numerous oxidation-reduction enzyme systems. For example, copper is a component of the enzymes cytochrome oxidase, uricase, tyrosinase, superoxide dismutase, amine oxidase, lysyl oxidase, and caeruloplasmin.

  • As a component of the enzyme caeruloplasmin (ferroxidase), copper is intimately involved with iron metabolism, and therefore haemoglobin synthesis and red blood cell production and maintenance.

  • Copper is also believed to be necessary for the formation of the pigment melanin and consequently skin pigmentation, for the formation of bone and connective tissue, and for maintaining the integrity of the myelin sheath of nerve fibres.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of copper include condensed fish solubles, corn distillers dried solubles, dehydrated sugar cane molasses (100-75 mg/kg Cu); corn distillers grains with solubles, dehydrated poultry manure (75–50 mg/kg); dried brewers yeast, crab meal, corn gluten meal, linseed meal, soybean meal, dried brewers grains, wheat mill run, millet, cottonseed meal, wheat middlings, and copra meal (50–20 mg/kg).

Copper is readily absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, gills, fins and skin of fish and crustacea. Dietary copper availability and absorption is reduced in the presence of phytates, and high dietary intakes of zinc, iron, molybdenum, cadmium, inorganic sulphates and calcium carbonate.

5 Cobalt

Biological function: The principal biological functions of cobalt may be summarised as follows;

  • Cobalt is an integral component of cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12), and as such is essential for red blood cell formation and the maintenance of nerve tissue.

  • Although not confirmed, cobalt may also function as an activating agent for various enzyme systems.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of cobalt include copra meal (2 mg/kg Co), linseed meal, dried brewers yeast, fish meal, meat meal, cottonseed meal, and soybean meal (0.5–0.1 mg/kg).

Cobalt is readily absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract and the surrounding water by fish and crustacea. Dietary cobalt availability and absorption is reduced in the presence of high dietary intakes of iodine.

6 Iodine

Biological function: Iodine is an integral component of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine and tri-iodo-thyronine, and as such is essential for regulating the metabolic rate of all body processes.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of iodine include all food stuffs of marine origin, and in particular seaweed meals (which may contain up to 0.6% I) and marine fish and crustacean meals. Iodine is readily absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract and the surrounding water by fish and crustacea. Dietary availability and absorption is reduced in the presence of high dietary intakes of cobalt.

7 Selenium

Biological function: Selenium is an essential component of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, and as such (together with the tocopherols - vitamin E) serves to protect cellular tissues and membranes against oxidative damage. It has also been suggested that selenium participates in the biosynthesis of ubiquinone (coenzyme Q; involved in cellular electron transport) and influences the absorption and retention of vitamin E.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of selenium include dehydrated fish solubles, fish meal (5–2 mg/kg Se); dried brewers yeast, corn gluten meal, dried torula yeast, rapeseed meal, cottonseed meal (2–1 mg/kg); and dried brewers grains, wheat bran, wheat middlings, linseed meal, hydrolyzed feather meal, poultry by-product meal, meat meal and alfalfa (1–0.5 mg/kg). Selenium is readily absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract and the surrounding water by fish and crustacea.

8 Chromium

Biological function: Trivalent chromium is an integral component of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF; a low molecular weight compound with trivalent chromium coordinated to two nicotinic acid molecules with the remaining coordinates protected by amino acids) and acts as a cofactor for the hormone insulin. Apart from its vital role in carbohydrate metabolism (ie. glucose tolerance and glycogen synthesis), trivalent chromium is also believed to play an important role in cholesterol and amino acid metabolism.

Dietary sources and absorption: Rich dietary sources of trivalent chromium include chick shell meal (15 mg/kg), shrimp tail meat, Artemia salina, dried brewers yeast, shellfish, liver, poultry by-product meal and fish meal (5–1 mg/kg dry weight). Trivalent chromium is readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and the surrounding water by fish and crustacea.

V.- Dietary mineral requirements

There is scant information on the dietary mineral requirements of fish and shrimp. This is mainly due to complexities which arise because of the ability of aquatic animals to absorb minerals from the surrounding water in addition to the food ingested, and because of their variation in response to salt regulation or osmotic pressure. For example, because marine fish and shrimp live in a hypertonic environment (ie. in a medium containing an excess of salt) they tend to suffer from dessication through water loss across the gills. To compensate for this loss marine fish therefore have to continually drink small amounts of water; the excess salt contained within the intestinal seawater being pumped out of the gill to the exterior (Cowey and Sargent, 1979). Consequently, since marine fish are reported to drink up to 50 percent of their total body weight per day, drinking may satisfy a substantial part of their mineral requirements (NRC, 1983). Coupled with the direct absorption of minerals through the gills, fins and skin, it is perhaps not surprising that marine fish such as the red sea bream (C. major) have only been found to have a positive dietary requirement for phosphorus, potassium and iron when fed a purified diet; the nutritional requirement for the remaining physiologically essential minerals being apparently satisfied through direct absorption and/or drinking (Yone and Toshima, 1979). The situation in freshwater fish and prawns is the reverse; here the animals suffer from hydration across the gills due to the steady loss of salt to the hypotonic environment. These animals therefore drink little or no water, and have to compensate for their urinary salt losses by actively pumping salt from the external medium across the gills into the plasma. Freshwater fish and prawns are therefore more demanding on an adequate dietary mineral supply than marine fish and shrimp (Cowey and Sargent, 1979).

From the above it follows therefore that the dietary requirement of a fish or shrimp species for a particular element will depend to a large extent upon the concentration of that element in the water body. At present there is little information concerning the contribution of waterborne elements to the total mineral balance of fish or shrimp (Tacon, Knox and Cowey, 1984).

Dietary mineral requirements are usually determined by feeding graded levels of each element within a purified or semi-purified test diet; dietary requirement being taken at ‘break-point’ on the basis of the observed growth response, feed efficiency, or tissue enzyme indicator level (for review see Cowey and Sargent, 1972; Cho, Cowey and Watanabe, 1985; Kanazawa, 1983; Lall, 1979; Nose and Arai, 1979; NRC, 1983; and Robinson and Wilson, 1985). As with the vitamins, the majority of studies have been conducted under controlled laboratory conditions and so little information exists on the dietary mineral requirements of fish or shrimp under practical semi-intensive or intensive farming conditions using practical diets.

Despite these limitations, the known dietary mineral requirements of the major aquaculture species are summarised in Table 12.

Table 12. Dietary mineral requirements of fish and shrimp

Species/Element Dietary requirement Reference
CALCIUM
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri)   0.24 % Arai et al., (1975)
Eel (A. japonica)   0.27 % Arai, Nose & Hashimoto (1975)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) ≤0.05 % Lovell & Li (1978)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)      0.45 % 1 Robinson et al., (1985)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)     1.50 % Andrews, Murai & Campbell (1973)
Common acrp (C. carpio) ≤0.028 % Ogino & Takeda (1976)
Red sea bream (C. major)     0.34 % Sakamoto & Yone (1973)
Red sea bream (C. major)    >0.14 % Sakamoto & Yone (1976)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)      1–2 % Kanazawa, Teshima & Sasaki (1984)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)     1.24 % Kitabayashi et al., (1971)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)      1.0 % Kanazawa (1983)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)    <0.5 % Deshimaru et al., (1978)

1 Dietary calcium requirement determined in calcium-free water

PHOSPHORUS
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri)    0.70 % Ogino & Takeda (1978)
Atlantic salmon (S. salar)       1.12 % 1 Ketola (1975)
Common carp (C. carpio) 0.6–0.7 % 2 Ogino & Takeda (1976)
Tilapia (O. niloticus)    ≤0.90 % 2 Watanabe et al., (1980)
Tilapia (O. aureus/niloticus)   0.45–0.6 % 2, 3 Viola, Zohar & Arieli (1986)
Eel (A. japonica)      0.29 % Arai, Nose & Kawatsu (1974)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)        0.42 % 2 Wilson et al., (1982)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)        0.50 % 2 NRC (1983)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)        0.45 % 2 Lovell (1978)
Red sea bream (C. major)      0.68 % Sakamoto & Yone (1973)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)      1.04 % Kitabayashi et al., (1971)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)      2.00 % Deshimaru & Yone (1978a)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)      1.00 % Kanazawa (1983)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)      1–2 % Kanazawa, Teshima & Sasaki (1984)

1 Basal diet contained 0.62% P derived mainly from plant sources and requireda minimum of 0.6% supplemental inorganic P as dibasic calcium phosphate formaximum growth response

2 Available phosphorus requirement (as determined with fish)

3 Experiments conducted in floating cages suspended in an earthen pond, 100 fishof average size 120g/m3, and available P requirement based on P availabilitiesof 70% for fish meal and Dicalcium phosphate and 33% for plant phosphorus

MAGNESIUM
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri)  0.06–0.07 % Ogino, Takashima & Chiou (1978)
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri)           0.05 % Knox, Cowey & Adron (1981, 1983)
Common carp (C. carpio)   0.04–0.05 % Ogino & Chiou (1976)
Eel (A. japonica)            0.04 % Nose & Arai (1979)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)            0.04 % Gatlin et al., (1982)
Red sea bream (C. major)        <0.012 % Sakamoto & Yone (1979)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)             0.30 % Kanazawa (1983)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)                ND 1 Deshimaru & Yone (1978a)

1 No dietary requirement demonstrated

POTASSIUM 1
Penaeids (P. japonicus)   1.0 % Deshimaru & Yone (1978a)
Penaeids (P. japonicus)   0.9 % Kanazawa (1983)
Red sea bream (C. major) 0.21 % Yone & Toshima (1979)

1 No dietary requirement or deficiency symptom demonstrated for sodium orchlorine in fish or shrimp to date

ZINC
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) 15–30 mg/kg Ogino & Yang (1978)
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri)       150 mg/kg 1 Ketola (1978, 1979)
Common carp (C. carpio) 15–30 mg/kg Ogino & Yang (1979)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)       20 mg/kg Gatlin & Wilson (1983)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)       150 mg/kg2 Gatlin & Wilson (1984)

1 Basal practical diet containing white fish meal as the major protein sourceand 60 mg/kg Zn; diet required supplemental Zn as ZnSO4.7H2O at 150 mg/kgdiet to prevent Zn deficiency and produce normal growth

2 Basal practical diet containing 1.1% phytic acid from soybean meal and rice,and requiring a dietary supplementation of 150 mg Zn/kg diet to preventdeficiency symptoms

IRON
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) ≤30 mg/kg Gatlin & Wilson (1986)
Eel (A. japonica) 170 mg/kg Nose & Arai (1979)
Red sea bream (C. major) 150 mg/kg Sakamoto & Yone (1976a, 1978)
Penaeids (P. japonicus) ND1 Kanazawa, Teshima & Sasaki (1984)

1 No dietary requirement demonstrated

COPPER
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) 3 mg/kg Ogino & Yang (1980)
Common carp (C. carpio) 3 mg/kg Ogino & Yang (1980)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) 5 mg/kg Gatlin & Wilson (1986a)
Penaeids (P. japonicus) 60 mg/kg Kanazawa (1983)
Penaeids (P. japonicus) ND 1 Kanazawa, Teshima & Sasaki (1984)

1 No dietary requirement demonstrated

MANGANESE
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) 12–13 mg/kg Ogino & Yang (1980)
Common carp (C. carpio) 12–13 mg/kg Ogino & Yang (1980)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)      ≤2.4 mg/kg 1 Robinson & Wilson (1985)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)         25 mg/kg 2 Robinson & Wilson (1985)

1 No dietary requirement demonstrated with fish fed purified diets for 13 weeks,and containing a basal manganese content of 2.4 mg/kg (studies in press)

2 Recommended dietary Mn level for practical catfish feeds

IODINE
Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha) 0.6–1.1 mg/kg Woodall & LaRoche (1964)
Salmonids       1–5 mg/kg NRC (1983)

SELENIUM
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) 0.07–0.38 mg/kg Hilton, Hodson & Slinger (1980)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus)   0.1–0.25 mg/kg 1 Gatlin & Wilson (1984)

1 Dietary requirement of 0.25 mg/kg within purified diets, and a recommendeddietary requirement of 0.1 mg/kg Se within practical catfish feeds

CHROMIUM
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) ≤1.0 mg/kg Tacon & Beveridge (1982)

VI.- Mineral pathology

1 Mineral deficiency

The following gross anatomical deficiency signs have been reported in juvenile fish or shrimp fed experimental diets lacking in one or more essential mineral elements:

Element/species Deficiency signs 1
PHOSPHORUS
Common carp (C. carpio) Reduced growth, poor feed efficiency (1,2); bone demineralization, skeletal deformity, abnormal calcification of ribs and soft rays of pectoral fin (1); cranial deformity (1,3); increased visceral fat (4)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) Reduced growth, poor feed efficiency (5); bone demineralization (5,6)
Red sea bream (C. major) Reduced growth, poor feed efficiency, bone demineralization, increased muscle, liver and vertebrae lipid content (7); curved and enlarged spongy vertebrae (8); decreased liver glycogen (9)
Eel (A. japonica) Anorexia, reduced growth (10)
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) Reduced growth, poor feed efficiency, bone demineralization (13,14)
Atlantic salmon (S. salar) Reduced growth, poor feed efficiency, bone demineralization (13,14)
Penaeids (P. japonicus) Reduced growth (41)
CALCIUM
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) Reduced growth, low carcass ash, Ca and P content (fed vitamin D deficienct diets, 6)
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) Anorexia, reduced growth and feed efficiency (15)
Eel (A. japonica) Anorexia, reduced growth and feed efficiency (16)
Red sea bream (C. major) Anorexia, reduced growth and feed efficiency (17)
MAGNESIUM
Common carp (C. carpio) Reduced growth (11, 18); sluggishness, anorexia, convulsions, high mortality (11); cataracts (18)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) Anorexia, reduced growth, sluggishness, muscle flacidity, high mortality (19)
Eel (A. japonica) Anorexia, reduced growth (20)
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) Reduced growth (21–24); anorexia (22,23); cataracts (25); sluggishness, calcinosis of kidney (21,22); increased mortality, vertebral curvature, degener- ation of muscle fibres and epithelial cells of pyloric caecae and gill filaments (23); reduced bone ash, Mg and elevated Ca content (24)
Penaeids (P. japonicus) Reduced growth, poor survival and reduced feed efficiency (41)
IRON Hypochromic microcytic anaemia (C. carpio - 26; C. major - 27; Salvelinus fontinalis - 28; A. japonica - 20; I. punctatus - 42; reduced growth and feed efficiency (42)
ZINC
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) Reduced growth, anorexia, depressed bone Ca and Zn content (29)
Common carp (C. carpio) Reduced growth (18, 30); cataracts (18); anorexia, high mortality, erosion of fins and skin, elevated tissue concentrations of Fe and Cu in intestine and hepatopancreas (30)
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) Reduced growth (25,31,32); increased mortality (31, 32); cataracts (25, 31); short body dwarfism (25); fin erosion (31)
MANGANESE
Tilapia (O. mossambicus) Reduced growth, anorexia, loss of equilibrium, mortality (33)
Common carp (C. carpio) Reduced growth (34, 18); short body dwarfism, cataracts (18)
Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) Cataracts (25, 35); reduced growth, short body dwarfism (34, 35); abnormal tail growth (34)
COPPER
Common carp (C. carpio) Reduced growth (34, 18); cataracts (18)
SELENIUM
Atlantic salmon (S. salar) Increased mortality, muscular dystrophy, depressed glutathione peroxidase activity (36)
Common carp (C. carpio) Reduced growth (18, 37); cataracts (18); anaemia (37)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) Reduced growth (38)
IODINE
Salmonids Thyroid hyperplasia/goitre (39, 40)

1 1-Ogino & Takeda (1976); 2-Yone & Toshima (1979); 3-Ogino et al., (1979); 4-Takeuchi & Nakazoe (1981); 5-Andrews, Murai & Campbell (1973); 6-Lovell & Li(1978); 7-Sakamoto & Yone (1980); 8-Sakamoto & Yone (1979); 9-Sakamoto & Yone(1978); 10-Arai, Nose & Kawatsu (1974); 11-Ogino & Chiou (1976); 12-Ogino &Takeda (1978); 13-Ketola (1975); 14-Lall & Bishop (1977); 15-Arai et al. (1975);16-Arai, Nose & Hashimoto (1975); 17-Sakamoto & Yone (1973); 18-Satoh et al.,(1983); 19-Gatlin et al., (1982); 20-Arai et al., (cited by Nose and Arai, 1979);21-Cowey et al., (1977); 22-Knox, Cowey & Adron (1981); 23-Ogino, Takashima &Chiou (1978); 24-Knox, Cowey & Adron (1983); 25-Satoh et al., (1983a); 26-Sakamoto& Yone (1978a); 27-Sakamoto & Yone (1978); 28-Kawatsu (1972); 29-Gatlin& Wilson (1983); 30-Ogino & Yang (1979); 31-Ogino & Yang (1978); 32-Wekell,Shearer & Houle (1983); 33-Ishak & Dollar (1968); 34-Ogino & Yang (1980);35-Yamamoto et al., (1983); 36-Poston, Combs & Leibovitz (1976); 37-Lall (1979); 38-Gatlin & Wilson (1984a); 39-Woodall & LaRoche (1964); 40-NRC (1983);41-Kanazawa, Teshima & Sasaki (1984); 42-Gatlin & Wilson (1986).

Despite the adequate presence of macro and trace elements in virtually all raw ingredients commonly used for fish feeding (Tacon and De Silva, 1983), and the ability of fish and shrimp to absorb certain trace elements from the surrounding water, mineral deficiencies may arise under intensive culture conditions through:

  • The absence of a specific macro or trace mineral premix within the diet (for details of specific mineral premix formulations see NRC, 1983).

  • Reduced mineral bioavailability through dietary imbalances. The availability and utilization of dietary trace elements in fish or shrimp is dependent upon the dietary source and form of the element ingested, the adequacy of stores within the body, interactions with other mineral elements present in the gastro-intestinal tract and within the body tissues (antagonisms), and finally by element interactions with other dietary ingredients or their metabolites (ie. vitamins, fibre and phytic acid). For example, Table 13 shows the relative availabilities or apparent absorption efficiency of various forms or sources of dietary phosphorus for three fish species.

Table 13. Availability of various sources of dietary phosphorus in fish 1

Phosphorus source Channel catfish Common carp Rainbow trout
(%) (%) (%)
Phosphates
Sodium phosphate, mono 90 94 98
Potassium phosphate, mono - 94 98
Calcium phosphate:
monobasic 94 94 94
dibasic 65 46 71
tribasic - 13 64
Fish meals
Fish meal, white - 0–18 66
Fish meal, brown - 24 74
Fish meal, anchovy 40 - -
Fish meal, menhaden 39 - -
Protein sources
Egg albumin 71 - -
Casein 90 97 90
Brewers yeast - 93 91
Plant products
Rice bran - 25 19
Wheat germ - 57 58
Wheat middlings 28 - -
Corn, ground 25 - -
Soybean meal, with hulls 50 - -
Soybean meal, dehulled 29–54 - -
Phytate 0 8–38 0–19

1 Source: NRC (1983)

For certain fish species the availability and absorption of phosphorus and other major elements (ie. calcium) from fish meal and meat and bone meal is further complicated by the absence of an acid-secreting stomach, which is essential for normal bone solubilization. For stomachless fish species soluble monobasic inorganic salts or bioavailable organic salts must therefore be provided in the diet. Conversely, within plant proteins a large proportion of phosphorus is present as organically bound phytates. Not only is phytic acid phosphorus believed to be largely biologically unavailable, but phytic acid also has the capacity to chelate other trace elements (iron, copper, zinc, cobalt, molybdenum) and by so doing may render them biologically unavailable to the fish during digestion (Spinelli, 1980; Robinson and Wilson, 1985).

Under practical farming conditions mineral deficiency signs often arise from a dietary imbalance of calcium; due to the antagonistic effect of excess dietary calcium on the absorption of phosphorus (Nakamura, 1982) and the trace elements zinc, iron and manganese (Lall, 1979). For example, the bioavailability of zinc, and to a lesser extent manganese within white fish meal has been found to be much lower than that contained in brown fish meal (which has a much lower ash and calcium content; Ketola, 1978; Watanabe, Takeuchi and Ogino, 1980). Thus in experimeental feeding trials with rainbow trout, chum salmon and common carp fed on diets in which white fish meal was used without a trace element supplement, overt trace element deficiency signs arise such as depressed growth, short body dwarfism and cataracts (Watanabe, Takeuchi and Ogino, 1980; Satoh et al., 1983, 1983a; Yamamoto et al, 1983).

2 Mineral toxicity

A major hazard which may be associated with the use of dietary feed ingredients is the presence of potentially toxic mineral elements such as the accumulative elements copper, lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, fluorine, selenium, molybdenum and vanadium. For example, contamination with copper may arise from products fermented within copper lined vessels (ie. brewery by-products), or within pig and poultry excreta from the use of copper based growth stimulants or anti-fungal agents. Other feed ingredients which may contain potentially toxic metal contaminants include: poultry manure (arsenic); paper pulp waste (lead); fish meal (mercury, selenium, arsenic, cadmium, and lead); poultry by-product meals (zinc); shellfish (zinc); seleniferous accumulating plants of the genera Astragalus and Machaeranthera, or cereals grown in seleniferous soils (selenium); and Antartic krill (fluorine).

Dietary toxicity signs which have been reported in fish and shrimp under controlled laboratory conditions include:

Element Species Toxicity sign 1
Zinc Common carp (C. carpio) Reduced growth (dietary level above 300 mg/kg Zn; 1)
Copper 2 Channel catfish (I. punctatus) Reduced growth, feed efficiency and haematocrit (dietary level above 15 mg/kg;2)
Selenium Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) Reduced growth and feed efficiency, high mortality (dietary levels above 13 mg/kg; 3,4); nephrocalcinosis (4,5)
Channel catfish (I. punctatus) Reduced growth (dietary levels above 15 mg/kg; 6)
Cadmium Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri)
Common carp (C. carpio)
Scoliosis, hyperactivity (7–10)
Lead Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) Scoliosis, lordosis, black tail, anaemia, degeneration of caudal fin (11)
Chromium Rainbow trout (S. gairdneri) Reduced growth and feed efficiency (12)
Iron Penaeids (P. japonicus) Reduced growth (dietary levels above
0.014%; 13)

1 1-Jeng and Sun (1981); 2-Murai, Andrews & Smith (1981); 3-Hilton, Hodson &Slinger (1980); 4-Hicks, Hilton & Ferguson (1984); 5-Hilton & Hodson (1983);6-Gatlin & Wilson (1984a); 7-Koyama & Itazawa (1977); 8-Koyama & Itazawa (1977a);9-Koyama & Itazawa (1979); 10-Roch & Maly (1979); 11-Johansson-Sjöbeck & Larsson(1979); 12-Tacon & Beveridge (1982); 13-Kanazawa, Teshima & Sasaki (1984)

2 Recent trials with channel catfish failed to demonstrate a deleterious effect of40 mg supplemental copper/kg diet on growth, feed efficiency or blood chemistry(Gatlin and Wilson, 1986a). The absence of dietary copper toxicity has alsobeen reported for rainbow trout fed 150 mg supplemental copper or 500 mg totaldietary copper (Knox, Cowey and Adron, 1982, 1984).


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If you're like most kids, you've probably heard at least one parent say, "Don't forget to take your vitamin!" or "Eat your salad — it's packed with vitamins!" But what exactly are vitamins?

Vitamins and minerals are substances that are found in foods we eat. Your body needs them to work properly, so you grow and develop just like you should. When it comes to vitamins, each one has a special role to play. For example:

  • Vitamin D in milk helps your bones.
  • Vitamin A in carrots helps you see at night.
  • Vitamin C in oranges helps your body heal if you get a cut.
  • B vitamins in whole grains help your body make energy from food.

Vitamins Hang Out in Water and Fat

There are two types of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble.

When you eat foods that contain fat-soluble vitamins, the vitamins are stored in the fat tissues in your body and in your liver. They wait around in your body fat until your body needs them.

Fat-soluble vitamins are happy to stay stored in your body for awhile — some stay for a few days, some for up to 6 months! Then, when it's time for them to be used, special carriers in your body take them to where they're needed. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins are different. When you eat foods that have water-soluble vitamins, the vitamins don't get stored as much in your body. Instead, they travel through your bloodstream. Whatever your body doesn't use comes out when you urinate (pee).

So these kinds of vitamins need to be replaced often because they don't stick around! This crowd of vitamins includes vitamin C and the big group of B vitamins — B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), niacin, B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, B12 (cobalamine), biotin, and pantothenic acid.

Vitamins Feed Your Needs

Your body is one powerful machine, capable of doing all sorts of things by itself. But when it comes to vitamins, it can use some help. That's where food comes in. Your body is able to get the vitamins it needs from the foods you eat because different foods contain different vitamins. The key is to eat different foods to get an assortment of vitamins. Though some kids take a daily vitamin, most kids don't need one if they're eating a variety of healthy foods.

Now, let's look more closely at vitamins — from A to K:

Vitamin A

This vitamin plays a really big part in eyesight. It's great for night vision, like when you're trick-or-treating on Halloween. Vitamin A helps you see in color, too, from the brightest yellow to the darkest purple. In addition, it helps your body fight infections by boosting your immune system.

Which foods are rich in vitamin A?

  • milk fortified with vitamin A
  • liver
  • orange fruits and vegetables (like cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes)
  • dark green leafy vegetables (like kale, collards, spinach)

The B Vitamins

There's more than one B vitamin. Here's the list: B1, B2, B6, B12, niacin, folic acid, biotin, and pantothenic acid. Whew — that's quite a group!

The B vitamins are important in metabolic (say: meh-tuh-BAH-lik) activity — this means that they help make energy and set it free when your body needs it. So the next time you're running to third base, thank those B vitamins.

This group of vitamins is also involved in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body. Every part of your body needs oxygen to work properly, so these B vitamins have a really important job.

Which foods are rich in vitamin B?

  • whole grains, such as wheat and oats
  • fish and seafood
  • poultry and meats
  • eggs
  • dairy products, like milk and yogurt
  • leafy green vegetables
  • beans and peas

Vitamin C

This vitamin is important for keeping body tissues, such as gums, bones, and blood vessels in good shape. C is also key if you get a cut or wound because it helps you heal.

This vitamin also helps your body resist infection. This means that even though you can't always avoid getting sick, vitamin C makes it a little harder for your body to become infected with an illness.

Which foods are rich in vitamin C?

  • citrus fruits, like oranges
  • cantaloupe
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • kiwi fruit
  • sweet red peppers

Vitamin D

No bones about it . . . vitamin D is the vitamin you need for strong bones! It's also great for forming strong teeth. Vitamin D even lends a hand to an important mineral — it helps your body absorb the amount of calcium it needs. Vitamin D is made in the skin when exposed to sunlight, or you can get it from the foods you eat.

Which foods are rich in vitamin D?

  • milk fortified with vitamin D
  • fish
  • egg yolks
  • liver
  • fortified cereal

Vitamin E

Everybody needs E. This hard-working vitamin protects your cells and tissues from damage. It is also important for the health of red blood cells.

Which foods are rich in vitamin E?

  • whole grains, such as wheat and oats
  • wheat germ
  • leafy green vegetables
  • vegetable oils like sunflower, canola, and olive
  • egg yolks
  • nuts and seeds

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is the clotmaster! Remember the last time you got a cut? Your blood did something special called clotting. This is when certain cells in your blood act like glue and stick together at the surface of the cut to help stop the bleeding.

Which foods are rich in vitamin K?

  • leafy green vegetables
  • dairy products, like milk and yogurt
  • broccoli
  • soybean oil

When your body gets this vitamin and the other ones it needs, you'll be feeling A-OK!


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Unfold Close  FOOD GUIDANCE

There is more calcium in the body than any other mineral, and it has several important functions.

These include:

  • helping to build strong bones and teeth
  • regulating muscle contractions, including heartbeat 
  • ensuring that blood clots normally

A lack of calcium could lead to a condition called rickets in children or osteoporosis in later life.

Good sources of calcium

Good sources of calcium include:

  • milk, cheese and other dairy foods
  • green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach
  • soya beans
  • tofu
  • soya drinks with added calcium
  • nuts
  • bread and anything made with fortified flour
  • fish where you eat the bones – such as sardines and pilchards

How much calcium do I need?

Adults need 700mg of calcium a day.

You should be able to get all the calcium you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much calcium?

Taking high doses of calcium (over 1,500mg a day) could lead to stomach pain and diarrhoea.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the calcium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

If you take calcium supplements, don't take too much. Taking 1,500mg or less a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

» Read more

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The truth about carbs

"Carbs" has become a dirty word in recent times, especially in the weight loss world, due in no small part to the popularity of low-carb diets such as the Atkins, Dukan and South Beach.

The "carbs are bad" mantra from Dr Atkins and co has left many people confused about carbohydrates and their importance for your health, including maintaining a healthy weight.

Dietitian Sian Porter says: "Carbohydrates are such a broad category and people need to know that not all carbs are the same and it is the type and quantity of carbohydrate in our diet that is important.

"While we should reduce the amount of sugar in our diet, we should base our meals on starchy carbs. There is strong evidence that fibre, found in wholegrain versions of starchy carbs for example, is good for our health.”

Find out all you need to know about carbohydrates, their health benefits, healthier sources of carbs and how carbs can actually help you lose weight.

What are carbs?

Carbohydrates are a source of energy. When eaten, the body converts most carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), which is used to fuel cells such as those of the brain and muscles.

Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients (nutrients that form a large part of our diet) found in food – the others being fat and protein. Hardly any foods contain only one nutrient and most are a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in varying amounts. There are three different types of carbohydrate: sugar, starch and fibre.

  • Sugar is found naturally in some foods, including fruit, honey, fruit juices, milk (lactose) and vegetables. Other forms of sugar (for example table sugar) can be added to food and drink such as sweets, chocolates, biscuits and soft drinks during manufacture, or added when cooking or baking at home. Remember: sugar is a carbohydrate but not all carbs are sugars. Find out more about sugar.
  • Starch, made up of many sugar units bonded together, is found in foods that come from plants. Starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day. Find out more about starchy foods.
  • Fibre is only found in foods that come from plants. Fibre helps keep our bowels healthy and some types of fibre may help lower cholesterol. Research shows diets high in fibre are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Good sources of fibre include vegetables with skins on, wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta and pulses (beans and lentils). Find out more about fibre.  

Why do we need carbs?

Carbs are important to your health for a number of reasons. In a healthy balanced diet they are the body’s main source of energy. High fibre, starchy carbs release sugar into the blood more slowly than sugary foods and drinks.

Energy
Carbs should be the body’s main source of energy in a healthy balanced diet, providing about 4kcal (17kJ) per gram. Carbs are broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, the glucose enters the body’s cells with the help of insulin. Glucose is used by your body for energy, fuelling all of your activities, whether going for a run or breathing. Unused glucose can be converted to glycogen found in the liver and muscles. If unused, glucose can be converted to fat, for long-term storage of energy.

Disease risk
Vegetables, pulses, wholegrain varieties of starchy foods, and potatoes eaten with their skins on are good sources of fibre. Fibre is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. It can promote good bowel health, reduce the risk of constipation, and some forms of fibre have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Many people don't get enough fibre. On average, most people in the UK get about 18g of fibre a day. We are advised to eat an average of 30g a day.

Calorie intake
Carbohydrate contains fewer calories gram for gram than fat, and starchy foods can be a good source of fibre, which means they can be a useful part of a weight loss plan. By replacing fatty, sugary foods and drinks with high-fibre starchy foods, it is more likely you will reduce the number of calories in your diet. Also high fibre foods add bulk to your meal helping you feel full. "You still need to watch your portion sizes to avoid overeating,” says Sian. “Also watch out for the added fats used when you cook and serve them: this is what increases the calorie content."

Should I cut out carbs?

While we can most certainly survive without sugar, it would be quite difficult to eliminate carbs entirely from your diet. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. In the absence of carbohydrate, your body will use protein and fat for energy.

However, cutting out starchy foods from your diet could put you at increased risk of a deficiency in certain nutrients, leading to health problems (see above), unless you're able to make up for the nutritional shortfall with healthy substitutes.

It may also be hard to get enough fibre, which is important for a healthy digestive system and to prevent constipation. Healthy sources of carbs such as starchy foods, vegetables, fruits, legumes and dairy products are an important source of nutrients such as calcium, iron and B vitamins.

Cutting out carbohydrates and replacing those calories with fats and higher fat sources of protein could increase your intake of saturated fat, which can raise the amount of cholesterol in your blood – a risk factor for heart disease.

When you are low on glucose, the body breaks down stored fat to convert it into energy. This process causes a buildup of ketones in the blood, resulting in ketosis. Ketosis as a result of a low carbohydrate diet can be accompanied by headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability particularly in the short term.

Try to limit the amount of sugary foods you eat and instead include healthier sources of carbohydrate in your diet such as wholegrains, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, legumes and lower fat dairy products. Read the British Dietetic Association's review of low-carb diets, including the paleo, Dukan, Atkins, and South Beach diets.

Don’t protein and fat provide energy?

While carbs, fat and protein are all sources of energy in the diet, the amount of energy that each one provides varies:

  • carbohydrate provides: about 4kcal (17kJ) per gram
  • protein provides: 4kcal (17kJ) per gram
  • fat provides: 9kcal (37kJ) per gram

In the absence of carbohydrates in the diet your body will convert protein (or other non-carbohydrate substances) into glucose, so it's not just carbs that can raise your blood sugar and insulin levels.

If you consume more calories than you burn from whatever source, carbs, protein or fat, you will gain weight. So cutting out carbs or fat does not necessarily mean cutting out calories if you are replacing them with other foods containing the same amount of calories.

Are carbs more filling than protein?

Carbs and protein contain roughly the same number of calories per gram, and fat contains almost twice as many calories per gram as carbs or protein. But other factors influence the sensation of feeling full such as the type and variety of food eaten, eating behaviour and environmental factors, such as portion size and availability of food choices. The sensation of feeling full can also vary from person to person. Among other things, protein-rich foods can help you feel full and we should have some meat, fish, eggs, beans and dairy products as part of a healthy balanced diet. But we shouldn’t eat too much of these foods. Remember that starchy foods should make up about a third of the food we eat and we all need to be eating more fruit and vegetables.

How much carbohydrate should I eat?

The Government’s healthy eating advice, illustrated by the Eatwell Guide up of starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, and another third should be fruit and vegetables. This means that about half of your daily calorie intake should come from starchy foods, fruit and vegetables. Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, which looks at food consumption in the UK, shows that most of us should also be eating more fibre and starchy foods and fewer sweets, chocolates, biscuits, pastries and cakes. Try to aim for at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg a day. Go for wholegrain starchy foods whenever you can and eat potatoes with their skins on.

What carbs should I be eating?

Sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes and soft drinks with added sugar are usually high in sugar and calories, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and contribute to weight gain if you eat them too often, while providing few other nutrients.

Fruit, vegetables, pulses and starchy foods (especially wholegrain varieties) provide a wider range of nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) which can benefit our health. The fibre in these foods can help to keep your bowels healthy and adds bulk to your meal helping you to feel full.

Sian says: “Cutting out a whole food group (such as starchy foods) as some diets recommend could put your health at risk because as well as cutting out the body’s main source of energy you’d be cutting back essential nutrients like B vitamins, zinc and iron from your diet.”

How can I increase my fibre intake?

To increase the amount of fibre in your diet, go for wholegrain varieties of starchy foods and eat potatoes with skins on. Try to aim for an average intake of 30g of fibre a day. Here are some examples of the typical fibre content in some common foods:

  • two breakfast wheat biscuits (approx. 37.5g) – 3.6g of fibre
  • one slice of wholemeal bread – 2.5g (one slice of white bread – 0.9g)
  • 230g serving of cooked wholewheat pasta – 9.7g (230g of cooked spaghetti – 3.9g)
  • one medium (180g) baked potato (with skin) – 4.7g
  • 200g of baked beans – 9.8g
  • 1 medium orange – 1.9g
  • 1 medium banana – 1.4g 

Can eating low GI (glycaemic index) foods help me lose weight?

The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It shows how quickly each food affects glucose (sugar) levels in your blood, when that food is eaten on its own. Some low GI foods, such as wholegrain foods, fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils are foods we should eat as part of a healthy balanced diet. However, using GI to decide whether foods or a combination of foods are healthy or can help with weight reduction can be misleading.

Although low GI foods cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall slowly and therefore may help you to feel fuller for longer, not all low GI foods are healthy. For example, watermelon and parsnips are high GI foods, while chocolate cake has a lower GI value. Also, the cooking method and eating foods in combination as part of a meal, will change the GI rating. Therefore, relying on GI alone is not a reliable way to decide whether foods or combinations of foods are healthy or will help you to lose weight.

Find out more about the glycaemic index (GI)

Do carbs make you fat?

Any food can be fattening if you overeat. It doesn't seem to matter a whole lot whether your diet is high in fat or carbs, but how much you eat in total. In fact, gram for gram, carbohydrate contains fewer than half the calories of fat. Wholegrain varieties of starchy foods and potatoes eaten with their skins on are good sources of fibre. Foods high in fibre add bulk to your meal and help you to feel full.

However, foods high in sugar are often high in calories and eating these foods too often can contribute to you becoming overweight. There is some evidence that diets high in sugar are associated with an increased energy content of the diet overall, which over time can lead to weight gain.

“When people cut out carbs and lose weight, it’s not just carbs they’re cutting out, they’re cutting out the high-calorie ingredients mixed in or eaten with it, such as butter, cheese, cream, sugar and oil,” says Sian. "Eating too many calories – whether they are carbs, protein or fat – will contribute to weight gain.”

To maintain a healthy weight, we are advised to cut down on sugary foods in favour of fruit, vegetables, pulses, wholegrain starchy foods and potatoes with skins on, while still keeping a watchful eye on portion size.  

Can cutting out wheat help me lose weight?

Some people point to bread and other wheat-based foods as the main culprit for their weight gain. Wheat is found in a wide range of foods, from bread, pasta and pizza, to cereals and many other foods. However, there is no evidence that wheat is more likely to cause weight gain than any other food. The point is if you consume more calories than your body needs, you will put on weight, regardless of the type of food you eat.

Unless you have a diagnosed health condition such as wheat allergy, wheat sensitivity or coeliac disease, there is little evidence that cutting out wheat and other grains from your diet would benefit your health. Grains, especially wholegrains, are an important part of a healthy balanced diet. All types of grains provide carbs, vitamins and minerals. Grains are also naturally low in fat.

Find out if cutting out bread could help ease bloating or other digestive symptoms

Should people with diabetes avoid carbs?

Diabetes UK recommends that people with diabetes should try to eat a healthy balanced diet, as depicted in the Eatwell Guide, and to include starchy foods at every meal. Steer clear of cutting out entire food groups. It is recommended that everyone with diabetes sees a registered dietitian for specific advice on their food choices. Your GP can refer you to a registered dietitian.

Diabetes UK says there is some evidence which suggests that low-carb diets can lead to weight loss and improvements in blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes in the short term. However, it is unclear whether the diet is a safe and effective way to manage type 2 diabetes in the long term. 

Weight loss from a low-carb diet may be because of a reduced intake of calories overall and not specifically as a result of eating less carbohydrate. There is also not enough evidence to support the use of low-carb diets in people with type 1 diabetes.

Douglas Twenefour, Diabetes UK clinical adviser, says: “When considering a low-carbohydrate diet as an option, people with diabetes should be made aware of possible side effects such as the risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). We also advise that people with diabetes discuss the amount of carbohydrate to be restricted with their healthcare team.

“The best way to manage diabetes is by taking prescribed medications and by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of physical activity and a balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, salt and sugar and rich in fruit and vegetables, without completely cutting out any particular food groups.”

Read Diabetes UK's review of the evidence from 1998 to 2009 on low-carb diets and their conclusions.

What’s the role of carbs in exercise?

Carbohydrates, fat and protein all provide energy, but exercising muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel. However, muscles have limited carb stores (glycogen) and they need to be topped up regularly to keep your energy up. A diet low in carbs can lead to a lack of energy during exercise, early fatigue and delayed recovery. Fat and protein are harder to turn into energy than carbs, which means you may feel low on energy during your exercise session. 

When is the best time to eat carbs?

When you should eat carbohydrates particularly for weight loss is the subject of much debate, but there's little scientific evidence that one time is better than any other. “You should have some starchy carbs in appropriate portions with most meals, choosing high-fibre varieties whenever you can,” says Sian.

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6 FAT-BURNING FOODS FOR YOUR DIET

We rely on dietary fat for our bodies to work properly. However, getting too many calories causes your body to convert excess energy into body fat. The accumulation of body fat, particularly in the abdominal region, is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer (Harvard University, 2015). The foods you eat have a strong impact on your ability to metabolize excess fat. Incorporating these fat-burning foods into your diet will keep your metabolism humming along and may reduce your risk of chronic disease.

Almonds

Almonds are an excellent source of protein, but they may also have significant fat-burning power. Eating almonds every day is associated with greater weight loss and higher fat metabolism (Glatter, 2015). Indeed, eating plenty of almonds may reduce your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, improve your lipid profile, and target fat burning in your belly area. Try to eat 1.5 ounces of almonds daily -- equivalent to a large handful of the nuts or approximately 30 to 35 almonds -- to stimulate fat burning. Almonds are high in healthy monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein. In addition to snacking on whole almonds, you can bake with almond flour or add the nuts to a salad for extra crunch.

Dairy Products

Eating plenty of dairy products can actually increase your ability to metabolize fat. A 2004 study published in Obesity Research compared a standard diet, a high-calcium diet, and a high-dairy diet to determine which was most effective in helping obese individuals lose weight (Zemel et al., 2004). The results of the study showed that a high-dairy diet was associated with significant weight and fat loss, particularly from the torso. The vitamin D and calcium in dairy products may facilitate this effect. To ensure you get enough, increase your consumption of milk, yogurt, and hard cheeses. Aiming to get three or four servings of dairy products can stimulate fat loss, while choosing nonfat dairy may reduce your caloric intake.

Green Tea

Millions of people around the world enjoy tea with their meals. Green tea is remarkably high in antioxidants, beneficial compounds that combat cellular oxidative damage. Tea is also an excellent source of a polyphenol known as epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. In animal studies, dietary supplementation with EGCG decreased fat absorption, revved up fat metabolism, and resulted in lower overall body fat (Klaus, Pultz, Thone-Reineke, & Wolfram, 2005). Drinking EGCG-rich green tea every day may help stimulate fat loss. Begin each morning with green tea, or stir matcha green tea powder into a smoothie to jumpstart your metabolism. Then, enjoy two or three additional servings of green tea everyday for fat-burning success.

Eggs

Eggs are a fantastic source of protein, containing all of the essential amino acids your body needs to maintain its health. Not only do eggs contain plenty of protein, but they also have fewer than 80 calories apiece, helping your body burn excess fat. Eggs also contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals that keep your body working well. In a clinical study, eating two eggs for breakfast each day was shown to reduce body weight as well as body fat (Vander Wal, Gupta, Khosla, and Dhurandhar, 2008). Importantly, the protein in egg prevents you from experiencing food cravings that can result in excessive caloric intake.

Hot Peppers

That fiery sensation you get when you bite into a hot pepper? That is the work of a compound known as capsaicin. Consuming capsaicin revs up your metabolism and is associated with greater fat-burning power. For example, rats on a high-fat diet who are given capsaicin have greater activity of enzymes that metabolize fats (Kawada, Hagihara, & Iwai, 1986). Capsaicin may even be able to regulate your body’s longer-term control over metabolism, turning on and off certain genes that affect fat burning. In general, the hotter the pepper, the greater the amount of capsaicin it contains.

Fatty Fish

It may seem a bit counterintuitive to eat fatty foods to burn body fat, but it all depends on the types of fat you eat. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, or sardines, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In particular, these fish contain DHA and EPA, two types of omega-3 fatty acids with excellent fat-burning powers. To ensure you get enough of these beneficial nutrients, aim to eat at least two or three servings of fatty fish per day. Taking fish oil pills is another good way to get these beneficial fatty acids into your diet.

FAT-BURNING RECIPES

The following recipes include one or more of the foods listed above along with other wholesome ingredients to help you burn fat as part of a balanced diet.

Matcha Green Tea Smoothie {gluten-free, vegan}

Matcha Green Tea Smoothie Recipe {gluten-free, vegan}

This smoothie combines matcha green tea powder, almond milk and almond flour into a delectable drink that is surprisingly wholesome. The recipe also includes flaxseed meal, which provides a source of ALA, a type of essential omega-3 fatty acids, to help encourage weight loss.
Ingredients: Almond milk, matcha green tea powder, hemp protein powder, almond flour, dried mulberries, pitted dates, flaxseed meal, ice cubes, stevia powder.
Total Time: 5 minutes | Yield: 4 smoothies

Kale Quinoa Salad

Kale Quinoa Salad Recipe

This scrumptious salad is a simple blend of superfoods quinoa and kale, along with some red cabbage, carrots, and fresh dill. Seasoned with olive oil, the salad is coated with a source of omega-3 fatty acids and is meant to be accompanied by a hearty egg.
Ingredients: Quinoa, fresh baby kale, purple cabbage, carrots, fresh dill, boiled eggs, rice wine, extra virgin olive oil, black pepper.
Total Time: 25 minutes | Yield: 8 210-gram servings

Banana Bread {gluten-free}

Banana Bread Recipe {gluten-free}

Banana bread is a superb snack to enjoy between meals with a rich flavor that you’re sure to love. This variety is gluten-free to accommodate those with dietary restrictions and includes eggs, almond milk, and walnuts. Walnuts are rich in ALA to support a healthy metabolism.
Ingredients: Overripe bananas, eggs, coconut oil, applesauce, almond milk, honey, vanilla extract, brown rice flour, coconut flour, walnuts, gluten-free rolled oats, baking soda, baking powder.
Total Time: 1 hour | Yield: 12 80-gram servings

 

Farro Vegetable Salad

Farro Vegetable Salad Recipe

This tasty blend of wholesome ingredients includes both feta cheese and olive oil to supply a source of dairy and the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Not only do these ingredients facilitate the metabolism of fat, but they also contribute to the dish’s delicious savor.
Ingredients: Organic farro, sun dried tomatoes, frozen corn (thawed), scallions, black olives, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, salt, fresh dill, fresh mint, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar.
Total Time: 1 hour | Yield: 6 254-gram servings

Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding

Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding Recipe

A healthy way to start your day, this palatable pumpkin pudding includes dairy, in the form of your choice of milk, as well as both almonds and chia seeds. Chia seeds supply a source of ALA and contribute to the crunch of this pudding’s nutty toppings!
Ingredients: Milk, pumpkin puree, chia seeds, maple syrup, pumpkin spice, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, fresh blueberries.
Total Time: 10 minutes | Yield: 4 188-gram servings

Chocolate Banana Coconut Flour Muffins {gluten-free}

Chocolate Banana Coconut Flour Muffins Recipe {gluten-free}

This dessert is made with both eggs and Greek yogurt to combine the benefits of these fat-burning foods into a superbly sweet treat. The savors of a decadent dark chocolate and a sugary banana create a delectable blend of flavors for the perfect after-dinner delight.
Ingredients: Coconut flour, Greek yogurt, eggs, bananas, unrefined sugar, dark chocolate, baking soda, vanliia extract
Total Time: 30 minutes | Yield: 12 muffins

References

Glatter, R. (2015). Almonds can reduce belly fat, study finds. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2015/01/11/almonds-can-reduce-belly-fat-study-finds/#23b16802244b

Harvard University (2015). Abdominal fat and what to do about it. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it

Kawada, T., Hagihara, K, & Iwai, K. (1986). Effects of capsaicin on lipid metabolism in rats fed a high-fat diet. The Journal of Nutrition, 1272-78.

Klaus, S., Pultz, S., Thone-Reineke, C., & Wolfram, S. (2005). Epigallocatechin gallate attenuates diet-induced obesity in mice by decreasing energy absorption and increasing fat oxidation. International Journal of Obesity, 29, 615-623.

Vander Wal, J.S., Gupta, A., Khosla, P., & Dhurandhar, N.V. (2008). Egg breakfast enhances weight loss. International Journal of Obesity, 32, 1545-1551.

Zemel, M.B., Thompson, W., Milstead, A., Morris, K., & Campbell, P. (2004). Calcium and dairy acceleration of weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese results. Obesity Research, 12(4), 582-590.

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Fibre is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. It can help prevent heart disease,diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and can also improve digestive health.

However, many people don't get enough fibre. On average, most people in the UK get about 18g of fibre a day. You should aim for at least 30g a day.

For children it is recommended the average amount of dietary fibre per day should be:

  • 2-5-year-olds: about 15g
  • 5-11-year-olds: about 20g
  • 11-16-year-olds: about 25g
  • 16-18-year-olds: about 30g

Fibre is only found in foods that come from plants. Foods such as meat, fish and dairy products don't contain any fibre.

There are two different types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Each type of fibre helps your body in different ways, so a normal healthy diet should include both types. Eating wholegrain cereals and plenty of fruit and vegetables helps to ensure both adults and children are eating enough fibre.

However, if you have a digestive disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may need to modify the type and amount of fibre in your diet in accordance with your symptoms. Your GP or a dietitian can advise you further about this.

Soluble fibre

Soluble fibre dissolves in the water in your digestive system. It may help to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. If you have constipation, gradually increasing sources of soluble fibre – such as fruit and vegetables, oats and golden linseeds – can help soften your stools and make them easier to pass.

Foods that contain soluble fibre include:

  • oats, barley and rye
  • fruit, such as bananas and apples
  • root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes
  • golden linseeds

Insoluble fibre

Insoluble fibre doesn't dissolve in water. It passes through your gut without being broken down and helps other foods move through your digestive system more easily. Insoluble fibre keeps your bowels healthy and helps prevent digestive problems. If you have diarrhoea, you should limit the amount of insoluble fibre in your diet.

Good sources of insoluble fibre include:

  • wholemeal bread
  • bran
  • cereals
  • nuts and seeds (except golden linseeds)

Eating foods high in fibre will help you feel fuller for longer. This may help if you are trying to lose weight. See the weight loss guide for more.

If you need to increase your fibre intake, it's important that you do so gradually. A sudden increase may make you produce more wind (flatulence), leave you feeling bloated, and cause stomach cramps.

It's also important to make sure you drink plenty of fluid. You should drink approximately 1.2 litres (six to eight glasses) of fluid a day, or more while exercising or when it's hot.

Further information: 

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10 of the most hydrating foods

Staying hydrated isn't just about drinking water and non-alcoholic drinks - 20% of our fluid comes from food. Discover 10 of the best to boost your intake.


Watermelon and cucumber smoothie

Cucumber and watermelon are two of the most hydrating foods.


According to the British Nutrition Foundation, we get about 20% of our total fluid intake from the food in our diet.

The NHS Eatwell Guide recommends a daily intake of six to eight glasses of fluid to maintain optimum hydration levels, but eating the right foods can make all the difference to how thirsty and parched you feel, especially on hot summer days.

While foods that are overly high in protein, insoluble fibre or salt and diuretic foods like asparagus can have the opposite effect, reducing bio-available H20 in the body, these 10 water-packed wonders boost the body's hydration levels and can even help replenish lost electrolytes.

Signs of dehydration and strategies to stay hydrated

1. Watermelons

Research from the University of Aberdeen shows that certain relatively low fibre, water-packed fruits and veggies may hydrate the body twice as effectively as water. The study identified watermelon as the superstar hydrating fruit. Watermelons contain a staggering 92% water, along with 8% sugar and a variety of mineral salts that are essential for optimum hydration, including sodium, magnesium and potassium.

10 foods that can help protect against sun - including watermelon

2. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are packed with even more H20 than watermelons, boasting a water content of 96%. Ideal post-workout or if you're nursing a hangover, munching on cucumber can, according to the University of Aberdeen study, deliver the same hydration levels as twice the volume of water, thanks to the salad veggie's mineral salts and sugars, which mimic the body's natural electrolyte balance. Peeling the fibrous skin will further boost the cucumber's hydrating effects.

10 wrinkle-busting foods - including cucumber

3. Bananas

The classic healthy post-workout snack, bananas are packed with potassium, one of the most important electrolytes. Dehydration can cause an imbalance of electrolytes in the body, so eating potassium-rich foods when you're feeling parched should help stave off the symptoms. Bananas also contain 74% water, another good reason to eat the fruit after exercise.

Banana breakfast smoothie

4. Strawberries

Strawberries have the highest water content of all the berries, a whopping 92% in fact, making them a tasty hydrating food.

Serving them the traditional way with cream will of course up the liquid content, and blending your strawberries will help break down the fibre, increasing your body's absorption of the fruit's water content.

Browse our strawberry recipes

5. Milk

Yes, it's not a food as such but drinking milk may actually be better at hydrating the body than water or sports drinks. Who knew?

A 2011 study from McMaster University in the Canada found that milk is more effective than the usual rehydration drinks, thanks to its combo of high quality high quality protein, carbs, calcium and electrolytes.

6. Spinach

When it comes to staying hydrated, maintaining a balance of mineral salts is of course just as important as absorbing enough water from food and drink. Spinach is the richest dietary source weight for weight of magnesium, an essential electrolyte like potassium and sodium. Along with its 92% water content, this makes it a very useful hydrating food.

Browse our spinach recipes

7. Iceberg lettuce

It may not pack as much nutrition punch as dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale, but crunchy iceberg lettuce beats its more virtuous cousins in the water content stakes. The pale salad green is almost all water – it contains an incredible 96% H20. Although the fibre content may undo some of its hydrating magic, eating a bowl of iceberg lettuce should help replenish your body's hydration levels as well as a similar quantity of water.

Work iceberg lettuce into a recipe – BBQ chimichurri kebabs

8. Radishes

Another tasty H20-packed food you can snack on to prevent dehydration, radishes are comprised of 95% water, almost as much as iceberg lettuce. The radish is considered a cooling food in folk medicine and many people swear by its heat-dissipating properties. For maximum hydrating effects, peel the radish to remove some of the fibre.

Radish and pea salad

9. Tomatoes

There's a good reason tomatoes are a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet – as well as being wonderfully nutritious, they can help the body stay nice and hydrated. Tomatoes contain up to 94% water. Again, peeling the fibrous skin will help boost the tomato's hydrating powers. Blanching in boiling water, then placing the tomato in ice-cold water should help the skin come off easily.

Visit our tomato hub for delicious recipes

10. Soup

It's stating the obvious we know, but chowing down on soup is a fantastic way to increase hydration levels in the body. Stick to veggie soups or light bone broths, and go easy on the salt.

Blending veggies breaks down the plants' tough cellular walls, allowing the nutrients as well as the water content to be absorbed by the body more readily.

Soup and stew recipes

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Iron is an essential mineral, with several important roles in the body.

For example, it helps to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.

A lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia.

Good sources of iron

Good sources of iron include:

  • liver
  • meat
  • beans
  • nuts
  • dried fruit – such as dried apricots
  • wholegrains – such as brown rice
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • soybean flour
  • most dark-green leafy vegetables – such as watercress and curly kale

Although liver is a good source of iron, don't eat it if you are pregnant. This is because it is also rich in vitamin A which, in large amounts, can harm your unborn baby.

How much iron do I need?

The amount of iron you need is:

  • 8.7mg a day for men
  • 14.8mg a day for women

You should be able to get all the iron you need from your daily diet.

Women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly period (heavy periods) are at higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia and may need to take iron supplements. Speak to your GP or a registered dietitian for more advice.

What happens if I take too much iron?

The side effects of taking high doses (over 20mg) of iron include:

Very high doses of iron can be fatal, particularly if taken by children, so always keep iron supplements out of the reach of children.

What does the Department of Health advise?

Most people should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take iron supplements, don't take too much, because this could be harmful.

Taking 17mg or less a day of iron supplements is unlikely to cause any harm. However, continue taking a higher dose if advised to by your GP.

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Very low calorie diets

If you’re trying to lose weight, eating healthily and being physically active are the key. In a few cases, though, a very low calorie diet (VLCD) could be the right choice. But these should only be followed for a limited time, so talk to your GP before you start. They can help to support you.

Achieving a healthy weight is all about striking the right balance between the energy that you put into your body, and the energy that you use.

To lose weight, you have to use more energy than you consume in food and drinks throughout the day.

You can do this by making healthy changes to your eating habits, and building more physical activity into your daily life. In many cases, this will be enough to achieve a healthy weight.

You can learn more about changing your diet in Healthy eating, and get advice on becoming more active in Fitness.

However, if you have made these changes already and the weight loss you’ve experienced has not resulted in a healthy weight, you may benefit from a very low calorie diet.

VLCDs are not available on prescription from the NHS, but are offered by a range of private organisations in England, at a cost. The proven benefits are short-lived; there is limited evidence of long-term benefit.

Before you begin a VLCD, make sure that it is the right choice for you. It’s also important that the diet you choose is safe, and that you follow it properly. That means talking to your GP for more advice.

What is a VLCD?

A very low calorie diet is any diet that involves eating 800 calories a day or fewer. It should only be undertaken for 12 continuous weeks, or intermittently – for example, every two or three days – along with a low calorie or normal diet.

The recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 for women, and 2,500 for men. This means that VLCDs contain far fewer calories than most people need to be able to maintain a stable, healthy weight. For that reason, eating a very low calorie diet can cause more rapid weight loss than a conventional weight loss programme.

It’s important that VLCDs are only used by people who need them and that the diet is safe and followed properly. Cutting calories significantly can cause health problems such as gallstones, heart problems, and other issues associated with not getting the nutrition you need, such as tiredness and anaemia. A proper VLCD will ensure that you continue to get all the nutrients you need, and is typically followed under supervision, so that action can be taken if health problems occur.

In England, a range of private organisations sell very low calorie diet plans. During a typical VLCD the person undertaking the diet will stop eating all normal foods, and replace them with special drinks, soups, bars or porridge containing milk- , soy- or egg-based protein. The replacement foods are designed to contain all the nutrients that we need, while providing 800 calories a day or fewer.

The person undertaking the diet will also meet regularly with a trained member of staff from the organisation – usually called a counsellor or consultant – who will monitor their progress.

Who should use a VLCD?

VLCDs are only suitable for people who are very overweight (obese), and have remained very overweight despite making healthy changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Most people who want to lose weight do not need to eat a very low calorie diet.

However, it may be right for you if all three of the following statements apply to you:

  • You have already made healthy changes to your diet and level of physical activity.
  • You are still very overweight (your BMI is 30 or over).
  • You are no longer losing weight.

VLCDs are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, and they are not suitable for children. Find out more about healthy eating in pregnancy.

How to use a VLCD

If you think a VLCD may be right for you, the first step is to talk to your GP. They can provide advice on whether a VLCD will help: they may measure your BMI and talk to you about other steps you’ve taken to lose weight. VLCDs are not suitable for people with certain health conditions, such as eating disorders and epilepsy, and your GP can also talk to you about this.

If your GP agrees that a VLCD is a good idea, the next step is to find a good provider of a VLCD. Your GP may be able to help with this, too.

At your first session, a counsellor from the VLCD organisation will talk to you about how the diet works, the weight loss you can expect and the side effects that may occur while you are on the diet. These are usually minor, and can include fatigue, diarrhoea, constipation and nausea.

Typically, you’ll be asked to keep a record of your weight loss and any side effects.

Your counsellor will refer you to a GP if you encounter any health problems during the diet.

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Did you ever notice how TV commercials for breakfast cereal always mention vitamins and minerals? But when you think of minerals, food isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Aren't minerals something you find in the earth, like iron and quartz?

Well, yes, but small amounts of some minerals are also in foods — for instance, red meat, such as beef, is a good source of iron.

Just like vitamins, minerals help your body grow, develop, and stay healthy. The body uses minerals to perform many different functions — from building strong bones to transmitting nerve impulses. Some minerals are even used to make hormones or maintain a normal heartbeat.

Macro and Trace

The two kinds of minerals are: macrominerals and trace minerals. Macro means "large" in Greek (and your body needs larger amounts of macrominerals than trace minerals). The macromineral group is made up of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur.

A trace of something means that there is only a little of it. So even though your body needs trace minerals, it needs just a tiny bit of each one. Trace minerals includes iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium.

Let's take a closer look at some of the minerals you get from food.

Calcium

Calcium is the top macromineral when it comes to your bones. This mineral helps build strong bones, so you can do everything from standing up straight to scoring that winning goal. It also helps build strong, healthy teeth, for chomping on tasty food.

Which foods are rich in calcium?

  • dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • canned salmon and sardines with bones
  • leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli
  • calcium-fortified foods — from orange juice to cereals and crackers

Iron

The body needs iron to transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Your entire body needs oxygen to stay healthy and alive. Iron helps because it's important in the formation of hemoglobin (say: HEE-muh-glo-bun), which is the part of your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.

Which foods are rich in iron?

  • meat, especially red meat, such as beef
  • tuna and salmon
  • eggs
  • beans
  • baked potato with skins
  • dried fruits, like raisins
  • leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli
  • whole and enriched grains, like wheat or oats

Potassium

Potassium (say: puh-TAH-see-um) keeps your muscles and nervous system working properly.

Which foods are rich in potassium?

  • bananas
  • tomatoes
  • potatoes and sweet potatoes, with skins
  • green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
  • citrus fruits, like oranges
  • low-fat milk and yogurt
  • legumes, such as beans, split peas, and lentils

Zinc

Zinc helps your immune system, which is your body's system for fighting off illnesses and infections. It also helps with cell growth and helps heal wounds, such as cuts.

Which foods are rich in zinc?

  • beef, pork, and dark meat chicken
  • nuts, such as cashews, almonds, and peanuts
  • legumes, such as beans, split peas, and lentils

When people don't get enough of these important minerals, they can have health problems. For instance, too little calcium — especially when you're a kid — can lead to weaker bones. Some kids may take mineral supplements, but most kids don't need them if they eat a nutritious diet. So eat those minerals and stay healthy!

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What foods are in the Protein Foods Group?
 

All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group. Beans and peas are also part of the Vegetable Group. For more information on beans and peas, see Beans and Peas Are Unique Foods.
Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. Young children need less, depending on their age and calorie needs. The advice to consume seafood does not apply to vegetarians. Vegetarian options in the Protein Foods Group include beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat.

How much food from the Protein Foods Group is needed daily?
 

The amount of food from the Protein Foods Group you need to eat depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods. Recommended daily amounts are shown in the table below.

Note: Click on the top row to expand the table. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to turn your phone to see the full table.
DAILY PROTEIN FOODS TABLE
DAILY RECOMMENDATION*
Children 2-3 years old
4-8 years old
2 ounce equivalents
4 ounce equivalents
Girls 9-13 years old
14-18 years old
5 ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
Boys 9-13 years old
14-18 years old
5 ounce equivalents
6 ½ ounce equivalents
Women 19-30 years old
31-50 years old
51+ years old
5 ½ ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
Men
19-30 years old
31-50 years old
51+ years old
6 ½ ounce equivalents
6 ounce equivalents
5 ½ ounce equivalents
*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.

 

What counts as an ounce-equivalent in the Protein Foods Group?

In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce-equivalent from the Protein Foods Group.
This table below lists specific amounts that count as 1 ounce-equivalent in the Protein Foods Group towards your daily recommended intake.

Note: Click on the top row to expand the table. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to turn your phone to see the full table.
OUNCE-EQUIVALENT OF PROTEIN FOODS TABLE
AMOUNT THAT COUNTS AS 1 OUNCE-EQUIVALENT IN THE PROTEIN FOODS GROUP COMMON PORTIONS AND OUNCE-EQUIVALENTS
Meats

1 ounce cooked lean beef

1 ounce cooked lean pork or ham

1 small steak (eye of round, filet) = 3 ½ to 4 ounce-equivalents

1 small lean hamburger = 2 to 3 ounce-equivalents

Poultry

1 ounce cooked chicken or turkey, without skin

1 sandwich slice of turkey (4 ½" x 2 ½" x 1/8")

1 small chicken breast half = 3 ounce-equivalents

½ Cornish game hen = 4 ounce-equivalents

Seafood 1 ounce cooked fish or shell fish 1 can of tuna, drained = 3 to 4 ounce-equivalents
1 salmon steak = 4 to 6 ounce-equivalents
1 small trout = 3 ounce-equivalents
Eggs 1 egg

3 egg whites = 2 ounce-equivalents
3 egg yolks = 1 ounce-equivalent

Nuts and seeds ½ ounce of nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves)
½ ounce of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, or squash seeds, hulled, roasted)
1 Tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter
1 ounce of nuts of seeds = 2 ounce-equivalents
Beans and peas

¼ cup of cooked beans (such as black, kidney, pinto, or white beans)

¼ cup of cooked peas (such as chickpeas, cowpeas, lentils, or split peas)
¼ cup of baked beans, refried beans

¼ cup (about 2 ounces) of tofu
1 ox. tempeh, cooked
¼ cup roasted soybeans 1 falafel patty (2 ¼", 4 oz)
2 Tablespoons hummus


1 cup split pea soup = 2 ounce-equivalents
1 cup lentil soup = 2 ounce-equivalents
1 cup bean soup = 2 ounce-equivalents


1 soy or bean burger patty = 2 ounce-equivalents
 


Selection Tips

  • Choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry. If higher fat choices are made, such as regular ground beef (75-80% lean) or chicken with skin, the fat counts against your limit for calories from saturated fats.
  • If solid fat is added in cooking, such as frying chicken in shortening or frying eggs in butter or stick margarine, this also counts against your limit for calories from saturated fats.
  • Select some seafood that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, herring, Pacific oysters, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.
  • Processed meats such as ham, sausage, frankfurters, and luncheon or deli meats have added sodium. Check the Nutrition Facts label to help limit sodium intake. Fresh chicken, turkey, and pork that have been enhanced with a salt-containing solution also have added sodium. Check the product label for statements such as “self-basting” or “contains up to __% of __”, which mean that a sodium-containing solution has been added to the product.
  • Choose unsalted nuts and seeds to keep sodium intake low.

» Read more

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What are vitamins?

There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are found mainly in fatty foods and animal products, such as vegetable oils, milk and dairy foods, eggs, liver, oily fish and butter.

While your body needs these vitamins every day to work properly, you don't need to eat foods containing them every day.

This is because your body stores these vitamins in your liver and fatty tissues for future use. These stores can build up so they are there when you need them. However, if you have much more than you need, fat-soluble vitamins can be harmful.

Fat-soluble vitamins are:

Water-soluble vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body, so you need to have them more frequently.

If you have more than you need, your body gets rid of the extra vitamins when you urinate. As the body does not store water-soluble vitamins, these vitamins are generally not harmful. However, this doesn't mean that all large amounts are necessarily harmless.

Water-soluble vitamins are found in a wide range of foods, including fruit, vegetables, potatoes, grains, milk and dairy foods. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they can be destroyed by heat or being exposed to the air. They can also be lost in water used for cooking.

This means that by cooking foods, especially boiling them, we lose some of these vitamins. The best way to keep as many of the water-soluble vitamins as possible is to steam or grill foods, rather than boil them, or to use the cooking water in soups or stews rather than pouring it away.

Water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C, the B vitamins and folic acid.

There are also many other types of vitamins and minerals that are an important part of a healthy diet.

» Read more

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Unfold Close  HEALTHY EATING

1. Base your meals on starchy foods: bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, noodles

  • Choose whole grains and potatoes with skin where possible which havemore fibre, vitamins and minerals.
  • Remember starchy foods contain fewer than half the calories of fats per gram

2. Eat lots of fruit and veg

  • Choose a variety of fruit and vegetables as they contain different combinations of vitamins and minerals.
  • Fresh, frozen, tinned and 100% fruit juices all count!
  • Try grating vegetables like carrots and courgettes into bolognaise or add lots of vegetables to homemade tomato sauce and blend.

3. Eat more fish - aim for at least two portions per week and one of these should be oily

  • Remember that one portion of fish is approximately 140g cooked weight.
  • Oily fish are one of the only natural food sources of vitamin D, important for bone health. Oily fish includes salmon, fresh tuna, sardines, mackerel and trout.
  • Choose from fresh, frozen, smoked and canned, but remember that smoked fish contains salt, and canned can do, so check labels and pick lower salt varieties.

4. Cut down on saturated fat and sugar

  • Although we need some fat in our diet (to provide the essential fatty acids and aid the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K), too much fat may lead to weight gain, as fat provides 9 calories per gram, more than double that from carbohydrates and protein.
  • Replace saturated fats from butter, lard, pastries, cream, pies and cheese (which can increase your blood cholesterol levels) with unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocados.
  • Too much sugar, especially between meals can increase risk of tooth decay and will add extra calories so limit your added sugar intake! If you get a sweet craving try having fruit instead, helping you to achieve your 5-a-day!

5. Eat less salt, adults should eat no more than 6 g per day and children should have even less

  • A high salt intake is associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure which puts you at a greater risk of developing stroke or heart disease.
  • Most of our salt intake comes from processed foods rather than salt added during cooking or at the table, so always check food labels for the salt content!
  • When comparing foods, a high salt content is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium). Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium).
  • Try using extra herbs, spices, citrus juices (lemon and lime), mustard or vinegar to flavour foods so you can use less salt in your recipes.

6. Get active and be a healthy weight!

  • The government recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes vigorous intensity physical activity for adults 19-64 years of age and muscle strength training on at least two days per week.
  • What counts? Moderate intensity activities include cycling or brisk walking. High or vigorous intensity activities include swimming and running. Muscle strengthening activities include weight lifting, exercises with weights or carrying heavy boxes or groceries.

Did you know….? Over 60% of adults in the UK are overweight or obese which increases the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Physical activity can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke and help maintain a healthy weight.

7. Don’t get thirsty

  • Aim for 8-10 glasses of fluid per day. Water is the best choice as it hydrates you without adding any extra calories to your daily intake.
  • Most types of drink count including water, tea, coffee, soft drinks, milk, fruit juice and smoothies, but try to avoid added sugar in your drinks as this can increase risk of dental decay.
  • Alcohol does not count because it makes you pass urine more frequently and contributes to dehydration rather than hydration!

8. Don’t skip breakfast

  • A healthy breakfast can provide fibre, calories, vitamins and minerals important for health. Choose wholegrain cereals, porridge or wholemeal toast with fruit for a healthy start to the day.

BNF have developed a resource that can be downloaded, see attachment below.

Based on the eatwell plate and the Department of Health’s 8 tips for healthy eating

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk

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What is a healthy diet?

Apart from breastmilk as a food for babies, no single food contains all the essential nutrients the body needs to be healthy and function efficiently. The nutritional value of a person's diet depends on the overall balance of foods that is eaten over a period of time, as well as on the needs of the individual. A healthy diet is likely to include a variety of foods, from each of the main food groups, as this allows us to get all the nutrients that we need.

A healthy diet should provide us with the right amount of energy (calories or kilojoules), from foods and drinks to maintain energy balance. Energy balance is where the calories taken in from the diet are equal to the calories used by the body. We need energy to carry out everyday tasks such as walking and moving about but also for all the functions of the body we may not even think about. Processes like breathing, pumping blood around the body and thinking also require energy.

So, foods and drinks provide the energy we need to go about our daily lives but consuming more energy than we need over a period of time will cause weight gain. In the UK, over 60% of adults are overweight or obese and there is concern about the number of children who are overweight. Being overweight increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and some cancers in adulthood, and so maintaining a healthy weight is important for health.

The eatwell plate shows how foods can be classified into five groups shown as wedges of different size. These illustrate the proportions in which we should eat foods from these groups to provide a healthy diet that supplies all the nutrients our bodies need to work efficiently. You will notice that the foods in the two largest groups are all derived from plants.

Each of the groups provides a different range of essential nutrients, emphasising the importance of a varied diet. No single food or even a single food group can provide everything we need. Also, missing out a whole food group from the main four can make it more difficult to achieve a balanced diet. Except for some people under medical supervision, no foods need to be excluded altogether. But as is explained below, some foods are best considered as treats and eaten only in small amounts or infrequently.

The global population is increasing, which puts pressure on valuable resources, including food and water. In turn, food production, along with other aspects of modern living such as cars, results in greenhouse gas emissions that influence climate change. So, to ensure that there is enough food for future generations, it is important to consider the ‘sustainability’ of the diets we eat as well as whether or not the overall diet is healthy. By ‘sustainable’ we mean that the impact the production of the food has on the environment is limited. The type of diet illustrated by the eatwell plate, which includes lots of plant-based foods, has been suggested to be relatively sustainable, especially if the fruits and vegetables consumed are those that are in season.

The eatwell plate

The key to a healthy diet is moderation and balance. The eatwell plate is a guide to the proportion of foods we should eat from each food group and some of the groups are larger than others. Most of what we eat should come from ingredients shown in the two biggest food groups - starchy foods, fruit and vegetables. The meat, fish, eggs, beans group and the milk and dairy products group are smaller, illustrating that quantities from these groups should be less. Only occasional or limited intakes of foods high in fat and/or sugar is signalled by this being the smallest section. It is not necessary to follow the model rigidly at every single meal; instead aim to get the balance between the different food groups right; over the course of a day or even a week.

It is important that we try to stick to the proportions of the eatwell plate and in particular avoid overeating foods high in fat, sugar or salt, as this may be detrimental to our health. However, all foods and drinks can be part of a healthy diet, so we don’t have to give up foods that we really enjoy, unless advised by a doctor or dietitian.

Even within a single group, different foods provide a different selection of nutrients, so variety is important to ensure we get the many nutrients we need to be healthy. Choose a variety of different foods from the first four groups in the list each day, including plenty of fruits, vegetables and starchy foods. Also include some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish and lentils and some milk and dairy foods.

We know from large national surveys that many of us in the UK need to increase our fibre, oily fish, fruit and vegetable intakes and reduce intakes of saturated fat, salt and sugar. The UK government advises that we eat two portions of fish (one portion = 140 g cooked weight) every week, and at least one of these should be an oily type, such as mackerel, herring, kippers, trout, salmon, or sardines. Non-oily types of fish include cod, haddock, coley, pollock, hake, plaice, seabass and seabream. Despite the 5-A-DAY campaign, the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey, which looks at dietary patterns and nutritional status of the UK population, highlighted that on average, adults between 19 and 64 years of age consume a total of 4.1 portions of fruit and vegetables each day and only 31% of adults met the 5-A-DAY recommendation.

Should I use the eatwell plate?

For most people, eating a healthy, varied diet will provide all of the nutrients we need to stay healthy. However, at some stages in our lives we may need to take supplements to make sure we get enough of a particular vitamin or mineral. For example, pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant are advised to take a folic acid supplement (400 µg each day) to help prevent neural tube defects in the baby (such as spina bifida). Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, under 5 or over 65 years of age, housebound or do not expose any of their skin to the sun are advised to take a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 µg. For more information on healthy eating in pregnancy, please see our Nutrition for Baby section.

  • The eatwell plate is appropriate for most healthy people over two years of age including: vegetarians; people of all ethnic origins; people who are a healthy weight for their height as well as those who are overweight; and pregnant women.
  • Children between the ages of two and five years can make a gradual transition towards the type of diet shown in the eatwell plate.
  • People under medical supervision or with special dietary requirements may want to check with their doctor if this general description of healthy eating applies to them.

BNF have developed a resource that can be downloaded, see attachment below.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk

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Health Benefits of Fruit

Health Benefits of FruitFruit has been recognized as a good source of vitamins and minerals, and for their role in preventing vitamin C and vitamin A deficiencies. People who eat fruit as part of an overall healthy diet generally have a reduced risk of chronic diseases. USDA's MyPlate encourages making half your plate fruits and vegetables for healthy eating.

Fruit are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, fiber, vitamin C and folate (folic acid). Try incorporating blueberries,citrus fruitcranberries or strawberries which contain phytochemicals that are being studied for added health benefits. 

Eating Fruit Provides Health Benefits

The nutrients in fruit are vital for health and maintenance of your body. The potassium in fruit can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Potassium may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss as you age.

Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy need adequate folate. Folate helps prevent neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida.

More Health Benefits of Fruit:

  • Eating a diet rich in fruit may reduce risk for stroke, other cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes.
  • A fruit containing eating pattern is part of an overall healthy diet and may protect against certain cancers.
  • Fruit helps maintain optimum health due to the health promoting phytochemicals it contains – many of which are still being identified.
  • One to 2-1/2 cups of fruit are recommended each day, depending on how many calories you need. To find out how much fruit you need, try the Healthy Eating Planner.

References:

1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate.gov Website. Washington DC. Why is it Important to Eat Fruit? http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/fruits-why.html. Accessed March 8, 2015. 

2. Benzie IF, Choi SW. Antioxidants in food: content, measurement, significance, action, cautions, caveats, and research needs. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2014;71:1-5

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Most of us should eat more foods from this group!

  • Starchy foods are an important source of calories in our diet. Although it's often suggested that starchy foods are fattening, each gram of carbohydrate provides less than half as many calories as a gram of fat.
  • Approximately one third of our total daily food intake should be from these foods.
  • Try to include them at every meal by basing your meals on starchy foods such as potatoes, breads, pasta, rice, noodles or cereals (more examples below).
  • Choose high fibre or wholegrain varieties as much as possible as these usually contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals than refined versions. Why not try a baked potato with skin on, wholegrain breakfast cereal, wholemeal bread, wholewheat couscous or try wholewheat spaghetti with your bolognese?

why eat starchy

What counts?

  • Rice, pasta, noodles, couscous, bulgur wheat, millet, sorghum, quinoa, cornmeal, oats, barley and rye
  • Bread and bread products including rolls, pitta, focaccia, chapatis, bagels, baguette, ciabatta, pizza base, roti and tortillas
  • Potatoes and potato products (including baked, boiled and mashed potatoes, oven chips and potato gnocchi).
  • Yams, cassava and plantain
  • But, other root vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips count as vegetables

Starchy foods and fibre

Starchy foods, especially wholegrains, and potatoes with the skins on provide fibre. There are two types of fibre:

  • Partially fermentable (insoluble) fibre which passes through the gut intact and helps to increase stool bulk (wholegrains and potatoes with skin are a good source).
  • Completely fermentable (soluble) fibre which is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine and may help to lower blood cholesterol (found in oats for example).

Data from the NDNS Survey, which looks at food consumption patterns in the UK, has highlighted that we need to eat more fibre. It is recommended we eat 18 g of dietary fibre each day. On average, in the UK, adults consume only 12.8g (women) to 14.7g (men) per day. Some suggested ways to increase our intakes of starchy foods are listed below.

Increasing your intake of starchy foods

  • Try to base each of your meals on starchy foods and where possible choose wholegrains.
  • For breakfast why not try a wholegrain breakfast cereal, porridge, wholemeal toast, or pancakes.
  • For lunch, try sandwiches, pasta or rice salads, soup and a roll, or a baked potato with a low fat filling such as beans.
  • For dinner why not have your spaghetti bolognese with wholewheat pasta, or serve stir fries, stews or curries with brown rice.
  • Experiment with potatoes, - try skin on potato wedges oven-baked with spices, sprinkle chopped, fresh herbs onto boiled new potatoes or use mashed or sliced potatoes as a topping for pies instead of pastry.
  • Try recipes with different types of starchy food such as couscous, bulgur wheat, barley, rye and quinoa.

Top Tips:

  • Use nutrition labelling and the ingredients list to identify wholegrain products and those that are a ‘source of’ or ‘high in’ fibre. Look for the word ‘whole’ for example wholewheat and wholemeal. But remember, there are some wholegrain foods that may not contain the word ‘whole’ in their name, such as brown or wild rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa, oats, rye, granary bread and barley (not pearl).
  • Avoid adding too much fat when cooking starchy foods as this will significantly increase the calorie content of your meal, e.g. bake or boil potatoes instead of frying.
  • Use the nutrition label to identify breads and cereals with lower salt or sugar contents.
  • Avoid adding creamy sauces, butter and high fat ingredients to starchy foods as this can add a lot of calories. Try tomato-based sauces or chopped fresh herbs and lemon for pasta, rice or couscous as lower fat alternatives.
  • If baking your own bread, why not use wholemeal flour or rye to add more fibre and experiment with using a mixture of white and wholemeal flour for cakes or biscuits.

BNF have developed a resource that can be downloaded, see attachment below.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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Most of us should eat more foods from this group!

  • These should make up approximately one third of your total daily food intake.
  • Try to include some at every meal and also for snacks.
  • Choose a wide variety of fruits and vegetables as they all have different proportions of vitamins and minerals that help to keep us healthy.
  • Experiment with fruits and vegetables that are in season – there are lots of interesting recipes available.

What counts?

  • Fresh, frozen, tinned and dried fruit and vegetables.
  • Fruit and vegetables cooked in dishes such as soups, stews or pasta dishes, or present in ready meals and shop bought sauces, soups and puddings.
  • A glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Juice counts as a maximum of one portion a day, however much you drink, mainly because juice contains less fibre than whole fruits and vegetables.
  • Smoothies containing at least 80g of pulped fruit and/or vegetables and 150ml juice can count as up to a maximum of two portions per day.
  • Beans and pulses - these only count as one portion a day no matter how many you eat as they don't contain the same mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as fruit and vegetables. However, they do provide a low-fat source of protein as well as iron and dietary fibre, so they also count towards the ‘meat and alternatives’ group

What is a portion?

A portion of fruit or vegetables is 80g. This is around:

  • One medium sized piece of fruit such as a banana, apple, pear, orange or nectarine.
  • Two or more small fruits such as plums, satsumas, kiwi fruit or apricots.
  • A large handful of berries, cherries or grapes.
  • One heaped tablespoon of dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries or sultanas (you only need 30g of dried fruit because the portion size is based on the weight of the fresh fruit )
  • One dessert bowl of salad.
  • Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables or pulses (beans, lentils, chick peas).

Juices:

  • 150 ml glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice counts as a maximum of one portion of your 5-A-DAY.

Smoothies:

A smoothie usually counts as one portion, but some smoothies on the market can count as more than one portion if they contain:

  • 150ml of 100% fruit juice and at least 80g crushed or pulped fruit or vegetable, or
  • at least 80g of one variety of whole fruit and/or vegetable and at least 80g of another variety of whole fruit and/or vegetable

Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables: eat your 5-A-DAY!

  • Add fresh, tinned or dried fruit to your breakfast cereal, porridge or to a portion of yogurt.
  • Try replacing your usual snack with vegetable sticks like carrot, cucumber or celery.
  • Have a piece of fruit as an on-the-go snack.
  • Have a side salad with your main meal or add salad to your sandwiches. Avoid high fat dressings.
  • Add plenty of vegetables to soups, stews, curries, pasta, and rice dishes.
  • Adding beans and lentils to these types of foods is another way to add extra fibre and a range of nutrients to your diet.
  • Add extra vegetables (or fruit) to a thin based pizza - try mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes, pineapple or sweetcorn.
  • Have a side of vegetables with your main meal - peas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and cabbage are great with a roast dinner, shepherd’s pie or stew.
  • Try adding other vegetables like peas, carrots, spring onion, sweet potato or swede to your mashed potatoes.

Top Tips:

  • If someone in your family doesn’t like the texture of chopped vegetables, try grating carrots or courgettes into your food to add flavour. Or make a soup or sauce with added vegetables and blend until smooth.
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables can contain just as many nutrients as fresh. Indeed, as they are frozen rapidly after harvest, they may contain more of some vitamins than fresh vegetables that are a few days old. They could also help you reduce waste as they keep much longer and are more economical as you only have to cook what you need.
  • Try a new fruit or vegetable each week to increase variety, why not pick seasonal fruits and vegetables which are often cheaper and taste great.
  • Have a glass of orange juice with fortified cereal for breakfast – the vitamin C in orange juice can help the body absorb iron from the cereal.
  • Choose tinned fruits or vegetables in natural juice or water, with no added sugar or salt.
  • A good way to ensure you get your 5-A-DAY is to have 1 portion with breakfast, 2 with lunch and 2 with dinner. You can add even more by choosing fruit or vegetables as snacks.

» Read more


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5532 a-day - perfect portions for toddler tums!

Toddlers aged 1-3 years are growing and developing quickly and it's an important time to make sure they are eating well to get all the nutrients they need as well as getting into the habit of eating a healthy, varied diet. However, for parents and carers it can be hard to know exactly what toddlers should be eating and in what amounts. This guide is designed to help parents and carers choose a healthy, varied diet for their child.

Toddlers need a diet made up of foods from the four main food groups, in the right balance and in portion sizes just right for them

  • Starchy foods x 5-a-day
  • Fruit & vegetables x 5-a-day
  • Dairy foods x 3-a-day
  • Protein foods x 2-a-day*

=5532-a-day!

*3 portions if child is vegetarian.

Some examples of foods that are included in each group and a range of portion sizes suitable for this age group are shown below. Fluids are also important – offer 6-8 drinks per day. Water and milk are good choices and diluted fruit juice (1 part juice to 10 parts water) can be offered at mealtimes.

Food group

Example foods and toddler portion sizes

Starchy foods

½-1 slice of bread

1-2 rice cakes or oat cakes

3-5 tbsp breakfast cereal

1-3 tbsp mashed potato

2-4  tbsp cooked pasta/rice

2-4 potato wedges

½-1 scone

½-1 chapati

2-4 tbsp canned spaghetti hoops

Fruit & vegetables

½-2 tbsp raisins

¼-1 banana

3-8 grapes

½-2 tbsp peas

½-2 tbsp broccoli

¼-½ medium apple

1-3 cherry tomatoes

2-6 vegetable sticks

2-4 tbsp canned fruit

Dairy foods

1 beaker of milk (100ml)

1 pot of yogurt (125ml)

1 cheese triangle

2-4  tbsp rice pudding

1-3 tbsp cheese sauce

2 small yogurt tubes

Protein foods

2-3 tbsp chickpeas, kidney beans, dhal, lentils or beans

2-4 tbsp cooked minced meat

1-2 fish fingers

2-3 tbsp baked beans

½-1 poached, boiled or fried egg

Peanut butter on bread or toast

These foods can be offered as meals and snacks. Children’s food preferences and appetites vary from day to day so let your toddler decide how much to eat and keep offering new foods alongside familiar favourites. Fats and oils contain essential nutrients and small amounts can be included in toddlers diets. Use butter and spreads sparingly and use small amounts of oil in cooking.

You can offer small portions of sweet foods (e.g. chocolate, biscuits, cakes) or salty snack foods (e.g. crisps, corn snacks) occasionally but these shouldn’t be a regular part of a toddler’s everyday foods.

Children under 5 should have a daily supplement of vitamins A, C and D – ask your GP, health visitor or pharmacist for more information.

Our 5532 poster and leaflet are available to download below

Our 5532 guide was developed using expert opinion and recent research that has taken into account both types and portion size of foods that children eat in the UK, as well as government recommendations on nutrient intakes in this age group.

Toddlers’ appetites vary from meal to meal and day to day and their needs will depend on factors like their age and how active they are so we have provided a range.

There are currently no standard government requirements for portion sizes of the foods toddlers may eat.

There are some other guides available where the portion sizes may differ slightly as they may have been developed using different methods or for slightly different age ranges. The important thing to remember is to give your toddler a healthy varied and balanced diet from the food groups.

For more information on the sources of information used please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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Becoming pregnant as a young person can be an exciting time, but it can also be frightening and you may have concerns about money, housing, education, relationships or family.

Every mum, young or old, wants the best for their baby. But studies have shown that young women are more likely to have premature birth, a baby with a low birthweight or start pregnancy underweight when compared to older women, and these are more likely to increase risk of health complications for the baby.

Eating the right food and drink is an important part of having a healthy pregnancy to help your baby grow and develop properly. Young mums also need to look after themselves; they may still be growing too.

The diet of some young women is sometimes not as great as it could be. For example, studies have shown young women may be more likely to skip meals, choose to eat fast foods on a regular basis or have too much sugar in their diets. Some young women may also lack nutrients in their diets that are important for themselves and their growing babies, like iron and calcium.

There may be particular challenges for younger pregnant women, for example, housing issues may mean they don’t have anywhere to cook. But it’s still a good time to think about diet and make some changes that will be good for mum and baby. Even small and simple changes can make a difference!

This section has been specially written to support young pregnant women (under 20 years old), and answer some of the questions they may have.

What should I be eating more of now I’m pregnant?

Pregnancy is a great time to try and look after yourself and get lots of nutrients for you and your baby, giving him/her the best start in life. Try to eat lots of different foods every day and include something from each of the following main food groups;

  • Bread, rice, potatoes or pasta (wholegrain if possible) - try to base your meals on these; they give you the energy you and your baby need.
  • Fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, dried or canned) - try to eat 5 different fruits and vegetables a day, a small glass of fruit juice can count as one. They contain lots of vitamins and minerals for your baby’s growth and development.
  • Meat, fish, eggs and beans - try to eat a couple of these a day; they are important for your baby’s growth. Canned fish is cheap and nutritious and so are canned peas, beans and lentils like baked beans, chick peas and red kidney beans.
  • Milk and dairy foods (cheese, yogurt) or dairy-free alternatives if you are vegan - try to eat a couple of these a day; they are important for your baby’s bones.

For some healthy meal ideas and recipes, follow this link.

There are also certain foods you should avoid eating whilst pregnant. See our section on what not to eat when you are pregnant.

And don’t forget drinks…

  • Tap water is a great choice – it’s the cheapest option too!
  • Unsweetened fruit juice can be a good source of vitamin C, but high in sugar, so stick to one small glass a day with your breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Semi-skimmed milk can be enjoyed with a snack or on its own. It’s high in calcium so it‘s good for you and your baby's bones.
  • Try not to drink too many sugary drinks, like sugary fizzy drinks.

Don’t forget – energy drinks, tea and coffee contain caffeine which you shouldn’t have too much of when you are pregnant. 

Healthy Start Vouchers

For ALL pregnant women under 18, and those over 18 on benefits, Healthy Start vouchers are available. The vouchers can be spent on milk or fruit and vegetables (fresh or frozen with nothing added).

Healthy Start vitamins for pregnant women (containing folic acid and vitamins C and D) are also available.

For more information visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk 

Remember to take your supplements!

During pregnancy you also need to take the following vitamins every day:

Folate (400 µg every day, up to 12 weeks of pregnancy) – start taking this as early as possible in your pregnancy (or before you become pregnant) as it helps to reduce the risk of your baby developing spina bifida and other neural tube defects (problems with their brain and spine).

Vitamin D (10 µg every day) – this is important to help your baby grow strong bones.

You should be able to buy these from your local pharmacy. If you are under 18 or have a low family income you can apply for Healthy Start and get these vitamins for free.

I hate vegetables, do I really have to eat them?

There are loads of different vegetables you could try. They don’t all taste the same so it is worth trying a few out and seeing which ones you don’t mind eating. Some are slightly sweeter than others, such as sweetcorn, peas, red pepper, carrots and sweet potato, so maybe try these and see what you think. Rather than boiling them until they turn to mush, try cooking vegetables until they are just tender, they often taste better this way. Or, you could try eating them raw, such as carrot sticks or red pepper strips. Why not try chopping vegetables up into very small pieces and putting them in sauces or stews, like in bolognaise, as it may make it easier for you to eat them. If you prefer fruit, make sure you eat plenty of different types of fruit.

I have no time for breakfast in the morning, is it still OK to skip breakfast now I’m pregnant?

Breakfast is a great way to start the day and get some essential nutrients for you and your baby. Breakfast cereals with semi-skimmed milk are quick and easy - try to choose a breakfast cereal which is low in added sugar and salt. If you are really pushed for time, why not try a fruit smoothie, drinking yogurt or banana, which you can eat on the go. When you do have time, try porridge (made with milk), fruit or eggs for simple but delicious breakfasts.

I am not the one who does the food shopping or cooking at home. I just eat what I’m given so how can I make sure what I eat is healthy for me and my baby?

Try to let the person who is doing the shopping and cooking know what types of food are good for you and your baby. Also, if you get Healthy Start vouchers, spend them on fruits and vegetables that you can eat as a healthy snack during the day. Perhaps the person doing the shopping or cooking wouldn’t mind a helping hand, which will let you have more of a say on what you eat.

How can I eat a healthy diet on a tight budget?

If you are under 18 years old or are on benefits, you may be able to get Healthy Start vouchers. The Healthy Start vouchers can be used to buy fruit and vegetables or milk. For more information visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk.

Frozen or canned fruit (in fruit juice or water rather than syrup) or vegetables can often be cheaper than fresh. Canned fish like sardines or salmon is often cheaper than fresh too and can just be stored in the cupboard. If you can, try shopping around to see if you can find things cheaper elsewhere. Fruit and veg stalls and local butchers can sometimes be cheaper than supermarkets. For more tips on eating on a budget follow this link.

How can I eat a healthy diet when I can’t cook?

Cooking may be easier than you think. Why not see if there is a cooking class in your area to help teach you the basics or perhaps you have a relative or friend who could show you a thing or two. There are loads of recipes which are healthy, simple and quick – have a look online and see what you can find. Try some simple things first – beans or scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast, or pasta and tomato sauce. You can also choose healthy options, even if you don’t cook. Compare food labels and choose meals which include lots of vegetables and which are lower in fat, added sugar and salt. You can also eat healthy snacks without having to cook. Try some carrot sticks and houmous, low fat yogurt, crispbread with soft low fat cheese spread or a piece of fruit.

How can I eat a healthy diet when I don’t have anywhere to cook?

Eat as well as you can manage. There are lots of recipes you could try if you have access to a microwave, see what recipes you can find online. Things like jacket potato are great with lots of different toppings like grated cheese and tomato and tuna and sweetcorn or try scrambled eggs with baked beans.
You can also cook noodles or couscous with hot water from a kettle – why not add a can of mixed beans and a can of tuna to couscous for a quick and easy meal. If you are buying pre-prepared meals and takeaways, check out the answer to the next question.

I prefer eating takeaways or ready meals, are these really bad?

They don’t have to be, as long as you pick carefully. If you are buying ready meals, check the labels and see if you can find meals which have some vegetables in them and are lower in fat, saturates, sugar and salt.

Go for green! Try to look at food labels and look for things lower in fat, saturates, sugar and salt. This is sometimes colour coded on the front of the packet of food (green means it is low, red means it is high and amber is in between). Try to choose products which are mainly colour coded green or amber. For more information about looking at food labels, follow this link.

If you are buying takeaways, try to avoid foods which are fried, contain lots of pastry or have a creamy sauce. Why not add some more veg on your pizza, add some sweetcorn to boiled rice or choose a small portion of chips and add mushy peas.

For more information on eating outside of the home, follow this link.

I’m a vegetarian, do I have to start eating meat now I’m pregnant?

You can still get all the nutrients you and your baby need from a vegetarian diet but it may require a little extra thought and planning. You will need to make sure you are getting enough iron by eating things like beans, pulses, quinoa, eggs, brown bread and breakfast cereals fortified with iron (check the label). You also need to make sure you are getting enough protein by eating protein-rich foods like beans, pulses, tofu, cheese and eggs. To find some more information about vegetarian or vegan pregnancies, follow this link.

What about smoking and alcohol, are they really that bad?

Buying alcohol when you are under 18 years old is illegal. In 2016, the Department of Health updated the alcohol guidelines and advised not to drink any alcohol in pregnancy. You can still go out and have fun when you are pregnant but getting drunk is bad for your baby. Smoking is also bad for your baby, and increases their risk of being born early, not weighing enough, stillborn (born with no signs of life) or suffering sudden infant death syndrome (‘cot death’). All street drugs (like cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy) are illegal and can harm your baby. Talk to your midwife or doctor if you need help in giving up alcohol, smoking or drugs – there is support out there for you.

Can I eat loads now I’m pregnant – shall I eat for 2?

Your body is really good at adapting to pregnancy and you don’t need to eat for two. Towards the end of pregnancy, in the last trimester (last 3 months), you will require around 200 extra calories a day, which for example, you can get from a low fat yogurt and a banana. You will put on some weight during pregnancy, this is natural and important. But, if you eat too many foods high in fat and sugar and do too little exercise, you may pile on the pounds and it will be harder for you to lose this extra weight after pregnancy. For more information on managing your weight during pregnancy, follow this link.

I don’t want to put on any weight, how can I stop it?

Everyone will put on some weight whilst pregnant and it is a sign of a normal, healthy pregnancy. The weight you put on comes from a number of things, like the placenta and the baby, increases in the amount of blood you carry round your body, increases in the size of your breasts and fat stores ready for breastfeeding and the fluid surrounding your baby. These are all things that are needed to help produce a healthy baby. You will lose a lot of this extra weight when you deliver your baby. Healthy eating, exercise and breastfeeding can also help you return to the weight you were before pregnancy, and breastfeeding is a great way to give your baby the best start in life.

I’m really not good with pain. Is labour easier with a small baby?

Although mums may think that having a small baby is a good thing, it’s not. Babies that don’t weigh enough have a greater risk of health problems.

Your body still goes through the same labour pains whether your baby is small or large. Most labour pain comes from the powerful squeezing of the muscles in your womb (the contractions) and this happens at the same level, whether your baby is big or small. The position of the baby during the delivery and how relaxed you feel during the labour process are probably more likely to affect how much pain you feel, rather than the size of the baby. Having a small baby may also increase the risk of the baby having health problems when he/she is born and in later life. Eating a good diet and following a healthy lifestyle will help you to have a healthy enjoyable pregnancy and a healthy baby. There are many different options for pain-relief during labour, speak to your midwife.

Healthy eating goals - see how many you can tick off during your pregnancy!

Choosing one or two a week to focus on is great way to start!

This week I’ll…

 ΟTake my pregnancy vitamins every day

 ΟTry a new vegetable or fruit I’ve never tried before

 Ο Find a new easy recipe online and give it a go

 Ο Join a local cooking class

 Ο Eat breakfast every day

 Ο Have a piece of fruit as a snack every day

 Ο Drink a small glass of orange juice with my breakfast, lunch or dinner

 Ο Have a low fat yogurt for dessert after lunch or dinner

 Ο Choose a wholegrain version of starchy carbs like brown rice, wholemeal pasta or wholemeal bread

 Ο Swap sugary fizzy drinks for water or milk

 Ο Look at the food labels and select meals and snacks which have green (ideally) or amber colour coding for fat, sugar and salt.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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Unfold Close  HEALTHY HYDRATION

This page looks at case studies of people with different fluid requirements and ways in which they can change their daily fluid intake to help achieve healthy hydration.

Maureen is in her 70s, is in relatively good health and living at home alone. She tends to have drinks with her meals, but doesn’t feel particularly thirsty between meals.

What Maureen drinks

Breakfast                                

  • Mug of tea with whole milk (21kcal)

Lunch

  • Glass of water (0kcal)
  • Mug of instant coffee with whole milk (21kcal)

Dinner

  • Glass of orange squash (54kcal)
  • Mug of hot chocolate made with whole milk (190kcal)

Total glasses =  5 (approx 750ml – 1 litre)
Total kcal = 286 (14% Reference Intake (RI))

BNF says: Maureen is drinking  less than the recommended 8 glasses per day, which puts her at greater risk of dehydration. Although she doesn’t feel thirsty in between meals, the sensation of thirst gets weaker as we age and so older adults may need to drink even when they are not thirsty. It would be a good idea for Maureen to get into the habit of having drinks between meals as well as at meal times – these could include tea, coffee or other hot drinks such as herbal and fruit infusions. Including fruit juice as a drink could also count as one of her 5 A DAY. For top tips on healthy ageing, see http://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/healthyageing/top-tips-for-healthy-ageing

Jamie is 15 and in his final year at school. He is a healthy weight and does lots of exercise, but is not particularly worried about healthy eating. He chooses foods or drinks according to what he likes the taste of and what he can buy when he is out and about. 

What Jamie drinks
Breakfast

  • Glass of orange juice (72kcal)

On the way to school

  • Can of fizzy drink (139kcal)

Mid-morning

  • Carton of juice drink (70kcal)

Lunch

  • Bottle of soft drink (205kcal)

On the way home from school

  • Carton of juice (75kcal)

Dinner

  • Glass of squash (50kcal)

Total glasses = 7 (bottle counts as two, approx 1.2-1.6 litres)
Total kcal = 611 (31% RI)

BNF says: it’s great that Jamie is active and a healthy weight, but the nutritional balance of the drinks he is choosing is not ideal.  Typically teenagers are getting too little of some vitamins and minerals, e.g. riboflavin and calcium, and consuming too much sugar, which can affect dental health. Surveys suggest that about one third of sugar consumption in teenagers comes from drinks. Jamie could still have an orange juice with breakfast as one of his 5 A DAY, but swapping the fizzy drink for a sugar-free version and changing his other drinks for milk or water could reduce the sugar he gets from drinks by about 75%. In addition, having two glasses of semi-skimmed milk per day would provide about half the calcium and riboflavin he needs to grow and stay healthy. For more information on healthy eating for teenagers, see http://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/lifestages/teenagers.

Wendy is in her 40s and would like to lose two stone to get back to a healthy weight. She’s cutting back on snacks and fried foods but hasn’t really considered what she drinks

What Wendy drinks
Breakfast

  • Mug of tea with semi-skimmed and one sugar (34kcal)
  • Glass of orange juice (72kcal)

Mid-morning

  • Large latte (223kcal)

Lunch

  • Can of standard soft drink (139kcal)


Mid afternoon

  • Mug of tea with semi-skimmed and one sugar (34kcal)

Dinner

  • Two glasses of red wine (240kcal)

Total glasses of fluid = 5 (750ml-1litre) Not including wine as this has a dehydrating effect.

Total kcal = 742 (31% RI)

BNF says: for a healthy rate of weight loss, Wendy should be looking to consume about 500kcals less than her body burns off. Simply by changing what she drinks – not having sugar in tea, having a filter coffee instead of a latte, a diet soft drink and skipping the wine, she could save nearly 700kcals a day. – This alone could help her lose about 1lb per week. She is also not drinking that much fluid, especially considering that wine has a dehydrating effect. She would benefit from a few extra glasses of water or other calorie-free fluids during the day. More information on healthy weight loss can be found here.

John is determined to get fit and has taken up jogging 3 times per week. He goes for about 30 minutes each time. He’s interested in staying healthy and is careful about choosing what he eats and drinks.

What John drinks
Breakfast

  • Mug of tea with semi-skimmed milk (18kcal)
  • Orange juice (72kcal)

Mid-morning

  • Mug of herbal tea (0kcal)

Lunch

  • 2 glasses of sparkling water (0kcal)
  • Mug of green tea (0kcal)

Mid afternoon

  • Mug of tea with semi-skimmed milk (18kcal)
  • 2 glasses of water (0kcal)

Dinner

  • Glass of flavoured water with sweeteners (3kcal)

Total glasses of fluid = 10 (approx 2 litres)
Total kcal = 111 (6%)

BNF says: John is making healthy choices when it comes to drinks, and the amount he drinks is in line with recommendations for men to drink 10 glasses per day. However, on the days when he runs, he may need more fluid. Jogging for 30 minutes would not require a special sports drink, but he should make sure he is hydrated before starting his activity, and that he rehydrates afterwards. He could try having an extra glass or two of water or other fluids during the afternoon, andhaving another glass or two of water after exercising. For more information on eating for sport and exercise, click here.


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Water is essential for life and it is very important to get the right amount of fluid to be healthy. However there are lots of mixed messages about how much, and what to drink and this can be confusing. Do I really need to drink 8 glasses of water on top of all my other drinks? Is it true that tea and coffee do not count towards my fluid intake? The answer to both these questions is no! The BNF ‘healthy hydration guide’ can help you choose a healthy balance of drinks.

This page also looks at why fluid is important, the effects of different drinks on health, and the needs of particular groups of people in the population. The information here is generally for healthy adults.

Why do you need water?

Your body is nearly two-thirds water and so it is really important that you consume enough fluid to stay hydrated and healthy. If you don’t get enough fluid you may feel tired, get headaches and not perform at your best. ‘Fluid’ includes not only water from the tap or in a bottle, but also other drinks that give you water such as tea, coffee, milk, fruit juices and soft drinks. You also get water from the food you eat – on average food provides about 20% of your total fluid intake.

How much do you need?

The amount of fluid you need depends on many things including the weather, how much physical activity you do and your age, but European recommendations suggest 1.6L of fluid per day for women (about 8 200ml glasses) and 2L  of fluid per day for men (about 10 200ml glasses). This is on top of the water provided by food you eat. You can get water from nearly all fluid that you drink, apart from stronger alcoholic drinks such as wine and spirits.

Can you drink too much?

Yes – drinking excessive amounts of fluid is not helpful and, in rare cases can be dangerous. If you are passing urine frequently and your urine is very pale, you may be drinking more than you need.

Does it matter which drinks you choose?

When you choose your drinks it is important to be aware that although they all provide water and some also contain essential vitamins and minerals, they may also provide energy (calories). These calories contribute to your daily calorie intake in the same way as those from the foods you eat. It is also important to look after your teeth, and consuming sugar-containing drinks too often can potentially harm your teeth, especially if you don’t brush teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste. It is also important to be aware that some drinks are acidic (e.g. fruit juice and carbonated drinks) and that this may cause dental erosion (damage to tooth enamel) if they are consumed frequently. For children, the use of a straw lessens the contact with teeth.

  • Drinking water is a great choice because it delivers fluid without adding calories or potentially damaging teeth.
     
  • Drinking tea or coffee also delivers water, and even though these drinks can contain caffeine, in moderate amounts caffeine doesn’t affecthydration. Pregnant women are advised to consume no more than 200mg or caffeine a day. This is equivalent to about two mugs of instant coffee or about two and a half mugs of tea. Other hot drinks such as herbal teas, hot chocolates and malted drinks can provide water. If these drinks are sweetened with sugar it increases their calorie content. The sugar also increases their potential to damage teeth if good dental hygiene is not practiced.
     
  • Milk contains lots of essential nutrients such as protein, B vitamins and calcium, as well as being a source of water. However, it can also contain saturated fat and so it’s a good idea for adults and older children to choose semi-skimmed (less than 2% fat), 1% or skimmed milks. For children between the ages of one and two years, the recommended milk is whole milk. From two years onwards semi-skimmed milk can be introduced gradually. Skimmed and 1% milks are not suitable for children until they are at least five years old because they have less vitamin A and are lower in calories.
     
  • Fruit juices and smoothies give you water plus some vitamins, minerals and natural plant substances from the fruit. Smoothies may also contain pureed fruit, which adds fibre. These drinks can also count towards your 5-A-DAY. One 150ml glass of fruit juice counts as one portion, and smoothies that contain at least 150ml of fruit juice and 80g crushed/pulped fruit count as two portions. Because fruit juices and smoothies contain sugar (and therefore calories) and can be acidic, they can potentially harm teeth.
     
  • Soft drinks are a source of water but, if they contain sugar, this adds to your calorie intake and the sugar can potentially damage teeth if the drinks are consumed frequently. It’s a good idea to limit consumption of standard sugar-containing soft drinks and to choose lower sugar or sugar-free (low calorie) versions instead.
     
  • Alcoholic drinks contain water, but drinking alcohol increases the amount of water you lose as urine, so drinks with a high alcohol content, such as wines and spirits, are not the best choice to stay hydrated. Normal strength beers, lagers and ciders also cause an increased loss of water as urine. However, because they are more dilute, drinking them causes a net gain in water overall. It is still important to keep alcohol consumption within the recommended limits (no more than 14 units per week for both men and women).
     
  • Food - it may be a surprise to learn that we get on average 20% of our total water intake from food! Some foods have a high water content, especially fruits and vegetables, which are usually more than 80% water. Foods like soups and stews, which have lots of water added during preparation, also are a source of water. So food can provide extra water, on top of the 6-8 glasses of fluid you should drink a day.

How can I tell if I am getting enough water?

Your body has special mechanisms to make sure you stay hydrated. Feeling thirsty is your body’s way of telling you that you need to drink more. However, the easiest way to spot that you might not be getting enough water is if your urine is a dark yellow colour during the day. If you are getting enough water your urine should be a pale straw colour. So if it is darker than this or if you are urinating infrequently or passing very small amounts of urine, then you probably need to drink some more fluid. You also need to drink more if it is hot, or if your temperature is high due to physical activity or illness.

Do some people need more water than others?

Needs vary from one person to the next, but there are certain population groups who may need to pay particular attention to hydration.

  • Children need plenty of fluid, despite their smaller body size, and they should be encouraged to drink regularly, especially if they are very active. 
     
  • Infants get their fluids from breast or formula milk, but will start to get some fluids from food when they move onto solids.
     
  • Older adults may have a weaker sense of thirst and, if necessary, should be helped and encouraged to drink regularly. 
     
  • Physical activity also increases the amount of fluid you need to consume in order to replace the water you lose as sweat. Water is fine for rehydrating after the kind of moderate exercise that most active people choose, and the majority of active people do not need special sports drinks to stay hydrated. However, for high intensity exercise that lasts more than 40 minutes or so, drinks with a little added sugar and sodium (salt), such as sports drinks or home made versions, may be better at replacing the extra fluid lost as sweat.

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Infants and young children have a higher proportion of body water than adults. They are also less heat tolerant and more susceptible to dehydration, especially when being physically active and in hot climates. Encouraging children to drink fluids regularly is particularly important in this context as children can be so involved in what they are doing that they forget to drink. Patterns of drinking behaviour appear to be established early in childhood, so it is important that young children get used to drinking water and a range of other appropriate drinks in order to maintain hydration.
 
It is important that children drink regularly throughout the day to stay properly hydrated. However, drinking fluid is not necessarily seen as a priority by children and may also be viewed as boring and inconvenient. Teachers, parents/guardians and care providers need to make sure that there are opportunities for drinking throughout the day and that children are encouraged to make use of these opportunities.
 
*adolescents of 14 years and older are considered by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as adults with respect to adequate water intake so this guide is aimed at children aged 4-13 years
 

How much do children need?

The amount of fluid a child needs depends on many factors including their age, their gender, the weather and how much physical activity they do, but generally they should aim to drink about 6-8 glasses of fluid per day (on top of the water provided by food in their diet). Younger children need relatively smaller drinks (e.g. 120–150 ml serving) and older children need larger drinks (e.g. 250–300 ml serving).
 

What are the most appropriate drinks for children?

When choosing drinks for children, it is important to be aware that although they all provide water, and some also contain essential vitamins and minerals, they may also provide sugar and therefore energy (calories/kilojoules). Energy in drinks contributes to our daily energy intake in the same way as food. Getting too much energy from drinks over time could cause weight gain. In addition, drinking sugar-sweetened drinks too often can potentially lead to tooth decay, especially if consumed frequently between meals or if teeth are not brushed regularly with fluoride toothpaste. Dental guidelines recommend consuming sugar-containing food and drinks on no more than four occasions per day.  It is also important to be aware that some drinks are acidic (e.g. fruit juice, squash and some carbonated drinks) and that this may cause dental erosion (damage to tooth enamel) if they are drunk often. Some drinks such as tea, coffee and some soft drinks may also contain caffeine which is a mild stimulant. Too much caffeine can make children irritable and keep them awake at night if consumed in the evening, so it is advisable not to give children caffeine-containing drinks at this time.
 

Drinking water is a good choice for children throughout the day, and especially after physical activity and in hot weather. It hydrates without providing extra energy or risking harm to teeth.

Milk is also a good choice as it contains lots of essential nutrients such as protein, B vitamins and calcium, as well as being a source of water. It also contains saturated fat so it is a good idea for children to choose semi-skimmed milk (less than 2% fat), 1% fat or skimmed (less than 0.1% fat) milks (skimmed milk should not be given to under 5s). Soya drinks and other non-dairy alternatives are lower in saturated fat but also lower in some vitamins and minerals, and it is a good idea to choose those that have been fortified, especially with calcium. Some versions are sweetened so should be drunk less often. Milky drinks containing sugar such as milkshakes, hot chocolate and malted drinks can provide water and nutrients and are often more popular with children than plain milk. They should be drunk in moderation and without adding extra sugar where possible, and can be made up at home using low calorie versions and reduced fat milks.
Fruit juices provide water plus some vitamins and minerals. One 150ml glass of 100% fruit juice counts as one portion of a child’s 5 A DAY, so when buying fruit juices check the labels and choose 100% fruit juice (some juice drinks can contain as little as 5% fruit juice and a lot of added sugar). The sugar naturally present in fruit juice still adds energy to the diet and juices can also be acidic, so can harm teeth if drunk too frequently. It is better for teeth to dilute fruit juice with water and to drink fruit juice only at meal times
Smoothies provide water, nutrients, and may also contain pureed fruit or vegetables, which adds fibre. Smoothies that contain at least 150ml of fruit juice and 80g crushed or pulped fruit/vegetable count as two portions of a child’s 5 A DAY. However, smoothies can contain more sugar (and therefore calories) than fruit juice and can be acidic, so could potentially harm teeth if drunk often. It is better for teeth to drink smoothies only at meal times.
Low calorie soft drinks provide water without providing much energy or many nutrients (although some may have vitamins and minerals added). They can be acidic and can erode dental enamel if consumed frequently. Be aware that some low calorie soft drinks may contain caffeine.
Soft drinks containing sugar such as some carbonated drinks and squashes provide water but they can be high in energy and the sugar can potentially cause tooth decay if they are consumed frequently, especially between meals. They may also be acidic, so frequent consumption can increase the risk of dental erosion. It’s a good idea to limit consumption of standard sugar-containing soft drinks and to choose lower sugar or sugar-free (low calorie) versions instead, or dilute fruit juice with plain or carbonated water. Be aware that some soft drinks may contain caffeine.
Tea and coffee contain caffeine, which is a stimulant. Caffeine is naturally present in coffee and in smaller amounts in tea. Coffee is probably best avoided by younger children, but weak tea is okay in moderation (1-2 cups/day). It is better for children to drink decaffeinated versions of tea and coffee and to encourage the consumption of these beverages with milk but with no added sugar.
 

Practical tips to keep active children hydrated

  • Ensure children have a drink before school i.e. with breakfast, and before and during playtime.
  • Parents, teachers and guardians should offer drinks regularly, especially in hot environments.
  • Always have drinks that children enjoy available. Water, milk, juice, low sugar soft-drinks and other fluids can all help meet a child’s hydration needs.
  • Remember that many foods have a high water content and can also contribute to fluid intake. i.e. fruit, vegetables, yogurt.
  • Always pack a water bottle in a school bag or lunchbox for children heading off to school/outings/other activities.

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Unfold Close  LOSING WEIGHT TIPS

Of the many ways to lose weight, one stands out as by far the most healthful. Forget fad diets or magic pills or powders. When you build your meals from a generous array of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans-that is, healthy vegetarian choices-weight loss is surprisingly easy. Along with weight loss will come major improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and many other aspects of health.

The plan is simple: Cut out foods high in fat and low in fiber and increase foods low in fat and full of fiber. Choose foods from plant sources. Avoid all animal products and keep vegetable oils to a bare minimum. This low-fat vegetarian approach is safe-and remarkably effective.


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If you saw Neal Barnard, M.D., on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, you know that many people are hooked on unhealthy foods ranging from chocolate to cheese. Do you know that Ellen DeGeneres loves Oreo Sandwich Cookies? She's not alone. To some people, chocolate is an occasional treat. But for a true chocolate addict, it is a deep-seated need. It's even likely that someone you know has a food addiction that they are trying to break.

As Dr. Barnard discussed with Ellen and her audience, his research shows that diet and lifestyle changes can break these stubborn craving cycles. Evidence suggests that a hefty portion of our current epidemics of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and other health problems are, in fact, nothing but the natural outcomes of food habits exerting their effects year after year.

In Dr. Barnard's book, Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings-and Seven Steps to End Them Naturally, he outlines a path for conquering those unhealthy food addictions. In addition to fascinating insights into the chemical reasons behind cravings and important advice on how to halt kids' sugar cravings, Breaking the Food Seduction also offers these seven simple steps to break craving cycles:

1. Start with a good breakfast. Cutting hunger is the first step in cutting cravings.

2. Choose foods that steady your blood sugar. Beans, green vegetables, fruit, and whole grains help prevent blood sugar dips that can lead to cravings.

3. Eat at least 10 calories each day per pound of your ideal body weight. This tip is directed at calorie-cutting dieters who do not realize that, if they eat too little, their bodies stop making an appetite-controlling hormone called leptin. A person whose ideal weight is 150 pounds needs at least 1,500 calories per day, and probably much more.

4. Break out of craving cycles, which can occur daily, monthly (with a woman's cycle), or yearly (with the change in seasons). Monthly chocolate cravings, for example, can be reduced with a low-fat, vegetarian diet, which tends to reduce the hormone swings that lead to cravings. 

5. Exercise and rest are keys to restoring your physical resilience.

6. Use social support. Enlisting the help of friends and family makes changing habits much easier.

7. Take advantage of other motivators. New parents, for example, may decide to eat healthy foods not just for themselves, but for the sake of their children.

To enhance these seven steps, Breaking the Food Seduction also includes a detailed three-week kickstart program with dozens of gourmet "addiction-free" recipes, including Portobello Mushroom Steaks, Eggplant Pecan Pesto, Tunisian Potato Salad, Spicy Noodle Soup, and Carob Walnut Fudge. Dr. Barnard's "Three-Week Break" supports research that shows if you set aside an addicting food, such as chocolate, for three weeks, you crave it much less than if you had just had it yesterday.


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Eating for weight loss comes down to a simple rule: Fill up on nutritious, low-calorie foods while avoiding high-calorie foods. But when you're in a restaurant or grocery store, what should you watch out for?

Here are some useful ways to spot high-calorie foods that can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. High-calorie foods are:

1. Low in fiber or have no fiber: If a food contains no fiber, it is probably too high in calories. Dairy products, meat, and eggs contain no fiber. As a simple rule of thumb, animal-derived products never have any fiber at all, because fiber comes only from plants. And products made from white flour have had most of their natural grain fiber stripped away in the milling process, which is why they are white. Here are some examples of foods that have little or no fiber:

  • Ham and cheese omelet
  • Plain bagel
  • Yogurt

Cookies—even the low-fat ones—can pack a high-calorie punch because they have had most of the fiber removed, so it is easy to eat too many at one time.

2. High-fat, high-protein animal products like dairy, meat, or eggs: Meat, fish, cream, milk, yogurt, and eggs contain too many calories to be a healthy part of your diet. These foods have lots of fat and protein, but no fiber. Sometimes people eat fatty fish, such as salmon, because they imagine fish fats to be good for them. But fish fat packs in just as many calories—and is just as fattening—as lard, chicken fat, or any other kind of fat. Processed foods that contain animal products are also high in calories. Here are some examples of high-fat, high-calorie animal products:

  • Cheese pizza
  • Bacon cheeseburger
  • Low-fat vanilla ice cream

2. Processed foods that use oil or sugar as main ingredients: Some processed foods get a majority of their calories from oil. They are also usually low in fiber. Foods high in fat and sugar are too high in calories—and they are easy to overeat. Here are some examples:

  • Potato chips
  • Soda
  • Margarine

3. Fried foods: Foods that are fried get a majority of their calories from oil and are very high in calories. Here are some examples:

  • Onion rings
  • French fries
  • Tempura

4. Naturally high-fat plant foods: There are not many high-fat plant foods. The ones you might find are nutritious, but are high in calories, so it is best to consume them sparingly if you're trying to lose weight. Here are some examples:

  • Nuts and nut butters
    (e.g., peanut butter)
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • High-fat soy products
  • Coconut curry

One more tip: When you're trying to spot high-calorie foods, it's helpful to read food labels. Pay special attention to the information on total fat, fiber, serving size, and ingredients. Choose foods for which the number of calories is less than the number of grams in a serving. Learn more about food labels.


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It's not hard to start eating more healthfully, especially once you understand the clear benefits of avoiding meat and dairy products and consuming a low-fat, plant-based diet. But does your motivation ever slip? If so, how do you stick with your healthy new eating habits?

One tip: Focus on the most meaningful reasons to stick to your new way of eating. The key is to figure out what motivates you the most.

Here are some ways to keep on track:

  • Explore new foods. One of the most exciting aspects of adopting a new eating style is finding new and different foods to try. Discover new ethnic restaurants, get a new cookbook at the library, or explore a specialty foods store. Or explore our Recipe Database. Keeping your taste buds happy will encourage you to continue with your plan.
  • Think short term. Keep your goals in doable short-term increments. Focus on one to two weeks at a time or, if necessary, one day at a time. Feel good about the healthy choices you made at the last meal instead of dwelling on the slip you made at the party last week.
  • Get a family member or friend to join you. Sharing health goals with families and friends can be extremely motivating. If everyone agrees to keep healthy foods around the house—such as fruits, vegetables, pita and hummus, soymilk, and nuts—you will not feel tempted to snack on the unhealthy foods you used to eat. And at restaurants, you will motivate each other to order delicious plant-based meals because you share a common goal.
  • Track your weight loss. By eating healthy, high-fiber vegetarian foods and cutting out fatty, high-calorie foods such as meat and dairy products, you are likely to lose unwanted pounds. That's a powerful motivation!
  • Notice other health improvements. Adopting a low-fat vegetarian diet usually leads to better health. Some of these improvements include lower blood pressure and better cholesterol levels. Other changes, such as feeling better overall and having more energy, will be noticeable only to you.
  • Think of what you've gained. You're on your way to a happier, healthier life, with increased energy and reduced risk of serious diseases, including cancer, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. As a result, you'll have more time, money, and energy to devote to the people and activities closest to you.

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Most people struggle with maintaining a healthy weight at some point in their lives. But counting calories alone doesn't do much to help you reduce your weight and keep it off. In fact, our nutrition philosophy encourages an approach that focuses on what healthy foods and activities to focus on rather than foods to avoid.

The New Year is a time when many people examine their eating habits and try to make positive changes. Before going on a diet, read these articles for an understanding of why many New Year's resolutions to lose weight or eat better tend to fail. 

Whether it's the New Year or you are simply motivated to make some changes, learn more about ways to set yourself up for success when making health and wellness goals. Making tiny, sustainable changes will lead to bigger lifestyle improvements to achieve a healthy eating pattern of balanced meals and moderate physical exercise for about 150 minutes per week. 

Find tools and articles below to help get you started!

Success with New Year Resolutions

The New Year is a great time to think about goals and changing habits to develop healthier habits. But do you know how to focus your plans so that you'll be successful? Our registered dietitian nutritionists share tips with you based on the latest research and information about goal setting and behavior change. Read on for ways to plan a healthy and successful New Year! 

Reference: 

Fogg BJ A behavior model for persuasive design. Persuasive 2009:40

Choose Healthy Habits Over Diets

No DietingResearch has found that diets don't work. Introducing healthy habits – even small ones to start – is the best way to maintain a healthy weight or work toward sustained weight loss. Read more and be inspired to make positive changes and additions in food and exercise rather than try to limit and restrict yourself. 

Reference:
You Gov US Omnibus Research 2013. https://today.yougov.com/news/2013/01/14/resolutions-gone-bad/. Accessed 3/11/2015.
 

Healthy Eating Tools

If you are trying to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, try these tools to see what
you are eating and where you might need to add healthy foods.

» Read more


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Unfold Close  NUTRITION NEWS
Date:
May 27, 2015
Source:
Cancer Research UK
Summary:
Women who eat a Mediterranean diet could cut their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent), according to a new study.

FULL STORY


Women who eat a Mediterranean diet could cut their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent), according to a study published today (Wednesday) in the British Journal of Cancer. The Italian researchers looked at the diets of over 5,000 Italian women to see how closely they stuck to a Mediterranean diet and whether they went on to develop womb cancer*.

The team broke the Mediterranean diet down into nine different components and measured how closely women stuck to them. The diet includes eating lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts, pulses, cereals and potatoes, fish, monounsaturated fats but little meat, milk and other dairy products and moderate alcohol intake. Researchers found that women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet most closely by eating between seven and nine of the beneficial food groups lowered their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent).

Those who stuck to six elements of the diet's components reduced their risk of womb cancer by 46 per cent and those who stuck to five reduced their risk by a third (34 per cent). But those women whose diet included fewer than five of the components did not lower their risk of womb cancer significantly. Dr Cristina Bosetti, lead author from the IRCCS-Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche, said: "Our research shows the impact a healthy balanced diet could have on a woman's risk of developing womb cancer. This adds more weight to our understanding of how our every day choices, like what we eat and how active we are, affect our risk of cancer."

The study was funded by the Italian Foundation for Cancer Research, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss League Against Cancer. Each year in the UK there are around 8,500 new cases of womb cancer, and rates have increased by around half since the early 1990s in Great Britain. Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health information, said: "While we know that getting older and being overweight both increase a woman's risk of womb cancer, the idea that a Mediterranean diet could help reduce the risk needs more research. This is partly because this study was based on people remembering what they had eaten in the past.

"Cancer risk is affected by our age and our genes but a healthy lifestyle can also play a part in reducing the risk of some cancers. Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, being active, eating healthily and cutting down on alcohol helps to stack the odds in your favour."

* Endometrial cancer.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Cancer Research UKNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M Filomeno, C Bosetti, E Bidoli, F Levi, D Serraino, M Montella, C La Vecchia, A Tavani. Mediterranean diet and risk of endometrial cancer: a pooled analysis of three italian case-control studiesBritish Journal of Cancer, 2015; 112 (11): 1816 DOI: 10.1038/bjc.2015.153

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Date:
May 27, 2015
Source:
Cancer Research UK
Summary:
Women who eat a Mediterranean diet could cut their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent), according to a new study.

FULL STORY


Women who eat a Mediterranean diet could cut their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent), according to a study published today (Wednesday) in the British Journal of Cancer. The Italian researchers looked at the diets of over 5,000 Italian women to see how closely they stuck to a Mediterranean diet and whether they went on to develop womb cancer*.

The team broke the Mediterranean diet down into nine different components and measured how closely women stuck to them. The diet includes eating lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts, pulses, cereals and potatoes, fish, monounsaturated fats but little meat, milk and other dairy products and moderate alcohol intake. Researchers found that women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet most closely by eating between seven and nine of the beneficial food groups lowered their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent).

Those who stuck to six elements of the diet's components reduced their risk of womb cancer by 46 per cent and those who stuck to five reduced their risk by a third (34 per cent). But those women whose diet included fewer than five of the components did not lower their risk of womb cancer significantly. Dr Cristina Bosetti, lead author from the IRCCS-Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche, said: "Our research shows the impact a healthy balanced diet could have on a woman's risk of developing womb cancer. This adds more weight to our understanding of how our every day choices, like what we eat and how active we are, affect our risk of cancer."

The study was funded by the Italian Foundation for Cancer Research, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss League Against Cancer. Each year in the UK there are around 8,500 new cases of womb cancer, and rates have increased by around half since the early 1990s in Great Britain. Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health information, said: "While we know that getting older and being overweight both increase a woman's risk of womb cancer, the idea that a Mediterranean diet could help reduce the risk needs more research. This is partly because this study was based on people remembering what they had eaten in the past.

"Cancer risk is affected by our age and our genes but a healthy lifestyle can also play a part in reducing the risk of some cancers. Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, being active, eating healthily and cutting down on alcohol helps to stack the odds in your favour."

* Endometrial cancer.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Cancer Research UKNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M Filomeno, C Bosetti, E Bidoli, F Levi, D Serraino, M Montella, C La Vecchia, A Tavani. Mediterranean diet and risk of endometrial cancer: a pooled analysis of three italian case-control studiesBritish Journal of Cancer, 2015; 112 (11): 1816 DOI: 10.1038/bjc.2015.153

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Date:
January 4, 2017
Source:
American Academy of Neurology (AAN)
Summary:
Older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not follow the diet as closely, new research shows. But contrary to earlier studies, eating more fish and less meat was not related to changes in the brain.

FULL STORY


The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, and limited red meat and poultry.

Credit: © marrakeshh / Fotolia

A new study shows that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not follow the diet as closely. The study is published in the January 4, 2017, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. But contrary to earlier studies, eating more fish and less meat was not related to changes in the brain. The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, and limited red meat and poultry.

"As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory," said study author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. "This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health." Researchers gathered information on the eating habits of 967 Scottish people around age 70 who did not have dementia. Of those people, 562 had an MRI brain scan around age 73 to measure overall brain volume, gray matter volume and thickness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. From that group, 401 people then returned for a second MRI at age 76. These measurements were compared to how closely participants followed the Mediterranean diet.

The participants varied in how closely their dietary habits followed the Mediterranean diet principles. People who didn't follow as closely to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have a higher loss of total brain volume over the three years than people who followed the diet more closely. The difference in diet explained 0.5 percent of the variation in total brain volume, an effect that was half the size of that due to normal aging.

The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, education and having diabetes or high blood pressure. There was no relationship between grey matter volume or cortical thickness and the Mediterranean diet. The researchers also found that fish and meat consumption were not related to brain changes, which is contrary to earlier studies. "It's possible that other components of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for this relationship, or that it's due to all of the components in combination," Luciano said. Luciano noted that earlier studies looked at brain measurements at one point in time, whereas the current study followed people over time.

"In our study, eating habits were measured before brain volume was, which suggests that the diet may be able to provide long-term protection to the brain," said Luciano. "Still, larger studies are needed to confirm these results."


Story Source:

Materials provided by American Academy of Neurology (AAN)Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Michelle Luciano, Janie Corley, Simon R. Cox, Maria C. Valdés Hernández, Leone C.A. Craig, David Alexander Dickie, Sherif Karama, Geraldine M. McNeill, Mark E. Bastin, Joanna M. Wardlaw, Ian J. Deary. Mediterranean-type diet and brain structural change from 73 to 76 years in a Scottish cohortNeurology, 2017; 10.1212/WNL.0000000000003559 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000003559

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Swedish researchers surprised to find daily soft drink habit also increased likelihood of less common autoimmune diabetes

7up4.jpg

Drinking more than two sugary or artificially sweetened soft drinks a day greatly increases the risk of diabetes, research has shown.

The Swedish study found that consuming more than two 200ml drinks more than doubled the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. A serious soft drink habit consisting of at least five drinks daily boosted the likelihood of having the disease more than 10 times.

Soft drinks also increased the risk of a less common condition called latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (Lada), which shares characteristics of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes, which requires constant insulin injections, is an autoimmune disease that wipes out insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The type 2 condition, which affects almost 3 million adults in the UK, alters the way the body responds to insulin and is related to obesity and lifestyle.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute studied levels of soft drink consumption in 2,874 Swedish adults and compared them with rates of diabetes.

Lead scientist Dr Josefin Edwall Lofvenborg said: “In this study we were surprised by the increased risk in developing autoimmune diabetes by drinking soft drinks. We next plan on investigating what could counter this risk, such as eating fatty fish.

Image result for More than two sugary drinks a day greatly increases diabetes risk, study shows

“We are looking into this now using data from eight different countries across Europe.”

Soft drinks may increase the risk of both type 2 diabetes and Lada by influencing glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, said the researchers, writing in the European Journal of Endocrinology.

The study looked at relative risk – the degree by which a risk is raised from its normal level – and not “absolute” risk, the scientists pointed out.

It is estimated that one in 11 people worldwide have diabetes.


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It is well known that a diet high in fat can trigger a metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that pose as risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. Scientists have now discovered that vitamin D deficiency is necessary for this syndrome to progress in mice, with underlying disturbances in gut bacteria.

If these findings can be validated in humans, sun bathing and vitamin D supplements may be feasible and affordable approaches to improve or even prevent metabolic syndrome.

"Based on this study, we believe that keeping vitamin D levels high, either through sun exposure, diet or supplementation, is beneficial for prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome," says Professor Stephen Pandol, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, USA, who collaborated with Yuan-Ping Han's research group at Sichuan University, China in the study.

Metabolic syndrome affects nearly a quarter of the world's adult population, and it is defined by a group of risk factors that put you on the road to diabetes and heart disease. The characteristic symptoms include obesity around the waistline and at least two of the following: high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Sufferers usually also have excess fat in their liver.

The main cause of metabolic syndrome appears to be a diet high in fat or carbohydrate. However, observational studies have also linked metabolic syndrome to vitamin D deficiency, which affects 30-60% of the world's population.

The research team made important advances in understanding the causative role of vitamin D in this syndrome. "A sufficient dietary vitamin D supplement can partially but significantly antagonize metabolic syndrome caused by high fat diet in mice," says Pandol. "These are amounts equivalent to the dietary recommendations for humans."

More specifically, they have shown that a high fat diet affects the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut. This induces modest fatty liver and slightly raises blood sugar levels in mice. Remarkably, an insufficient supply of vitamin D aggravates the imbalance in gut flora, contributing to full-scale fatty liver and metabolic syndrome.

Vitamin D deficiency decreases the production of defensins, which are anti-microbial molecules essential to maintain healthy gut flora. As expected, an oral supply of a synthetic defensin recovers gut bacteria balance, decreases blood sugar levels and improves fatty liver.

In summary, a high fat diet alone is not enough to cause metabolic syndrome but it is needed in combination with vitamin D deficiency. Accordingly, vitamin D supplementation improves metabolic syndrome in mice. The next step would be to validate the results in humans.

"Few studies have indicated that vitamin D supplementation may not improve metabolic disorders in humans. However, these studies are largely based on long-term surveys, which may be hampered by poor compliance and insufficient dosage," says Hans.

He remains optimistic that the results of their study can be confirmed in humans. "We are planning a clinical study to confirm the link of vitamin D deficiency with gut bacteria disruption, and its association with metabolic syndrome," says Han.


Story Source:

Materials provided by FrontiersNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Danmei Su, Yuanyang Nie, Airu Zhu, Zishuo Chen, Pengfei Wu, Li Zhang, Mei Luo, Qun Sun, Linbi Cai, Yuchen Lai, Zhixiong Xiao, Zhongping Duan, Sujun Zheng, Guihui Wu, Richard Hu, Hidekazu Tsukamoto, Aurelia Lugea, Zhenqui Liu, Stephen J. Pandol, Yuan-Ping Han. Vitamin D Signaling through Induction of Paneth Cell Defensins Maintains Gut Microbiota and Improves Metabolic Disorders and Hepatic Steatosis in Animal ModelsFrontiers in Physiology, 2016; 7 DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2016.00498

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This visual abstract depicts the findings of Griffin et al. that the magnitude of microbiota responses to diet interventions varies among individuals. Dispersal of diet-responsive bacterial taxa between hosts enhance subsequent responses to diet interventions.

Credit: Griffin et al. / Cell Host & Microbe

Your microbiota may not be on your side as you try improving your diet this New Year's. In a study published December 29 in Cell Host & Microbe, researchers explore why mice that switch from an unrestricted American diet to a healthy, calorie-restricted, plant-based diet don't have an immediate response to their new program. They found that certain human gut bacteria need to be lost for a diet plan to be successful.

"If we are to prescribe a diet to improve someone's health, it's important that we understand what microbes help control those beneficial effects," says Jeffrey Gordon, Director of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University in St. Louis and senior author of the paper. "And we've found a way to mine the gut microbial communities of different humans to identify the organisms that help promote the effects of a particular diet in ways that might be beneficial."

In order to study how human dietary practices influence the human gut microbiota and how a microbiota conditioned with one dietary lifestyle responds to a new prescribed diet, Gordon and his collaborators first took fecal samples from people who followed a calorie-restricted, plant-rich diet and samples from people who followed a typical, unrestricted American diet. The researchers found that people who followed the restricted, plant-rich diet had a more diverse microbiota.

They then colonized groups of germ-free mice with the different human donors' gut communities and fed the animals the donor's native diet or the other diet type. Although both groups of mice responded to their new diets, mice with the American diet-conditioned microbiota had a weaker response to the plant-rich diet.

To identify microbes that could enhance the response of the American diet-conditioned microbiota, the researchers set up a series of staged encounters between mice. Animals harboring American diet-conditioned human gut communities were sequentially co-housed with mice colonized with microbiota from different people who had consumed the plant-rich diet for long periods of time. Microbes from the plant diet-conditioned communities made their way into the American diet-conditioned microbiota, markedly improving its response to the plant diet.

"We need to think of our gut microbial communities not as isolated islands but as parts of an archipelago where bacteria can move from island to island. We call this archipelago a metacommunity," says first author Nicholas Griffin, an instructor at WUSTL. "Many of these bacteria that migrated into the American diet-conditioned microbiota were initially absent in many people consuming this non-restricted diet."

Although the scientists are optimistic that their approach will help guide the development of new strategies for improving the effectiveness of prescribing healthy diets, they emphasize that more research is needed to identify the factors that determine the exchange of microbes between people.

"We have an increasing appreciation for how nutritional value and the effects of diets are impacted by a consumer's microbiota," says Gordon. "We hope that microbes identified using approaches such as those described in this study may one day be used as next-generation probiotics. Our microbes provide another way of underscoring how we humans are connected we are to one another as members of a larger community."


Story Source:

Materials provided by Cell PressNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Nicholas W. Griffin, Philip P. Ahern, Jiye Cheng, Andrew C. Heath, Olga Ilkayeva, Christopher B. Newgard, Luigi Fontana, Jeffrey I. Gordon. Prior Dietary Practices and Connections to a Human Gut Microbial Metacommunity Alter Responses to Diet InterventionsCell Host & Microbe, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2016.12.006

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Unfold Close  PREGNANCY and BABY

It is always important to be careful about how you prepare and store food in the home to avoid the nasty bugs that can cause food poisoning. When you are pregnant, planning a baby or have just had your baby, it is more important than ever. Just following some basic guidelines can really help to reduce your risk of getting food poisoning. Remembering the four ‘Cs’ can be useful:  

Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
Cross-contaminate: Separate, don’t cross – contaminate
Cook: To safe temperature
Chill: Refrigerate properly

Clean

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water and dry them - before handling and preparing food and after touching raw foods (especially meat), going to the toilet or changing nappies, touching animals (including pets) and touching bins.
  • Clean work surfaces including your chopping boards and utensils thoroughly before and after preparing food, especially if you are preparing raw foods such as raw meat.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables by rubbing them under water, for example in a bowl of fresh water, before eating.

Cross-contamination

  • Have separate chopping boards for raw food (especially meat) and ready to eat foods, or wash it thoroughly in between preparing different types of food, to avoid bacteria from raw food being transferred. Don't forget to also clean knives and other utensils thoroughly after using them to prepare food.
  • Store raw food (especially meat) and ready to eat foods separately and don't allow them to come into contact or be placed on the same surface without washing it. Bacteria in raw food can be killed when you cook it, but not if they are transferred to foods like salads, fruit or bread.
  • Make sure you cover raw meat, or keep it in a sealable container, and keep it on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that it cannot touch or drip on to any other foods.
  • Do not wash raw chicken (or other poultry, like turkey) before cooking it, as washing may splash harmful bacteria onto kitchen surfaces.

Cook

  • When you cook food, make sure that it is piping hot all the way through. Make sure that any meat, whether cooked in your kitchen or on the barbeque is thoroughly cooked. During pregnancy, all rare (pink) meats should be avoided, including lamb and beef. Check that they are cooked all the way through with no pink meat on the inside. Insert a knife into the deepest part and make sure the juices run clear.
  • When you reheat food, make sure it is piping hot all the way through. Foods should not be reheated more than once as cooling and reheating food more than once increases the risk of food poisoning.

Chill

  • Use a fridge thermometer to check your fridge temperature and make sure it is between 0 and 5o
  • If you have leftovers or food that you are not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as you can (ideally within an hour and a half) and then store it in the fridge or freezer. Make sure you let the food cool down before you put it in the fridge, otherwise it may raise the fridge temperature. Eat foods that you have stored in the fridge within 2 days.
  • Harmful bacteria can grow in foods with a 'use by' date e.g. cooked meats, cheeses, prepared salads, - so don't eat them after they've gone past the 'use by' date.
  • Never put open cans in the fridge as the metal may transfer to the can’s contents – place the contents in a covered container instead.
  • Do not refreeze raw foods or foods meant to be frozen e.g. frozen desserts that have been thawed. Defrosted raw foods can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days before being cooked. Defrosted cooked food must be reheated and eaten immediately.

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Salt

Babies shouldn’t eat much salt, as it isn't good for their kidneys. Don't add salt to your baby’s food and don't use stock cubes or gravy, as they're often high in salt. Remember this when you’re cooking for the family, if you plan to give the same food to your baby.

Sugar

Your baby doesn’t need sugar. By avoiding sugary snacks and drinks (including fruit juice and other fruit drinks), you'll help to prevent tooth decay. Use mashed banana or other fruits, breast milk or formula milk to sweeten food, if needed.

Honey

Occasionally, honey contains bacteria that can produce toxins in a baby’s intestines, leading to infant botulism, which is a very serious illness. It’s best not to give your child honey until they’re one year old. Honey is a sugar, so avoiding it will also help to prevent tooth decay.

Nuts

Whole nuts, including peanuts, shouldn't be given to children under five, as they can choke on them. As long as there's no history of food allergies or other allergies in your family, you can give your baby peanuts once they're six months old, as long as they're crushed or ground into peanut butter.

'Low-fat' foods

Fat is an important source of calories and some vitamins for babies and young children. It’s better for babies and young children under two to have full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese, rather than low-fat varieties. See What to feed young children for more information.

Saturated fat

Don't give your child too many foods that are high in saturated fat, such as crisps, biscuits and cakes. Checking the nutrition labels on foods can help you choose foods that are low in saturated fat. See more on food labels.

Shark, swordfish and marlin

Don't give your baby shark, swordfish or marlin. The amount of mercury in these fish can affect a baby’s growing nervous system.

Raw shellfish

Raw shellfish can increase the risk of food poisoning, so it’s best not to give it to babies.

Raw and undercooked eggs

Eggs can be given to babies over six months old, but make sure they're cooked until both the white and yolk are solid.

Further information


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A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time, but is especially vital if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to

You don't need to go on a special diet, but it's important to eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. 

It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, but when you're pregnant you need to take some supplements as well, to make sure you get everything you need.

Read more about  vitamins and supplements in pregnancy

There are also certain foods that should be avoided in pregnancy.

You will probably find that you are hungrier than usual, but you don't need to "eat for two" – even if you are expecting twins or triplets.

Have a healthy breakfast every day, because this can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar.

Eating healthily often means just changing the amounts of different foods you eat so that your diet is varied, rather than cutting out all your favourites. You can use the Eatwell Guide to get the balance of your diet right. The eatwell plate shows you how much to eat from each food group.

You will need to be careful with your diet if you develop gestational diabetes – your doctor or midwife will advise you.

Fruit and vegetables in pregnancy

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and can help prevent constipation.

Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables carefully.

Find out what counts as a portion of fruit or vegetables.

Starchy foods (carbohydrates) in pregnancy

Starchy foods are an important source of energy, vitamins and fibre, and are satisfying without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, sweet potatoes, yams and cornmeal.

These foods should make up just over a third of the food you eat. Choose wholegrain instead of processed (white) varieties, or potatoes with their skins on, when you can as they contain more fibre.

Protein in pregnancy

Eat some protein foods every day. Sources of protein include:

  • beans 
  • pulses 
  • fish 
  • eggs
  • meat (but avoid liver) 
  • poultry 
  • nuts

Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and try not to add extra fat or oil when cooking meat. Read more about eating meat in a healthy way.

Make sure eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat such as lamb, beef and pork are cooked all the way through. Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them.

Try to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel. Find out about the health benefits of fish and shellfish. There are some types of fish you should avoid in pregnancy. For more information, see Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Dairy in pregnancy

Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are important in pregnancy, because they contain calcium and other nutrients that your baby needs.

Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible, such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat lower-sugar yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheese. Aim for two to three portions a day.

If you prefer dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.

For more information, read about the nutritional benefits of milk and dairy foods.

There are some cheeses you should avoid in pregnancy. To find out which ones, see Foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Foods that are high in fat, sugar or both

These include:

  • all spreading fats (such as butter)
  • oils
  • salad dressings
  • cream
  • chocolate
  • crisps
  • biscuits
  • pastries
  • ice cream
  • cake
  • puddings
  • fizzy drinks

If you're having foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts. 

Sugary foods and drinks are often high in calories which can contribute to weight gain. Having sugary foods and drinks can also lead to tooth decay. 

Fat is very high in calories, so eating too many fatty foods or eating them too often can make you put on weight. Having too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease. Try to cut down on saturated fat, and have small amounts of foods rich in unsaturated fat instead. Find out about saturated and unsaturated fat.

Healthy snacks in pregnancy

If you get hungry between meals, try not to eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose something healthier, such as:

  • sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon, or sardines, with salad
  • salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
  • low-fat lower-sugar plain yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit
  • hummus with wholemeal pitta bread or vegetable sticks
  • ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
  • vegetable and bean soups
  • unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
  • milky drinks
  • fresh fruit
  • baked beans on toast or a baked potato

Here are some more ideas for healthy food swaps.

Preparing food safely

  • Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis – which can harm your unborn baby.
  • Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw meat – this will help to avoid toxoplasmosis.  
  • Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination. This is to avoid other types of food poisoning from meat (such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli).
  • Use a separate chopping board for raw meats.
  • Heat ready meals until they're steaming hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry.

You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat like lamb, beef and pork are cooked very thoroughly. For tips, read Foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant women

The Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers to pregnant women and families who qualify. The vouchers can be used to buy milk and plain fresh and frozen vegetables at local shops. You'll also get coupons that can be exchanged for free vitamins locally.

You qualify for Healthy Start if you're at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, and you or your family get:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit, unless your family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only*) and has an annual family income of £16,190 or less (2014/15)

If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you qualify for Healthy Start vouchers regardless of your income.

*Working Tax Credit run-on is the Working Tax Credit you receive in the four weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours per week (single adults) or 24 hours per week (couples).

You can download a Healthy Start application form from Healthy Start, or call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 to order a copy. 

If you are claiming Universal Credit and are pregnant or have a child under four years old, call the Healthy Start helpline for information about any discretionary support that may be available.

You can also find out where to get Healthy Start vitamins near you.

develop and grow.


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Before you give up on breast–feeding…. Breast–feeding is usually awkward at first and can sometimes even be painful. This surprises new mothers, who may be tempted to abandon breast–feeding. But if you stick with it, you'll soon get past this awkward stage, and you'll be glad you did. If you have questions or need a bit of encouragement, call your local La Leche League, an international breast-feeding support organization. Find out more at www.LaLecheLeague.org.

An alternative to formula is “breast milk banking.” Hospitals in some areas may be able to provide you with human breast milk for your baby. Contact your local hospital’s pediatrics department or your local La Leche League, to find out more about whether “milk banking” is available in your area.

If you need to use formula, many different kinds are available. The best choice is a commercial soy formula. Please note: It is important to use soyformula, which is specifically made for infants younger than twelve months, and not commercial soymilk, which is intended for older children and adults.

Babies have special nutritional needs and require a formula designed to meet them. Formulas have slightly higher levels of protein and lower levels of fat than breast milk (see the table below), but they are designed to meet the needs of an infant.

The reasons for choosing soy formula over cow’s milk formula are compelling:

  • Most food sensitivities are reactions to proteins. The proteins found in breast milk are intended for human babies (with the exception of those foreign proteins that may pass into the milk from the mother’s diet).
  • Cow’s milk formula contains proteins that would be tolerated by a calf, but not always by a human baby. These proteins can cause respiratory problems, canker sores, skin conditions, and other sensitivities.
  • Cow’s milk can also irritate a baby’s digestive tract, causing a loss of blood in the intestine and a gradual loss of iron. For these reasons, pediatricians never recommend that whole cow’s milk (as opposed to formula) be given to infants.
  • When foreign proteins enter the body, the immune system makes antibodies to them. As long ago as 1994, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that substantial evidence based on more than 90 research studies suggests that antibodies to cow’s milk protein may increase the risk of type I diabetes.
Comparing Human Milk and Baby Formulas (per cup)
Human Milk Soy Formula (ProSobee) Cow’s Milk Formula
(Enfamil)
Calories
176
160
160
Protein (g)
2.4
4.8
3.2
Fat (g)
11.2
8.8
8.8
Saturated fat (g)
4.8
4.0
4.0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
4.0
1.6
1.6
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
1.6
2.4
2.4
Carbohydrate (g)
16.8
16.0
16.8
Folic Acid (mcg)
16
24
24
Vitamin C (mg)
16
16
16
Sodium (mg)
40
56
40
Iron (mg)
0.08
3.0
0.24
Calcium (mg)
80
152
112

Source: Pennington, JAT. Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. (Philadelphia: Lippincott–Raven, 1998)


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The amount we need to drink varies from person to person so it will vary amongst pregnant women too, but it’s important to stay hydrated. Although in the UK we do not have any advice on how much to drink in pregnancy, in Europe the recommendation is to drink a little more to take into account the weight gain and increase in energy intake in the later stages of pregnancy.

Water is needed to produce the fluid surrounding your baby and to help increase your blood volume. If you are suffering with morning sickness, you will also be losing extra fluid so it is important to try to drink a little more to make up for this. Thirst is your body’s way of telling you that you need to drink, and by the time thirst kicks in you are already a little dehydrated, so you should always respond to your thirst. Another way of monitoring your hydration is to check your urine colour. It should be a pale straw colour and if it is darker than this then you probably need to drink a bit more fluid. Click here for more information about hydration.

What to drink?

Plain water is a good choice, but all non-alcoholic drinks can count towards your fluid intake, including milk, fruit juice, smoothies and hot drinks. Note that you should keep your caffeine intake below 200mg per day during pregnancy. A mug of instant coffee contains about 100mg (about 140mg for filter coffee) caffeine and a mug of tea about 75mg.

There is little scientific evidence available with regards to the safety of herbal and green teas in pregnancy, but the Food Standards Agency previously recommended drinking no more than around four cups of herbal tea a day during pregnancy, and to seek advice from your GP or midwife if you are unsure about which herbal products are safe to consume. Bear in mind that green tea contains caffeine.

When it comes to choosing drinks, be aware of both their calorie content and their potential effect on your teeth. Drinks containing sugar (including juices and smoothies, which contain naturally occurring sugars) can add significant amounts of calories to your diet, so be aware that they contribute to your energy intake in the same way as foods do. With regards to your dental health, the sugar content and the acidity of drinks can have an impact.

Frequent consumption of sugar can increase your risk of dental caries, while frequent consumption of acidic drinks such as fizzy soft drinks, fruit teas, juices and smoothies can increase your risk of dental erosion. During pregnancy you are at greater risk of developing problems with your teeth and gums (such as tooth decay and gum disease) and you may not be able to undergo certain dental treatments, so it is a really good time to make sure you are looking after your teeth. Therefore, make sure you brush your teeth twice a day with fluorinated toothpaste. To make sure your teeth aren’t exposed too many times a day to highly acidic or sugar-containing foods and drinks, try to limit these to mealtimes only.

 For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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Eating a balanced diet during pregnancy

Being pregnant is a very special time in your life, and it’s a time when many women think about their diet. What you eat can not only influence your own health, but it can also affect the short and long term health of your baby so it is important that you eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet when you are pregnant.

The basic principles of a healthy diet stay the same. You should still eat a diet that is based on starchy foods (choosing wholegrain varieties or potatoes with their skins on when you can), and includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, moderate amounts of lean meat, fish and/or other protein sources such as eggs and pulses, and moderate amounts of dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese (or calcium-enriched dairy-free alternatives). You should only eat limited amounts of foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar. You can find more information on a healthy varied diet here.

As well as having a healthy diet it is also important to be aware of food safety and hygiene. There are certain foods and drinks that you should avoid or be careful with how much you eat when pregnant. For more information click here.

Beside all the nutrients you get from a healthy varied diet, there are some vitamins and minerals that are very important for the development of your baby.

In this section we will be looking at supplements during pregnancy, as well as nutrients that are important during pregnancy. We have also given examples of recipes that provide some of these key nutrients.

Supplements during pregnancy

Folic acid

You may have heard or read about needing to take a folic acid supplement or eat more folate (this is what folic acid is called when its naturally present in foods). This section will let you know why this is important.

A folic acid supplement is recommended prior to conception and up to 12 weeks of pregnancy to lower the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). Don’t worry if your pregnancy was unplanned and you have not been taking a daily folic acid supplement, but do start taking it as soon as you can.

You should also try to consume more foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid). These are foods such as oranges, berries, green leafy vegetables, beetroot, beans and brown bread.

You should take a 400 µg folic acid supplement daily up to the 12th week of your pregnancy

Some women have an increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect and are advised to take a slightly higher dose of folic acid. You have an increased risk if there is a family history of neural tube defects or you have diabetes. If you're taking anti-epileptic medication, you may also need to take a higher dose of folic acid. Talk to your GP if you think you may need to take a higher dose of folic acid.

Did you know…..?

Some Facts on Neural Tube defects

  • Neural tube defects (NTDs) are a group of serious birth defects that affect the developing nervous system.
  • The central nervous system (brain and the spinal cord) normally develops first as a flat sheet of cells (the neural plate) which rolls up (the neural tube) in weeks 3 and 4 of pregnancy and closes to form the central nervous system. If the tube doesn’t close properly this results in a neural tube defect (NTD).
  • Some examples of NTDs are spina bifida, anencephaly or encephalocele

At present the precise cause of NTDs is unknown and research continues. However, we do know that taking folic acid supplements can reduce the risk of NTDs.

Vitamin D

This vitamin is particularly important for the growth and development of your baby’s bones and helps to maintain the health of your bones too. Your skin produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight, but the sun in the UK is only strong enough in the summer months (April to mid-October). You can also get vitamin D from food but food sources are limited; sources include oily fish, fat spreads and eggs.

Most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need by eating a healthy balanced diet and by getting some summer sun.

However, national surveys show that many women of childbearing age have low vitamin D status, particularly in winter months. As a pregnant or breastfeeding women, you are at risk of not getting enough vitamin D, particularly if you are not exposed to much sunlight (you cover up your skin or spend a large amount of time indoors) or you have darker skin (e.g you are of African, African-Caribbean or South Asian origin) as your skin will not produce as much vitamin D from sunlight.

To make sure that you get enough vitamin D all year round, all pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to take a daily supplement containing 10 μg of vitamin D. This will also help to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first few months of his or her life.

Some pregnant women (all those under 18 and those on certain benefits) may be entitled to receive free vitamins that include folic acid and vitamin D under the Healthy Start scheme. You can find out more from www.healthystart.nhs.uk

Avoid too much vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for good health and for the healthy development of your baby, but large amounts can harm your unborn baby, causing malformations. You should not take any supplements containing vitamin A or retinol (also watch out for multivitamin supplements which may contain these and fish liver oil supplements such as cod liver oil). Furthermore, you should avoid eating liver and liver products (such as liver pate) because they are very high in vitamin A.

Nutrients for pregnancy

Iron

Did you know? Iron requirements are higher in pregnancy. Your body needs extra iron to ensure your baby has a sufficient blood supply and receives necessary oxygen and nutrients.

Iron supplements are not routinely offered to pregnant women because it has been increasingly recognised that the body becomes more efficient at absorbing iron as the pregnancy progresses. Without the loss of blood through monthly periods, you retain more of your body’s iron stores too.

However, it can be fairly common for women to develop iron deficiency during pregnancy so when you are pregnant you should eat plenty of foods containing iron. Iron is found in red meat (like beef and lamb), pulses, nuts, eggs, green leafy veg such as watercress, wholemeal bread, dried fruit and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron from plant sources. So you will absorb more of the iron from a meal such as beans on toast if you have a glass of fruit juice with it. Tea or coffee can decrease the amount of iron your body absorbs from plant sources, so try not to consume these with meals.

Iron supplements may be recommended by your midwife or GP if the iron levels in your blood are found to be too low – ask your GP if you are worried about your iron levels.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Long chain omega-3 fatty acids, particularly decosahexanoic acid (DHA) found in oily fish (such as salmon, sardines and mackerel), are important for the development of your baby’s brain and eyes. However, pregnant women should eat oily fish in moderation with a maximum of 2 portions a week as oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body. For guidance on how much and which type of fish you can eat, see table below.

*A portion = 140g
**Fresh tuna is classed as an oily fish but canned tuna is classed as a white fish because the oils are lost in the canning process

Omega-3 fatty acids are good for a baby's development. So remember, don't give up eating oily fish (1-2 portions a week is great) but don't eat more than the recommended maximum. If you don’t eat oily fish you could try to look out for products fortified with omega-3 DHA, such as eggs. If you decide to take a supplement make sure that the supplement is suitable for pregnant women, as some fish oil supplements contain a high amount of vitamin A (such as cod liver oil), which you should avoid during pregnancy.

Calcium

Calcium is really important for the growth and development of your baby’s bones and helps to maintain your bones.

Did you know? Calcium demands on the mother are high during the latter stages of pregnancy and during lactation. The skeleton of full-term infants contains 20–30 g of calcium, most of which is accrued during the last trimester of pregnancy. Nature is a clever thing and your body adapts so that it can absorb more calcium from the food you eat.

Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, are a great source of calcium so try to include these in your diet. Try to select low fat products, such as semi-skimmed milk and reduced fat cheese, where possible; they are still a great source of calcium. If you do not eat dairy foods, calcium can also be found in other foods, for example:

  • calcium-fortified soya and dairy-free alternatives (check the label)
  • calcium-fortified breakfast cereals (check the label)
  • canned oily fish with soft bones (such as canned sardines or pilchards)
  • some dark leafy green vegetables (such as kale, rocket, pak choi and watercress)
  • Some nuts and seeds – including almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts and sesame seeds

Recipes

Spinach, chickpea and aubergine curry with brown rice

Leafy green veg like spinach are a good source of folate. Whether you are a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan this folate-rich recipe is nutritious and delicious.
Remember that, even though recipes like this are a good source of folate, it is still important to keep taking your folic acid supplements through to week 12 of your pregnancy.

Serves 2

Ingredients

• 500 g fresh spinach , chopped (alternatively use frozen spinach, defrosted beforehand or drained canned spinach)
• 1 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1 medium red onion, chopped
• 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
• 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
• 1 tsp ground coriander
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• 1 small aubergine, cut into small cubes
• 400 g canned chopped tomatoes
• 125 g brown rice (uncooked weight)
• Black pepper to season, if required

Method

1. Set the brown rice to cook according to the instructions on pack.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onion, chickpeas, garlic and spices for 5 minutes over a medium heat.
3. Add the aubergine and cook for 10 minutes until the aubergine is coloured.
4. Add the tomatoes and spinach and then cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the aubergine is soft. Taste and add black pepper to season if you need it.
5. Serve with the rice.


Baked oriental salmon

When it comes to getting both your essential fatty acids and Vitamin D, oily fish provides two for the price of one. Remember not to overdo it though – pregnant women should have no more than 2 portions (weight 140g) of oily fish per week.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh root ginger
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tbsp reduced salt soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 200 g rice
  • 1 medium head of broccoli

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
  2. Put the rice on to cook according to the instructions on pack.
  3. Take two pieces of foil approx 30cmx30cm and place one of the salmon fillets, skin side down, in the centre of each one.
  4. Sprinkle over the chopped ginger and herbs and drizzle on the soy sauce and sesame oil.
  5. Bring the sides of the foil up and crimp them together to make a sealed parcel for each salmon fillet.
  6. Cook in the oven for 10-15 minutes until cooked through.
  7. Meanwhile, chop the broccoli and boil or steam until just cooked.
  8. Serve the broccoli and rice onto a plate or bowl and place the salmon straight from the parcel on top so that the juices flow over the dish.

Beef recipes

Red meat such as beef is a great source of iron. Choose lean cuts of red meat.

We have 2 recipes for you to try.

Hoi Sin and garlic beef noodles

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 250g rump steak, trimmed of fat and thinly sliced
  • 1 green pepper, sliced
  • 150g mushrooms, halved
  • 200g broccoli, chopped
  • 120g Hoi Sin and garlic stir-fry sauce
  • 200g noodles

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over a high heat. Stir-fry the beef for a few minutes and then set aside.
  2. Stir-fry the pepper for three minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the broccoli and a splash of water, cover and cook until the broccoli is tender and the water has evaporated.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the instructions on pack.
  4. Stir in the sauce and return the beef to the pan. Warm through and serve with the noodles.

Beef and bean cottage pie with sweet potato mash

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stick of celery, diced
  • 150g lean minced beef
  • 1 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 1 can of cannellini beans
  • 1 reduced salt beef stock cube, made up with 200ml water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 medium sweet potato (approx 200g), peeled and cubed
  • 1 medium potato (approx 160g), peeled and cubed
  • 50ml semi-skimmed or 1% milk
  • 1 tbsp of reduced fat spread
  • 50g grated mature cheddar cheese (you could try using reduced fat cheese)
  • 200g frozen peas

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200oC.
  2. Heat a pan, add the vegetable oil and fry the onions and garlic for 2-3 minutes on a low heat until softened.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the mince and fry for about 5 minutes until browned.
  4. Add the carrots and celery and fry for a further 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the beef stock, tomato puree, bay leaf and mixed herbs and bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes and sweet potatoes together in a pan for about 10 minutes, or until soft.
  7. Drain and mash the potatoes and sweet potatoes together with the milk and low fat spread. Season to taste.
  8. Spoon the mince mixture into an oven proof dish and top with the mashed potato and grated cheese.
  9. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the topping is beginning to brown.
  10. Boil the frozen peas for about 2 minutes and serve with the cottage pie.

 For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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Congratulations on your newborn baby! While it's an exciting time it will be busy, so get ready to put your organisational skills to good use! Meal planning will be essential to ensure that you eat well and stay healthy to best care for your baby.

Breastfeeding


Breast milk is the best food for your baby. It contains all the energy, nutrients and fluids that your baby needs for around the first six months of life. And it’s free! It also contains antibodies that help to protect your baby from infections and may help to prevent allergies and obesity in later childhood.

Breastfeeding will give your baby the healthiest start possible and there are health benefits for you too. It can help you to lose some of the weight gained in pregnancy and may help to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer in later life.

Some women are unable to or choose not to breastfeed their baby. Your midwife or health visitor will be able to give you information on preparing and feeding your baby with infant formula if this situation applies to you.

Healthy eating while breastfeeding


While it is a busy time, it is very important that you eat well and make time to prepare meals. A healthy varied diet is essential to ensure that your body has all the nutrients it needs to produce breast milk that meets the needs of your growing baby. You may need to eat a little more than usual to meet the higher energy requirements of breastfeeding, but your body will also use up the fat stored during pregnancy for this exact purpose. Your appetite will guide you as to how much extra you need to eat and you may find that you are hungrier than usual. Practical information healthy varied diets can be found here.

The composition of your breast milk is affected by the foods you eat, and quantities of nutrients such as vitamin C and omega 3 fats in your breast milk depend on how much you get from your diet. As well as providing nutrients, breast milk provides baby with new tastes. Molecules from your food transfer into breast milk to give baby the flavours of the food your are eating and some studies suggest that babies who are breast fed by mums who eat plenty of vegetables have are more likely to like vegetables later on.

Drinking plenty of fluids is important too, you will need a lot more than before or during your pregnancy. In Europe it is recommended that breastfeeding women drink 700ml extra per day, that is about 4 extra glasses. Make sure that you have a drink beside you when you are breastfeeding. Water, milk and unsweetened fruit juice are good options to choose.

While you are breastfeeding, take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day (as you did during your pregnancy). We get most of our vitamin D through the action of sunlight on the skin, so a supplement is particularly important during winter months. You should get enough of all the other vitamins and minerals that you need by eating a healthy, varied diet.

It makes sense that your diet affects the composition of your breast milk. Substances such as caffeine and alcohol can be transferred to your baby through your breast milk, which might cause problems with feeding and sleeping. The ideal is that you avoid consuming drinks that contain caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, cola) and alcohol. If you decide to consume alcohol, try to have it just after a feed or consider expressing milk in advance, and drink no more than one or two units once or twice a week.

Although small amounts of peanut may pass to your breast milk too, peanuts can be included as part of a healthy, varied diet while breastfeeding. Whether you choose to eat or not to eat peanuts while breastfeeding does not appear to have any effect on your baby’s chances of developing a peanut allergy. However, if there is a family history of food allergy or other allergic conditions then your baby may be at higher risk of developing a peanut allergy, and you may wish to discuss this further with your doctor.

Ideas for quick healthy meals and snacks

There are lots of healthy meals and snacks that you can make for your family that are quick and easy to prepare

Keep a list of meal ideas that you like to take some of the pressure off when you’re at the supermarket or trying to decide what to make for dinner. Here are some healthy meal ideas to get you started:

  • Meat and vegetable stir-fry, using sweet chilli sauce, black bean sauce or Worcestershire sauce to flavour
  • Pasta with a tomato based sauce, and added vegetables (e.g. pepper, mushroom, olives)
  • Pan-fried fish with a squeeze of lemon and some pepper, served with steamed potatoes and vegetables
  • Lentil and vegetable soup, served with crusty bread
  • Spaghetti bolognese (see recipe)
  • Fishcakes made mashed potatoes, tinned salmon and herby cream cheese (to save extra time you could use ready-made mash)
  • Baked potato with baked beans and grated cheese
  • Eggs, scrambled with chopped onion, peppers and mushrooms on toast

Try to base your meals on a starchy food such as potatoes, rice or pasta, and then add different vegetables and a source of protein (e.g. meat, beans, lentils, eggs). It doesn’t matter whether you use fresh, frozen or canned vegetables – just get them in there! Also, some meals such as cottage pie and bolognese sauce freeze well, so consider doubling recipes and freezing it in meal-sized packs for when you are really short on time.

Eating well includes being aware of the foods that you’re eating as snacks to keep you going through the day. While foods such as biscuits, chocolate, muesli bars and crisps are easy to eat on the run, these foods can be high in fat and/or sugar. Instead, try to have healthier snacks on hand, such as:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Sandwiches with fillings such as cold meat, salad and/or cheese
  • Wholewheat crackers and cheese
  • Breadsticks or carrots with hummus
  • Dried fruit (e.g. raisins, prunes, apricots)
  • Smoothie – yogurt, milk, banana, frozen berries
  • Nuts and seeds (without added salt)

Eating well and looking after yourself will keep you in the best form to care for your new baby and the rest of your family.

Recipe idea for mum

(Please note that this recipe is not suitable to give to your little one, but is great for the rest of the family)

Spaghetti Bolognese

Spaghetti Bolognese is a family favourite – it’s tasty and nutritious, and loved by people of all ages. What’s also great is that it is easy to make in bulk and freezes well – perfect for a quick meal when time is short. It contains plenty of vitamin A and zinc which are both important for looking after your immune system and for keeping your tissues healthy.

This recipe makes 6 servings – freeze what you don’t eat in meal-sized packs.
Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 rashers of bacon
  • 2 carrots
  • 6 mushrooms
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 500g beef mince
  • 1x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1x 400g jar tomato pasta sauce

Serve with spaghetti (approximately 70g uncooked weight per adult serving) and grated parmesan cheese (approximately 20g per adult serving).

Method:

1. Chop the onions and garlic finely and slice the bacon. Chop the other vegetables into small cubes.
2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy base pan and add the bacon and dried oregano and cook until the bacon is lightly golden.
3. Add the vegetables and cook for about 7 minutes until they are soft.
4. Add the mince and continue to cook until the mince is evenly browned.
5. Stir in the tinned tomatoes and pasta sauce and simmer for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to fuse.
6. Serve with spaghetti, cooked according to the instructions on pack, and some grated parmesan cheese on top.

Estimated nutrient content per portion

Nutrient Amount (%GDA/RDA) GDA/RDA
Energy 524kcal (26%) 2000kcal
Protein 35g (67%) 52g (in pregnancy)
Carbohydrate 44g (19% 230g
of which sugars 10g (11%) 90g
Fat 26g (37%) 70g
of which saturates 11g (55%) 20g
Salt 1.9g (32%) 6g
Fibre 3.6g (20%) 18g
Vitamin A 618mcg (77%) 800mcg
Zinc 5.6mg (56%) 10mg

Keeping active

Just after birth is a time to be careful about getting active, particularly if you have had stitches, and, if you have had a C-section you will need to take things very easily. Just after your birth it is a good idea to start doing pelvic floor exercises.

The pelvic floor muscles run from your pubic bone at the front to the base of your spine at the back and act like a sling, supporting your bladder and urethra. Keeping these muscles strong can protect against urinary incontinence which can occur after pregnancy. You can feel the pelvic floor muscles tighten if you try to stop the flow of urine when you go to the toilet.

To strengthen your pelvic floor, sit in a comfortable position and squeeze the muscles 10-15 times in a row. Try not to hold your breath or to tighten your stomach, buttock or thigh muscles at the same time. This might feel very difficult in the first few days after the birth but this is normal and it is good to persevere. When you get used to squeezing the muscles, try holding each squeeze for a few seconds. You can add a few more squeezes each week, but don’t over do it. Try to keep doing these exercises everyday for the next few months.

Once you are feeling up to it try some gentle walks with your buggy. It is not a good idea to do anything too strenuous until you have had your 6 week postnatal check, where your doctor can advise you about what is safe for you to do.

After 6 weeks you will probably be able to start building up your activity level. Pilates, yoga and swimming are all great for getting into shape after your pregnancy. There are also now many classes where you can jog and exercise along with your buggy.


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This section includes information on introducing your baby to solid food.

Many parents worry about when and how to wean their little ones, but weaning needn't be a stressful time. Read our practical guide below to find out more about giving your baby his or her first solid foods. We have incorporated current guidance in this area to help your baby get a good start.

The term weaning is now often referred to as 'complementary feeding', to promote the continued use of breastfeeding beyond 6 months, so you might see this term used on some websites and information leaflets. In addition, many of the latest guides on weaning no longer use the idea of 'stages'; current information often refers to the introduction of different tastes and textures over time and developing eating and chewing at the baby's own pace so that by the age of 12 months your baby is having a variety of foods from all the major food groups and is eating three meals a day, in addition to healthy snacks.

When to wean

Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months

The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. This is based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines because of the strong evidence of the benefits for both mother and child.

Breast milk (or infant formula) will usually provide all the energy, nutrients and fluids that your baby needs in order to grow and develop healthily during the first 6 months of life.

Wean your baby at the right time - around 6 months

  • Weaning too soon (before 4 months) can increase the risk of infections and allergies, as your baby's digestive system and kidneys are still developing.
  • It is important that weaning is not delayed much beyond 6 months. This is because stores of essential nutrients such as iron need to be replenished. Your baby's increased requirements of these nutrients cannot be provided by milk alone. Also, delays in the introduction of new flavours and textures at this stage may make it more difficult for your baby to accept new foods.

It is natural to want to progress onto the next step and some parents are anxious about when to start to wean their babies. If your baby seems hungrier after his or her usual milk feed, first try breastfeeding more often, or offering more milk at each bottle feed.

Babies who are born prematurely may need to be weaned at different times, depending on their individual needs. Speak to your midwife, health visitor, paediatric dietitian or GP for advice.

Signs that your baby is ready for weaning

Each baby is individual but by around 6 months, babies are ready for weaning. Signs that your baby is ready are indicated below:

weaning signsweaning signs mistaken

The aim of weaning is to gradually introduce your baby to a wide range of new tastes and textures so that, by the age of one year, your baby is enjoying a varied and healthy diet.

Introduction of foods (around 6 months)

You can begin by mixing a teaspoon of one of the following foods with your baby's usual breast or formula milk:

  • Non–wheat cereals, such as baby rice
  • Mashed or puréed fruit: soft fruits such as banana or avocado, or cooked fruit such as pear or apple
  • Mashed or puréed cooked vegetables, such as carrot, potato, sweet potato, parsnip or yam
  • You can also try finger sized pieces of soft/cooked fruit or cooked vegetables. The best finger foods are those that can be cut into pieces that are big enough for your baby to hold in their fist, and stick out of the top of it. Pieces about the size of your own finger work well.

Getting started

  • Place a small amount on a soft-tipped spoon and offer this to your baby before, in the middle of, or after, his or her usual milk feed. Wait for them to open their mouth first when food is offered and initially don't attempt to give more than one or two spoonfuls. Remember that first foods will taste and feel different from breast or formula milk, so don't worry if your baby spits out his or her first few spoonfuls!
  • Alternatively, your baby may like to hold the spoon, or pick up the food with their fingers and feed themselves.

Be safe

  • Always stay with your baby when they are eating. Remember to keep your baby sitting in an upright position, well supported (for example in a high chair) and facing forwards when introducing solid foods. This will help to reduce the risk of choking.
  • Never offer food from a bottle – not only can this cause choking but it can also damage your baby's teeth.
  • Initially offer foods one at a time in case of allergy (see page 10 for more details).

Your baby will still be getting most of his or her nutrients from breast or formula milk (at least 500ml-600ml formula per day), so don't worry if your baby only swallows small amounts of his or her first foods – at this stage the food is just a taster!

Once your baby is comfortably taking his or her first foods, start to introduce purees of different fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, courgette, butternut squash, peach or melon. You can also start to combine different fruits or vegetables. The amount and frequency can be gradually increased, from once a day, to twice and eventually three solid feeds per day.

Take your time and don't rush

It is important to go at the baby's own pace and allow plenty of time for feeding. Never rush or try to force-feed your baby. Let your baby feed themselves and use their fingers to hold the food. It might be messy but it is an important part of their development.

Most babies know when they have had enough to eat and there is no point in trying to 'persuade' them to eat more. Similarly, if they refuse to try a new food then it is important not to make a fuss. Simply take the food away and try it again on another day. You may need to offer a food 10-15 times before it is accepted.

Introducing more tastes and textures (from around 7 months)

After you have introduced first foods to your baby, you can soon try a wider range of foods and textures. You can start combining foods to provide your baby with delicious and varied meals. weaning foods

As well as gradually increasing the quantity, you should also change the texture of the foods you give your baby, moving from smooth purees to mashed and lumpier foods.

After 6 months babies can be introduced to dairy foods*, foods containing wheat and varied sources of protein.

Once they have got used to eating simple foods, you can offer them foods such as cooked meat, fish, pasta, noodles, bread, chapatti, lentils, and mashed rice. You can also introduce them to well cooked eggs, and full fat dairy products like cheese, yogurt or fromage frais. Full fat rather than low fat dairy foods should be given as these are a better source of vitamin A and provide extra calories which babies need for growth and development. Make sure these are low in added sugars.

A special look at iron

Good sources of iron include red meat, such as pork, beef or lamb. Pulses, such as beans and lentils, also provide iron but this is less well absorbed. However, vitamin C from fruit and vegetables can help your baby to absorb iron from non-meat sources, so it is a good idea for fruit and vegetables to be given at mealtimes. This is particularly important for babies weaned onto vegan and vegetarian diets (see page 10 for more information).

Finger foods

It's a really good idea to try giving your baby soft finger foods. These allow your baby to practice chewing and can encourage them to feed themselves. Finger foods can also help to engage your baby's interest and some babies actually prefer foods they can hold themselves. Finger foods to try at this stage include:

  • cooked vegetables (e.g. sticks of carrot, pieces of broccoli, green beans)
  • pieces of peeled soft ripe fruit (e.g. banana, peach, pear, mango, melon)
  • fingers of pitta bread or toast
  • sticks of cheese

Getting ready for family food (from around 9 months) weaning

By this time your baby should be moving towards having three meals a day, in addition to healthy snacks as well as breast or formula milk. Water should be offered in an open cup or a free-flow lidded beaker with each meal.

It is important that you give your baby lumpier foods to encourage them to learn to chew, so foods should ideally be chopped or minced at this stage. Even if your baby doesn't have any teeth yet, he or she can chew. Finger foods will continue to help your baby learn to chew and feed themselves. Firmer finger foods like fresh fruit and veg, breadsticks and pieces of meat or fish can gradually be given as your baby gets older.

Offer your baby a wide range of foods to make sure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need. Encouraging your baby to try a wide range of foods will also make them more likely to accept new flavours and textures later on. You can give two courses at this stage e.g. a savoury course of meat, fish or pulses and vegetables followed by fruit or yogurt/fromage frais. As your baby moves towards one year of age they can enjoy healthy snacks like fruit and vegetable sticks, toast and rice cakes. Avoid giving your baby foods with added sugars or foods high in fat and/or salt, such as processed meat, deep fried foods, cakes, biscuits and chocolates, to encourage healthy eating patterns as they grow.

weaning food groups

What about milk feeds?

Solid foods should gradually start to replace milk feeds as weaning progresses, and you should find your baby will want less milk at each feed, or may even drop a milk feed altogether. You should still give your baby breast milk or formula as their main drink up to the age of 12 months (at least 500-600ml formula per day). Breast feeding can continue beyond 12 months for as long as you and your baby wish to continue.

Remember only breast milk and formula milk are suitable for babies under one year of age. Follow-on formula can be introduced after 6 months of age but it is not necessary and you can continue to use infant formula. Soya-based formula should only be used under the instruction of a GP. For information about other milks or dairy-free alternatives see our drinks section on the next page.

Suitable drinks

Milk

  • Your baby should still be given breast milk or formula as the main drink up to 12 months of age (at least 500-600ml formula per day).
  • Whole cows' milk is not suitable as a drink until after 12 months of age, but it can be used in cooking after 6 months.
  • Semi-skimmed milk is not suitable for babies and infants under 2 years of age and skimmed and 1% fat milks are not suitable as a main drink until your child is 5 years of age. This is because they do not contain enough calories and vitamin A to support a child's needs.
  • Goats' and sheep's milks are not suitable for babies under one year of age as they don't contain the right balance of nutrients for their growth and development.
  • Babies under one year of age should not be given other types of milk, such as condensed or evaporated milks, nor should they be given rice, oat or almond dairy-free alternatives as drinks.
  • Soya-based formula should only be used under the instruction of a GP. Soya-based drinks can be introduced after 12 months of age.

Water

Water is the best alternative to milk as a drink and should be offered with every meal. Give your baby tap water, rather than bottled water, as the mineral content can be too high in some bottled waters (if giving tap water to a baby under 6 months old, it should be boiled and cooled first).

Fruit juice

Unsweetened fruit juice contains natural sugars and is acidic; it can cause tooth decay if given too frequently. You can give your baby unsweetened fruit juice after 6 months of age, but always dilute it well, serve in an open cup and restrict to mealtimes only.

Drinks to avoid

Drinks containing added sugars, like squashes and fizzy drinks, are not suitable for babies. They should also avoid energy and diet drinks. These should be restricted because they can be damaging to teeth and may contain ingredients (e.g. caffeine) that are unsuitable for this age group. They also have very few nutrients and can fill your baby up meaning that they can miss out on important nutrients from food.

Tea and coffee should not be given to babies. They can reduce the amount of iron and other nutrients absorbed from food, especially if they are given with meals.

Cups

  • Your baby can move on to drinking from a cup around the age of 6 months, once he or she can sit up and hold their head steady
  • Drinks should be given from an open cup or a lidded free-flow beaker with two handles and no valve, rather than a bottle. This will help your baby learn to sip rather than suck, which is important for the development of muscles used for speech, and is better for their teeth
  • Cups and beakers with non-drip valves are not suitable
  • An open cup should fully replace a bottle by around one year of age.

Family Foods

It is a good idea to encourage your baby to try family foods from quite early on. If they see you eating these foods too they are more likely to copy you and want to eat them themselves! Healthy family meals can be adapted for your baby, but it is important not to add any salt or sugar when preparing them. To save time, you can also prepare food in batches and then freeze individual portions (e.g. in ice cube trays with lids) to be used later.

Eating together as a family and eating the same foods will help your baby adopt good habits and learn about mealtimes. Talking to your baby and smiling at these times will also help them develop social skills.

What about ready-made baby foods?

Ready-made baby foods are sometimes convenient, particularly if you are on the go, but the portion size may not be ideal for your baby's appetite. If you do buy ready-made foods, check the label and avoid buying ones that contain added sugars in the ingredients list (these can be labelled as honey, sucrose, glucose, maltose, fructose, hydrolysed starch or maize syrup). It is important to give your baby homemade food to introduce them to different textures and it's simple and cheaper too!

Baby-led weaning

You may have heard the phrase baby-led weaning. Some experts suggest that the focus should be on eating which is 'baby-led', where the infant is encouraged to feed themselves as much as possible and be involved in mealtimes.

Keeping your baby safe when weaning

Food safety

Remember to defrost frozen food, and do not refreeze. Food should be heated thoroughly until it is piping hot all the way through. Let it cool down and make sure you check the temperature before giving to your baby. Food should not be reheated more than once. Throw away any leftover food that isn't eaten.

Beware of choking hazards

Remember to cook vegetables first and avoid giving hard or unripened fruit and vegetables like raw apple and raw carrot. Small round foods like grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut into smaller pieces rather than given whole. Foods with skin (e.g. sausages) or bones (e.g. fish) can also be a choking hazard. Care should be taken to remove any stones, pips, skin and bones before feeding these types of foods to your baby.

What to avoid when weaning

The following should be avoided when weaning:

Salt – babies under one year should have less than 1g (less than ¼ tsp) of salt per day as their kidneys cannot cope with very much salt. Foods prepared at home should have no salt added. While most baby foods do not contain added salt, other processed foods (e.g. crisps, gravy, soups) do, so it is important to check the label and avoid foods high in salt.
Sugar – frequently consuming sugar-containing foods and drinks can lead to tooth decay, especially in-between meals. Avoid adding sugar to foods, as well as giving foods and drinks with added sugars, such as biscuits, cakes and fruit squash to your baby.
Honey – honey should not be given to babies under one year because there is a risk it can contain bacteria that can cause a serious illness called infant botulism.
Shark, marlin and swordfish – these types of fish should not be given because the levels of mercury they sometimes contain can affect the developing nervous system.
Raw or undercooked eggs – eggs should be cooked until the white and yolk are both solid. Avoid any foods containing raw or partially cooked eggs.
Whole nuts - should not be given to children under 5 years of age because of the risk of choking. Current advice states that crushed or finely ground nuts and peanut or other nut butters can be given from 6 months of age providing there is no history of allergies (asthma, eczema, hayfever or other food allergy) in the child's immediate family (parents or siblings).
Raw shellfish – raw shellfish should not be given to infants as they are at an increased risk of food poisoning.

Foods to avoid before 6 months

If for any reason you are thinking of weaning your baby earlier than 6 months, speak to your health visitor or GP for advice. Babies should never be given any solid foods before they are 17 weeks (four months) old. This is because the digestive and immune systems of young babies have not developed sufficiently to cope with food other than breast or formula milk.

Allergy alert

If you do decide to introduce solid foods before 6 months, there are certain foods that need to be avoided (see table below).

As a baby's immune system takes time to develop, it is currently recommended that certain foods should never be introduced before 6 months of age, to reduce the risk of allergies developing. These include foods containing gluten/wheat, eggs, fish and shellfish, nuts, seeds, liver and cows' milk.

In addition, certain cheeses (e.g. soft or unpasteurised cheeses) may contain bacteria that the baby's immune system is not yet ready for. Hard cheeses are safe to introduce from 6 months.

foods to avoid

Special Groups

Weaning onto a vegetarian or vegan diet

With appropriate care, a varied vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients your baby needs for growth and development. The principles of weaning are the same for vegetarian as non-vegetarian babies. However, a vegetarian weaning diet may provide less energy and iron (and more fibre) compared to a non-vegetarian weaning diet.

It is important that you give your baby other sources of the nutrients that would be provided by meat or fish, like protein, iron and B vitamins. You should give pulses (e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas), and eggs or other meat alternatives such as tofu after 6 months. It is also a good idea to give fruit and vegetables alongside meat alternatives, as the vitamin C will help your baby to absorb more iron.

You should speak to your GP or health visitor for advice about weaning onto a vegan diet as it can be particularly difficult for young babies to obtain all the energy and nutrients they need. You should take care to plan your baby's diet carefully so that nutrients typically obtained from animal products, like iron and calcium, are included.

For babies being weaned onto a vegan diet, soya formula can be used from 6 months, both as a drink and to replace cows' milk in recipes such as rice pudding, or in soups. Calcium can also be obtained from green leafy vegetables like curly kale and watercress, from sesame seed paste (tahini) and smooth almond butter, from white and brown bread, and from fortified soya products like soya yogurts. For nutrients such as vitamin B12, supplements may be required. For example, it may be necessary to give B12 supplements if you are breastfeeding and weaning your baby onto a vegan diet. Check with your health professional.

What about food allergy?

There are some foods that may trigger food allergies and should never be given before 6 months. These include:

  • milk
  • egg
  • soya
  • wheat (and other cereals containing gluten e.g. rye, barley and oats)
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • fish and shellfish

Foods that have the potential to cause allergic reactions should be introduced gradually. Introduce these one at a time, and leave a gap of about three days in between each one to allow time to spot any reactions that may develop. Always wait until after the age of 6 months before introducing these foods and start with a very small amount.

Food allergies are more likely to develop if a close family member (parent or sibling) suffers from allergies, such as asthma, eczema, hay fever or food allergies. If this is the case it is a good idea to speak to your GP or health visitor before introducing your baby to these foods. If you suspect your baby does have a reaction to a food, consult your GP or health visitor.

What about peanut allergy?

 Current Government recommendations state that parents can give their baby foods containing peanuts from 6 months of age, but not before this time. Finely chopped/ground peanuts and peanut butter are ok to be introduced from 6 months of age in babies with no known allergies and no history of allergy in their immediate family. If you are concerned you can pay close attention to your baby for a few days after eating peanuts to spot any reaction. Note that chopped or whole nuts should not be given to children under 5 because of the risk of choking.

If your baby already has a known allergy (such as a diagnosed food allergy or diagnosed eczema), or if there is a history of allergy in your baby's immediate family (if their parents, brothers or sisters have an allergy such as asthma, eczema, hayfever or other types of allergy), then your baby has a higher risk of developing peanut allergy. In these cases you should talk to your GP, health visitor or medical allergy specialist before you give peanuts or foods containing peanuts to your baby for the first time.

Supplements

If you are still breastfeeding, it is recommended that you give your baby a supplement of vitamins A and D from the age of 6 months. Vitamin drops including vitamins A, C and D are available through the Healthy Start scheme for low income families. See http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/ for further details or speak to your health visitor.

If you are giving your baby at least 500ml of infant formula per day, you do not need a vitamin supplement since these vitamins are already added to the formula. If your baby is having formula milk in smaller amounts, it is advisable to give them a supplement of vitamins A and D.

Babies being weaned onto a vegan diet may need additional supplements, including vitamin B12. Consult your health professional for more information.

First Foods, Complementary Feeding and Obesity

The British Nutrition Foundation is delighted to present a factsheet and videos summarising outcomes from its recent symposium, New Perspectives on First Foods, Complementary Feeding and Obesity, held on 28th April 2015 at Governors' Hall, St Thomas' Hospital, London. These are based on the expert presentations on the day that discussed the relationship between early years feeding and childhood obesity. Presentations focused on national and international research in this area, and looked at the role of public health, health professionals and parents in obesity prevention in infants. There is also a more detailed summary for health professionals in 10 key facts.



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Breastfeeding: The Perfect Food for Babies

The ideal food for a newborn baby is mother's milk. Breast milk provides the nutrients essential for an infant's development in the first months of life. It is easily digested and provides enough fluids to keep your baby from feeling thirsty or becoming constipated.

Breastfeeding also protects against illness:

  • During the first few days of lactation, mothers produce colostrum, a yellowish precursor to breast milk that is rich in antibodies that protect newborns against infection.
  • When the breast milk comes in three or four days after birth, antibodies manufactured by the mother's immune system continue to pass to babies, helping them ward off infection for as long as they nurse.
  • Breastfed babies are less likely than formula-fed babies to develop digestive problems, ear infections, anemia, diabetes, and other health problems.

Breastfeeding even helps your baby's oral development. Breastfed babies have good cheekbone development, jaw alignment, and fewer speech impediments than bottle-fed babies. As a result, they are less likely to need braces or other orthodontic care later in life.

Breastfeeding: Benefits for Mothers

Breastfeeding is the easiest way to keep babies happy. Life is simple for most healthy breastfed newborns. They let you know when they're hungry, nurse eagerly until they are satisfied, then drift off to sleep with a look of contentment.

Breastfeeding makes life simpler for mothers. No measuring and mixing is necessary and, in most cases, you don't need to worry about how much breast milk your baby is consuming.

Breastfeeding has positive effects on the mother's body:

  • When a mother nurses her baby right after birth, it causes uterine contractions that reduce bleeding and allow the uterus to quickly regain its shape.
  • Because producing breast milk requires energy, breastfeeding mothers burn more calories, and, generally, return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster than bottle-feeding mothers.

Breastfeeding: What to Expect

During the first weeks, you may have some discomfort as your body adjusts. Sometimes this can be disconcerting to new mothers. Your breasts may feel engorged and sensitive. You will find it helpful to speak with an experienced breast-feeding coach, which you'll be able to find by contacting the La Leche League through the organization's website, http://www.lalecheleague.org/.

Sticking with breastfeeding through this brief period brings great rewards. Within two weeks or so, your body will "know" how much milk to produce, because of a remarkable physiological response of "supply and demand." The more your growing baby nurses, the more milk you'll produce.

After a few weeks, most mothers and babies settle into a relaxed routine. Mom will understand her infant's "language" (how baby shows when he or she is hungry, sleepy, or playful) and she will see that breastfeeding is tremendously comforting to her baby. Studies show that breastfeeding gives your infant a close bond with you and helps build feelings of safety and security in your child.

Infants sometimes want to nurse when they are tired or grumpy, but not particularly hungry. And even though babies will have emptied both breasts after 10 minutes or so of feeding, they will probably still want to nurse. Babies allowed to continue nursing until finished will feel nurtured and satisfied, as well as full.

Formula-fed babies and breastfed babies rushed through nursing may become fussy and suck frantically on their fists or blankets. You can take your cues from your baby. Some will turn away from the breast after a short time, while others seem to need long, comforting feedings.

Breastfeeding: How Much and How Often?

Signs that a baby is getting enough to eat include:

  • gaining weight every week
  • urinating six to eight times a day
  • sleeping well
  • being responsive to the mother

Most pediatricians believe that babies themselves are the best judges of how much to eat. Regular examinations by a pediatrician with monthly weight checks will reassure parents who are watching their baby's growth.

In general, it is best to feed infants when they demand it, rather than trying to set a rigid schedule. Since breast milk is so easily digested, babies may be ready to nurse again within a short time.

In general, babies want to nurse about every two hours. But each infant is different. One may be hungry an hour after the last meal, while another is content for three to four hours between feedings.

Breastfeeding: Human Milk Versus Animal Milk

Milk from cows and goats is quite different in composition than human breast milk and, therefore, should not be fed to human infants. Human milk, which is designed specifically for promoting infant health, is much lower in protein, calcium, and sodium, and higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, carbohydrates, folate, and vitamin C.

Comparing Human and Animal Milks (per cup)

Nutrient Human Milk Cow's Milk Goat's Milk
Calories 172 146 168
Protein (g) 2.5 7.9 8.7
Fat (g) 10.8 7.9 10.1
Saturated fat (g) 4.9 4.6 6.5
Monounsaturated fat (g) 4.1 2.0 2.7
Polyunsaturated fat (g) 1.2 0.5 0.4
Carbohydrate (g) 17.0 11.0 10.9
Folate (mcg) 12 12 2
Vitamin C (mg) 12.3 0 3.2
Sodium (mg) 42 98 122
Iron (mg) 0.07 0.07 0.12
Calcium (mg) 79 276 327

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2004. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp.

Breastfeeding: Complete Nutrition for Breastfed Babies

For the first six months of life, babies will get the nourishment they need from breast milk and a little regular sun exposure. Infants thrive on breast milk from their mothers. Breast milk is rich in the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrate, and fat that an infant needs. When breastfeeding mothers consume a nutrient-rich diet, their breast milk is also full of nutrients.

Babies, like adults, need vitamin D, which normally comes from sunlight touching the skin rather than from food sources. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all breastfed infants receive 200 IU of oral vitamin D drops daily beginning during the first two months of life and continuing until the daily consumption of vitamin D-fortified foods is sufficient. This recommendation is due to the risk of sunburn and skin cancer from sun exposure and the fact that breast milk does not contain enough vitamin D to prevent rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency.

In its Breastfeeding Guidelines, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that "exclusive breast feeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months of life."

In special circumstances, however, some additional vitamins may be recommended:

  • In the United States, most babies are given a one-time dose of vitamin K at birth because vitamin K does not reach the fetus well and is low in breast milk. Deficiencies can cause hemorrhaging and death. Infants should not receive supplemental vitamin K after that time, as large doses of the synthetic version can be toxic.
  • As you begin introducing new foods to your baby at approximately six months, iron-fortified cereals are a good way to meet your baby's need for iron (1 milligram per kilogram of body weight per day).
  • If you are not regularly consuming vitamin B12 from fortified food products or supplements, your breast-feeding baby will not get adequate B12. It is important for you to adjust your eating habits to include vitamin B12-fortified foods or a supplement so both you and your nursing baby get the benefits of this essential nutrient.

Breastfed babies generally don't need to be given water, since there is enough fluid in breast milk to keep them well hydrated. However, during very hot weather or when they have a fever, babies can benefit from extra fluids and may readily accept a bottle of water.


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Becoming pregnant as a young person can be an exciting time, but it can also be frightening and you may have concerns about money, housing, education, relationships or family.

Every mum, young or old, wants the best for their baby. But studies have shown that young women are more likely to have premature birth, a baby with a low birthweight or start pregnancy underweight when compared to older women, and these are more likely to increase risk of health complications for the baby.

Eating the right food and drink is an important part of having a healthy pregnancy to help your baby grow and develop properly. Young mums also need to look after themselves; they may still be growing too.

The diet of some young women is sometimes not as great as it could be. For example, studies have shown young women may be more likely to skip meals, choose to eat fast foods on a regular basis or have too much sugar in their diets. Some young women may also lack nutrients in their diets that are important for themselves and their growing babies, like iron and calcium.

There may be particular challenges for younger pregnant women, for example, housing issues may mean they don’t have anywhere to cook. But it’s still a good time to think about diet and make some changes that will be good for mum and baby. Even small and simple changes can make a difference!

This section has been specially written to support young pregnant women (under 20 years old), and answer some of the questions they may have.

Commonly asked questions

Why not try some of our Healthy Eating Goals?

What should I be eating more of now I’m pregnant?

Pregnancy is a great time to try and look after yourself and get lots of nutrients for you and your baby, giving him/her the best start in life. Try to eat lots of different foods every day and include something from each of the following main food groups;

  • Bread, rice, potatoes or pasta (wholegrain if possible) - try to base your meals on these; they give you the energy you and your baby need.
  • Fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, dried or canned) - try to eat 5 different fruits and vegetables a day, a small glass of fruit juice can count as one. They contain lots of vitamins and minerals for your baby’s growth and development.
  • Meat, fish, eggs and beans - try to eat a couple of these a day; they are important for your baby’s growth. Canned fish is cheap and nutritious and so are canned peas, beans and lentils like baked beans, chick peas and red kidney beans.
  • Milk and dairy foods (cheese, yogurt) or dairy-free alternatives if you are vegan - try to eat a couple of these a day; they are important for your baby’s bones.

For some healthy meal ideas and recipes, follow this link.

There are also certain foods you should avoid eating whilst pregnant. See our section on what not to eat when you are pregnant.

And don’t forget drinks…

  • Tap water is a great choice – it’s the cheapest option too!
  • Unsweetened fruit juice can be a good source of vitamin C, but high in sugar, so stick to one small glass a day with your breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Semi-skimmed milk can be enjoyed with a snack or on its own. It’s high in calcium so it‘s good for you and your baby's bones.
  • Try not to drink too many sugary drinks, like sugary fizzy drinks.

Don’t forget – energy drinks, tea and coffee contain caffeine which you shouldn’t have too much of when you are pregnant. 

Healthy Start Vouchers

For ALL pregnant women under 18, and those over 18 on benefits, Healthy Start vouchers are available. The vouchers can be spent on milk or fruit and vegetables (fresh or frozen with nothing added).

Healthy Start vitamins for pregnant women (containing folic acid and vitamins C and D) are also available.

For more information visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk 

Remember to take your supplements!

During pregnancy you also need to take the following vitamins every day:

Folate (400 µg every day, up to 12 weeks of pregnancy) – start taking this as early as possible in your pregnancy (or before you become pregnant) as it helps to reduce the risk of your baby developing spina bifida and other neural tube defects (problems with their brain and spine).

Vitamin D (10 µg every day) – this is important to help your baby grow strong bones.

You should be able to buy these from your local pharmacy. If you are under 18 or have a low family income you can apply for Healthy Start and get these vitamins for free.

I hate vegetables, do I really have to eat them?

There are loads of different vegetables you could try. They don’t all taste the same so it is worth trying a few out and seeing which ones you don’t mind eating. Some are slightly sweeter than others, such as sweetcorn, peas, red pepper, carrots and sweet potato, so maybe try these and see what you think. Rather than boiling them until they turn to mush, try cooking vegetables until they are just tender, they often taste better this way. Or, you could try eating them raw, such as carrot sticks or red pepper strips. Why not try chopping vegetables up into very small pieces and putting them in sauces or stews, like in bolognaise, as it may make it easier for you to eat them. If you prefer fruit, make sure you eat plenty of different types of fruit.

I have no time for breakfast in the morning, is it still OK to skip breakfast now I’m pregnant?

Breakfast is a great way to start the day and get some essential nutrients for you and your baby. Breakfast cereals with semi-skimmed milk are quick and easy - try to choose a breakfast cereal which is low in added sugar and salt. If you are really pushed for time, why not try a fruit smoothie, drinking yogurt or banana, which you can eat on the go. When you do have time, try porridge (made with milk), fruit or eggs for simple but delicious breakfasts.

I am not the one who does the food shopping or cooking at home. I just eat what I’m given so how can I make sure what I eat is healthy for me and my baby?

Try to let the person who is doing the shopping and cooking know what types of food are good for you and your baby. Also, if you get Healthy Start vouchers, spend them on fruits and vegetables that you can eat as a healthy snack during the day. Perhaps the person doing the shopping or cooking wouldn’t mind a helping hand, which will let you have more of a say on what you eat.

How can I eat a healthy diet on a tight budget?

If you are under 18 years old or are on benefits, you may be able to get Healthy Start vouchers. The Healthy Start vouchers can be used to buy fruit and vegetables or milk. For more information visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk.

Frozen or canned fruit (in fruit juice or water rather than syrup) or vegetables can often be cheaper than fresh. Canned fish like sardines or salmon is often cheaper than fresh too and can just be stored in the cupboard. If you can, try shopping around to see if you can find things cheaper elsewhere. Fruit and veg stalls and local butchers can sometimes be cheaper than supermarkets. For more tips on eating on a budget follow this link.

How can I eat a healthy diet when I can’t cook?

Cooking may be easier than you think. Why not see if there is a cooking class in your area to help teach you the basics or perhaps you have a relative or friend who could show you a thing or two. There are loads of recipes which are healthy, simple and quick – have a look online and see what you can find. Try some simple things first – beans or scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast, or pasta and tomato sauce. You can also choose healthy options, even if you don’t cook. Compare food labels and choose meals which include lots of vegetables and which are lower in fat, added sugar and salt. You can also eat healthy snacks without having to cook. Try some carrot sticks and houmous, low fat yogurt, crispbread with soft low fat cheese spread or a piece of fruit.

How can I eat a healthy diet when I don’t have anywhere to cook?

Eat as well as you can manage. There are lots of recipes you could try if you have access to a microwave, see what recipes you can find online. Things like jacket potato are great with lots of different toppings like grated cheese and tomato and tuna and sweetcorn or try scrambled eggs with baked beans.
You can also cook noodles or couscous with hot water from a kettle – why not add a can of mixed beans and a can of tuna to couscous for a quick and easy meal. If you are buying pre-prepared meals and takeaways, check out the answer to the next question.

I prefer eating takeaways or ready meals, are these really bad?

They don’t have to be, as long as you pick carefully. If you are buying ready meals, check the labels and see if you can find meals which have some vegetables in them and are lower in fat, saturates, sugar and salt.

Go for green! Try to look at food labels and look for things lower in fat, saturates, sugar and salt. This is sometimes colour coded on the front of the packet of food (green means it is low, red means it is high and amber is in between). Try to choose products which are mainly colour coded green or amber. For more information about looking at food labels, follow this link.

If you are buying takeaways, try to avoid foods which are fried, contain lots of pastry or have a creamy sauce. Why not add some more veg on your pizza, add some sweetcorn to boiled rice or choose a small portion of chips and add mushy peas.

For more information on eating outside of the home, follow this link.

I’m a vegetarian, do I have to start eating meat now I’m pregnant?

You can still get all the nutrients you and your baby need from a vegetarian diet but it may require a little extra thought and planning. You will need to make sure you are getting enough iron by eating things like beans, pulses, quinoa, eggs, brown bread and breakfast cereals fortified with iron (check the label). You also need to make sure you are getting enough protein by eating protein-rich foods like beans, pulses, tofu, cheese and eggs. To find some more information about vegetarian or vegan pregnancies, follow this link.

What about smoking and alcohol, are they really that bad?

Buying alcohol when you are under 18 years old is illegal. In 2016, the Department of Health updated the alcohol guidelines and advised not to drink any alcohol in pregnancy. You can still go out and have fun when you are pregnant but getting drunk is bad for your baby. Smoking is also bad for your baby, and increases their risk of being born early, not weighing enough, stillborn (born with no signs of life) or suffering sudden infant death syndrome (‘cot death’). All street drugs (like cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy) are illegal and can harm your baby. Talk to your midwife or doctor if you need help in giving up alcohol, smoking or drugs – there is support out there for you.

Can I eat loads now I’m pregnant – shall I eat for 2?

Your body is really good at adapting to pregnancy and you don’t need to eat for two. Towards the end of pregnancy, in the last trimester (last 3 months), you will require around 200 extra calories a day, which for example, you can get from a low fat yogurt and a banana. You will put on some weight during pregnancy, this is natural and important. But, if you eat too many foods high in fat and sugar and do too little exercise, you may pile on the pounds and it will be harder for you to lose this extra weight after pregnancy. For more information on managing your weight during pregnancy, follow this link.

I don’t want to put on any weight, how can I stop it?

Everyone will put on some weight whilst pregnant and it is a sign of a normal, healthy pregnancy. The weight you put on comes from a number of things, like the placenta and the baby, increases in the amount of blood you carry round your body, increases in the size of your breasts and fat stores ready for breastfeeding and the fluid surrounding your baby. These are all things that are needed to help produce a healthy baby. You will lose a lot of this extra weight when you deliver your baby. Healthy eating, exercise and breastfeeding can also help you return to the weight you were before pregnancy, and breastfeeding is a great way to give your baby the best start in life.

I’m really not good with pain. Is labour easier with a small baby?

Although mums may think that having a small baby is a good thing, it’s not. Babies that don’t weigh enough have a greater risk of health problems.

Your body still goes through the same labour pains whether your baby is small or large. Most labour pain comes from the powerful squeezing of the muscles in your womb (the contractions) and this happens at the same level, whether your baby is big or small. The position of the baby during the delivery and how relaxed you feel during the labour process are probably more likely to affect how much pain you feel, rather than the size of the baby. Having a small baby may also increase the risk of the baby having health problems when he/she is born and in later life. Eating a good diet and following a healthy lifestyle will help you to have a healthy enjoyable pregnancy and a healthy baby. There are many different options for pain-relief during labour, speak to your midwife.

Healthy eating goals - see how many you can tick off during your pregnancy!

Choosing one or two a week to focus on is great way to start!

This week I’ll…

 ΟTake my pregnancy vitamins every day

 ΟTry a new vegetable or fruit I’ve never tried before

 Ο Find a new easy recipe online and give it a go

 Ο Join a local cooking class

 Ο Eat breakfast every day

 Ο Have a piece of fruit as a snack every day

 Ο Drink a small glass of orange juice with my breakfast, lunch or dinner

 Ο Have a low fat yogurt for dessert after lunch or dinner

 Ο Choose a wholegrain version of starchy carbs like brown rice, wholemeal pasta or wholemeal bread

 Ο Swap sugary fizzy drinks for water or milk

 Ο Look at the food labels and select meals and snacks which have green (ideally) or amber colour coding for fat, sugar and salt.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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A nursing mother’s diet can have a profound effect on her baby.  A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that whatever you eat, your baby eats, too. Healthy nutrients and contaminants alike pass from breast milk to baby.  

Energy and Nutrient Needs while Breastfeeding

Calorie and protein needs continue to be high during lactation, as they were in pregnancy. The breastfeeding mother requires an extra 300 to 400 calories above her pre–pregnancy needs for the first 12 months of breastfeeding.

Fortunately, eating well and fulfilling the needs of your newborn child are really quite easy. The healthiest diets derive their nutrients from these sources: vegetables (fresh or frozen), fruit (fresh or frozen), legumes (beans, peas, or lentils), whole grains, and nuts and seeds. There is no need to eat fatty, sugary, and refined packaged foods, nor fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products. 

A vegan diet, supplemented with vitamin B12, helps keep you slim and resistant to illness while providing all the nutrients necessary for optimal health. Contrary to popular belief, vegan and vegetarian diets have plenty of protein to meet your needs.

Caring for a newborn child is an exciting, rewarding, and at times exhausting experience for most parents. As a parent, you have accomplished the amazing feat of giving life to a new person. You now have the opportunity to offer your baby love and care as well as the gift of good health.

Studies show that vegan moms (who do not consume any animal products) have lower levels of environmental contaminants such as pesticides in their breast milk compared with meat– and dairy–eating moms. Do yourself and your baby a lifelong favor by choosing a clean, safe, healthful, and delicious vegetarian diet while breastfeeding.

Calcium

Babies will take a substantial amount of calcium from breast milk, so it is essential for nursing mothers to eat foods rich in this mineral. However, maternal absorption increases during pregnancy and lactation, so there is no increased need for calcium above pre–pregnancy levels. The best sources of readily absorbable calcium are found in green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards, and mustard greens, as well as in legumes (beans, peas, and lentils). 

In addition to the essential nutrients found in vegetables, they are also loaded with protective compounds such as antioxidants, making it even more important to try to eat numerous vegetables each day. Women who have difficulty digesting broccoli or other vegetables may wish to cook them longer; this does not reduce their calcium content. Avoid broccoli if your baby is colicky.

Calcium–fortified foods such as orange and apple juice, tofu, soymilk, and cereals also provide plenty of calcium, without the disadvantages of dairy products. Beans, peas, and lentils not only contain calcium, but other minerals, vitamins, fiber, protein, and small amounts of healthful fats as well. 

Vitamin B12

It is important for your daily menu to include a source of vitamin B12, such as a serving of fortified cereal or soymilk, nutritional yeast, or any common multivitamin. Pregnant and lactating women should aim to get at least 4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day.

Vitamin B12 may be listed on multivitamins or food labels by its chemical names,cobalamin or cyanocobalamin. Large doses of some vitamins may pass through breast milk and make your baby ill, however, so supplements should be discussed with a doctor first.

A Clean Food Supply for Your Baby

A diet built entirely from fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes has the added advantage of reducing levels of environmental contaminants in breast milk. Studies show that women who consume meat of all types and dairy products have higher levels of chemical contaminants in their breast milk, probably because these chemicals tend to concentrate in animal tissues.1 Plant foods have much lower levels of contaminants than foods from animal sources and are even cleaner when they are grown organically.

Fish is often very high in contaminants. It commonly contains mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other organochlorine pesticides, which can pass through breast milk to nursing babies. These contaminants, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems, tend to accumulate in body fat and remain in the body for decades.

Dairy products, including cow’s milk, raise this same contamination concern. Since pesticides and other contaminants tend to concentrate in milk, nursing mothers who eat dairy products pass them along to their babies. Cow’s milk proteins can also enter breast milk. These proteins can cause colic, as well as contributing to allergic reactions and a whole host of other problems in babies.

References
1. Dagnelie PC, van Staveren WA, Roos AH, Tuinstra LG, Burema J.Nutrients and contaminants in human milk from mothers on macrobiotic and omnivorous diets.  Eur J Clin Nutr. 1992 May;46(5):355–66

Daily Meal Planning Guidelines for Nursing Women

The following chart indicates the minimum number of servings needed for approximately 2,400 or more calories per day. Fewer servings may be needed depending on your activity level, desired weight loss, and time breastfeeding. However, women who are overweight should not attempt to cut calories too drastically (not below 1,800 calories per day), as this may affect breast milk quality and production. Slow weight loss is best.

Whole Grains, Breads, Cereals
pasta 11 or more servings, choose whole grains whenever possible.
Serving = 1 slice of bread, 1/2 bun or bagel, 1/2 cup cooked cereal, grain, or pasta, 3/4 to 1 cup of ready–to–eat cereal
Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, Milks
bean 6 or more servings, choose calcium–rich foods such as fortified soymilk, tofu, and beans.
Include a daily source of omega–3 fatty acids such 1 1/2 tablespoons ground flaxseed or 3 tablespoons walnuts.

Serving = 1 cup cooked beans, 4 oz of tempeh or tofu, 3 oz of meat analogue, 1/4 cup nuts or seeds, 2 tablespoons nut or seed butter, 1 cup fortified soymilk or other fortified non–dairy milk
Vegetables
greens 5 or more servings, choose at least one dark green vegetable daily. Broccoli, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and bok choy are good calcium–rich vegetables.
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw
Fruits
orange 5 or more servings, choose fresh fruit and calcium–fortified juices.
Serving = 1/2 cup canned fruit or juice or 1 medium fruit, or 1 cup fruit pieces or 2 tablespoons dried fruit

Adapted from material from the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, American Dietetics Association, 1996.

Fluid Needs

Nursing mothers need to drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice, and other non–dairy beverages, such as soymilk, are good choices.

In addition to your usual fluid intake, nursing mothers should drink as much liquid as your baby takes from you. One way to do this is to drink a glass of water or soymilk 10 to 15 minutes before feeding your baby. Or sip from your glass while your baby nurses. It’s a good idea to avoid drinking hot liquids while breastfeeding as a sudden movement could result in an accidental scalding.

Moms can generally consume decaffeinated and herbal teas and decaffeinated coffee without causing babies any harm, though some mothers find that when they drink coffee, their babies become fussy. 

Since alcohol will pass through to breast milk, it is best to avoid it while nursing.

Other Tips

A diet built from a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes, along with a source of vitamin B12, is satisfying and healthy. Combined with simple exercise, such as brisk walking several days a week, and plenty of rest, it will help new mothers feel fit and energetic. 

Getting sufficient rest is important and likely will be a challenge in the first weeks.  Although breastfeeding is the easiest way to feed newborns, producing milk requires the body to work.

If you get overtired, you may find that your milk supply decreases—and suddenly your baby is demanding to be fed every hour. One tip: Napping, or at least resting, when baby naps will help.


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If you are a Muslim woman who is pregnant, or is planning to become pregnant, you may be wondering whether you should still fast during Ramadan. Hopefully the responses to the frequently asked questions below will help provide you with the information you need.

Do I have to fast?


Islamic law gives permission for pregnant and breastfeeding women to opt out of fasting if she fears that it will harm her health or the health of her baby.
Missed days of fasting can be made up at a later date, or if this isn’t possible, a ‘fidyah’ can be paid by providing food for someone in poverty for every missed day of fasting. However, some pregnant Muslim women decide to fast during Ramadan. This is a very personal decision and will depend on your own circumstances such as the stage of pregnancy, how you are feeling and if you have experienced any problems so far in your pregnancy. Fasting should be discussed with your midwife or doctor so that you can have a health check, identify any potential complications you may be at risk of when fasting and get their advice on whether fasting is likely to harm you or your baby’s health. The time of year Ramadan falls (e.g. during long hot summer days) and work commitments may also affect your decision.

Is fasting during pregnancy safe?


Research is still ongoing in this area and although the evidence is not clear cut, many experts believe it is not a good idea to fast during pregnancy. There is some evidence to suggest that pregnant women who fast during Ramadan may have smaller placentas and/or babies with slightly lower birth weights, compared to women who don’t fast. Fasting may also increase the risk of becoming dehydrated, especially if Ramadan falls during the summer, and this may affect the way your kidneys function and the amount of fluid surrounding your baby. However, other studies have not found any differences between babies who are born to mothers who have fasted and those who have not fasted during Ramadan. The impact of fasting during pregnancy may depend on the overall health of the mother, the stage of pregnancy and the time of year Ramadan occurs. More research is needed to fully understand what impact fasting may have on the health and development of the baby and what that may mean for the child’s health in later life.

If I decide to fast, is there anything I can do to make it more manageable for me and my baby?

Pregnancy is quite a demanding time for your body in terms of nutrients and fluids it needs. If you are considering taking part in Ramadan during pregnancy, make sure you let your midwife and/or doctor know so that they can offer you some advice and perform any necessary health checks. If you do decide to fast during Ramadan, you may wish to consider fasting on some but not all days of the month e.g. fasting on alternate days or at weekends to try and make it a bit more manageable.

If you are fasting, dehydration is something to watch out for, especially if Ramadan falls during long hot summer days. Feeling thirsty or having dark-coloured urine can be early signs of dehydration, other symptoms may include dizziness, headache, tiredness, dry mouth and passing small amounts of urine infrequently (less than three or four times a day). If you feel dizzy, faint, weak, confused or tired during fasting, even after resting, then you should break your fast with a sweet drink, to replace lost sugar and fluids, and a salty snack, to replace lost salt, or an oral rehydration solution and contact your doctor. To try to reduce the risk of dehydration; stay cool in the shade, don’t over-exert yourself, and try to drink plenty of fluids once you have broken your fast and at ‘suhoor’. Remember that during pregnancy, the amount of fluid you need may increase by an extra one or two glasses a day. On top of drinking lots of fluids, including foods which have a high water content such as fruits, vegetables, soups, stews and porridge in your ‘suhoor’ and ‘iftar’ meals may also help to keep you hydrated. It is also a good idea to avoid consuming too many salty foods, especially first thing in the morning, as this may make you feel even more thirsty.

Make sure you are still taking your supplements (folic acid and vitamin D) and eating a healthy balanced diet during Ramadan so that you are getting all the nutrients you and your baby need. Also try to eat foods which release energy slowly (low glycaemic index foods) such as wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bread, oat and bran based cereals, beans and unsalted nuts, especially at suhoor.

If you have decided to fast during Ramadan and then begin to feel unwell, it is important to contact your midwife or doctor as soon as possible and consider breaking your fast.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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With some careful meal planning and by eating a variety and balance of different vegetarian or vegan foods, vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be should be able to get all the nutrients that they and their baby needs. A lot of the information below is also relevant before conception, to make sure the body’s nutrient stores are ready for pregnancy, and during breastfeeding.

Plenty of starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Base your meals around these. Choose wholegrain options, like wholewheat pasta, wholegrain breakfast cereals and brown rice or potatoes with skins where possible, as these contain more fibre which is an important part of a healthy diet and can help to prevent constipation (common in pregnancy).

Similar to any healthy diet, you should make sure you include foods from the four main food groups:

  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables, which can be fresh, frozen or tinned. Try to have five portions a day. A glass of 100% unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice counts as one portion.
  • Protein-rich foods, which for a vegetarian or vegan include foods like tofu, beans, pulses and nuts, and eggs for those who include them in their diet.
  • Milk and dairy, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, or non-dairy alternatives which are fortified with vitamins and minerals (e.g. calcium) if you are vegan.
  • Meat, fish and dairy are good sources of a number of essential nutrients. Most of these nutrients can also be found in foods (including fortified foods) that are suitable for vegans and vegetarians, but vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be need to make sure they are getting enough of these foods in their diet.

Nutrients to consider in a vegetarian and vegan diet

The importance of supplements during pregnancy and healthy eating whilst breastfeeding

Top tips for vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be

Nutrients which need careful consideration in a vegetarian and vegan diet include:

Protein

Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of your body's cells – and of your baby's. Essential amino acids are those that the body cannot make itself and so are needed from the diet. Most vegans and vegetarians get enough protein from their diets. However, it is important to consume a range of different proteins to make sure you get enough of all of the different essential amino acids. Soya is a particularly good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans as it contains a good range of essential amino acids.

Other vegetarian sources of protein include:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy products (such as milk, yogurt and cheese)
  • Some dairy-free alternatives (such as soya dairy-free alternative drinks and yogurts)
  • Beans and pulses (such as chickpeas, kidney beans, soya beans and lentils)
  • Some nuts and nut butters (such as peanuts, almonds and cashews) (where possible, choose the no added salt or sugar varieties)
  • Tofu
  • Mycoprotein (such as ‘Quorn’- not suitable for strict vegans as it contains egg)

Some grains (such as quinoa) can also contribute to protein intake.

Omega-3

Long-chain omega-3 fats, in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are important for the normal development of your baby’s brain and eyes. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and trout are rich sources of long-chain omega-3 DHA. If you don't eat fish, you can get short chain omega-3 fats, such as α-linolenic acid (ALA), from other foods (see list below). The omega-3 fats these foods contain are not the long-chain versions like DHA found in oily fish. The body is able to convert a small proportion of these fats into long chain omega-3s but this process is not thought to be overly efficient. Levels of long chain fatty acids in vegans and vegetarians have been found to be lower than in fish eaters. However, there is no strong evidence of adverse effects on health from the lower long chain fatty acid intake in vegans and vegetarians.

Algae-based (vegetarian) omega-3 DHA supplements are available (check that any supplements you are taking do not contain vitamin A and are suitable for pregnancy) in addition to a limited range of foods and drinks fortified with omega-3 DHA. 

Foods which contain short-chain omega-3 fats (ALA) include:

  • Some seeds (such as flax and chia seeds)
  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Vegetable oils (such as flax seed, rapeseed and soyabean oil)
  • Soybeans

Iron

Iron is important for the normal growth and development of your baby. A lack of iron can make you feel tired too. Anaemia due to iron deficiency can often occur during pregnancy, and your doctor or midwife can diagnose this through a simple blood test. 

The iron found in plant foods is less readily absorbed than that from animal products, so vegetarians and vegans need to ensure they include good sources of iron in their diet such as:

  • Pulses (such as beans, peas and lentils)
  • Green leafy vegetables (such as watercress)
  • Wholemeal, seeded and wheatgerm bread
  • Quinoa
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals
  • Dried apricots and figs
  • Sesame and pumpkin seeds

Calcium

Calcium is important for the growth of your baby’s bones as well as helping to maintain yours. Calcium is also important when breastfeeding and requirements for calcium increase during this time. Dairy foods, such as milk and yogurt, are a good source of calcium. Try to select low fat versions where possible, these are likely to contain at least the same amount of calcium but without the extra calories. Cheese is also a great source of calcium but many can be high in fat and salt so eat in moderation and choose reduced-fat varieties where possible. Many varieties of cheese are safe to eat in pregnancy. However, some cheeses aren't safe to eat including soft cheeses with white rinds (e.g. brie and chevre) and soft blue veined cheese (e.g. Danish blue).

If you are vegan you should try to eat more calcium-containing foods which include:

  • Bread (breads made using flour which does not contain the wholegrain, such as white and some brown breads in the UK, have to be fortified with calcium by law)
  • Some green leafy vegetables (such as kale, rocket and watercress)
  • Calcium-fortified breakfast cereals
  • Calcium-fortified dairy alternatives (such as soya, oat, rice or nut dairy-free alternative drinks and yogurts)
  • Calcium-set tofu (those prepared using calcium)

To check whether fortified products contain calcium, check the label.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for the normal growth and development of your baby and helps the body to release the energy from the food
 you eat. Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods (meat, dairy products and eggs) and is generally not naturally found in significant amounts in plant foods. Studies have shown low intake and blood concentrations of vitamin B12 in vegans and vegetarians.

If you are vegetarian and eat eggs and dairy foods regularly, you should be getting enough vitamin B12. However, the only reliable source of B12 for a vegan are fortified foods. Products other than eggs and dairy foods which contain vitamin B12 include:

  • Vitamin B12-fortified yeast extract (savoury spread)
  • Vitamin B12-fortified dairy-free alternatives (such as soya, oat and almond dairy-free alternative drinks)
  • Vitamin B12-fortified breakfast cereals

To check whether fortified products contain vitamin B12, check the label.

Alternatively, you could take a vitamin B12 supplement (always read the label and talk to a health professional if you are unsure which supplements are safe to use during pregnancy).

Vitamin B2


Similar to vitamin B12, Vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin) is important for the normal growth and development of your baby and helps the body release energy from the food you eat. Vitamin B2 is also found in animal products (meat, dairy products and eggs) but unlike vitamin B12, it is also found in some plant based foods. If you are vegetarian and eat eggs and dairy foods regularly (milk is a good source of vitamin B2), you should be getting enough vitamin B2. If you are vegan, products other than eggs and dairy foods which contain vitamin B2 include:

  • Mushrooms
  • Some nuts and seeds (such as almonds)
  • Yeast extract (savoury spread) (especially fortified varieties)
  • Vitamin B2-fortified dairy-free alternatives (such as soya, oat and almond dairy-free alternative drinks)
  • Vitamin B2-fortified breakfast cereals

To check whether fortified products contain vitamin B2, check the label.

Selenium

Selenium is needed for the normal function of the immune system and to help protect your body’s cells. Dietary surveys show that a substantial proportion of the population may not have an adequate intake of selenium. However the health implications of this are currently unclear. Meat and fish are really good sources of selenium, and eggs are also a good source. If you're a vegetarian or vegan, it's important to make sure you're eating other foods which contain a source of selenium (although the actual levels are variable dependent on the soil in which they are grown), these include: 
  • Some nuts and seeds (especially Brazil nuts but also cashew nuts and sunflower seeds)
  • Some breakfast cereals (such as puffed wheat cereal, shredded wheat and cornflakes)
  • Some breads (such as seeded and wheatgerm bread)

Iodine

Iodine is particularly important for your baby's brain development and your requirements increase during pregnancy. Sources of iodine include fish, eggs, milk and milk products, with dairy contributing around one third to average daily UK iodine adult intake. Vegetarians and particularly vegans are at risk of iodine deficiency as they do not eat rich iodine sources (fish and/or dairy products). Soya and dairy alternative drinks are not typically fortified with iodine (check label) and therefore sources are limited.
Vegan sources of iodine include:

  • Some edible seaweeds (such as nori which is used to wrap sushi). Although seaweed is a concentrated source of iodine, it can provide excessive amounts (particularly brown seaweed e.g. kelp) and therefore eating it more than once a week is not recommended, especially during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
  • In some countries, iodine is added to salt. However, this does not occur in the UK and there is a government recommendation to reduce salt intakes. Therefore, iodised salt should not be relied upon as a means to increase iodine intakes.

Supplements

Like all mums-to-be, there are certain supplements you need to take during pregnancy:

  • Vitamin D (10 µg per day). Vitamin D3 supplements are often derived from live sheep wool, which may be acceptable to vegetarians. However, there is a vitamin D3 supplement derived from lichen (fungus/algae), which is suitable for both vegetarians and vegans (check the label).
  • Folic acid (400 µg per day, up to 12 weeks of pregnancy). If you didn't start taking folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.

If you decide to take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, select one which is specifically for pregnancy or which doesn’t contain vitamin A, as high levels of vitamin A during pregnancy can harm your baby. Check with a health professional if you are unsure which supplements are safe to use during pregnancy.


Breastfeeding

A healthy balanced diet is also important when you are breastfeeding to help your baby get all the nutrients he/she needs to grow. For vegetarian and vegan mums, the nutrients mentioned previously for pregnancy are things to still be aware of during breastfeeding.

Top tips for vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Aim for at least five a day and make sure you eat a variety of types and colours!
  • Base your meals on starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, rice, pasta or potatoes. Where possible, go for wholegrain varieties and potatoes with skins.
  • Some breakfast cereals are fortified with a number of essential vitamins and minerals, including iron and vitamins B12 and B2 (check the label), and are a great way to start the day. Where possible, go for wholegrain varieties.
  • Eat a range of foods containing plant protein. Great sources of essential amino acids for vegetarians to include in your diet include dairy foods and eggs, whereas great sources for both vegetarians and vegans include beans and pulses, soya dairy-free alternatives, nuts and tofu.
  • Milk, cheese and yogurt are great for boosting your calcium, iodine and vitamin B12 and B2 intake if you are vegetarian. You should eat a moderate amount of these in your diet. Where possible, choose low or reduced fat products.
  • When choosing dairy-free alternative drinks and yogurts if you are vegan, look for ones fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin B2 and iodine. Some of these may also be fortified with vitamin D.
  • You can also keep your iron levels topped up by including foods like beans, lentils, quinoa or wholemeal bread and green leafy vegetables in your lunch or dinner.
  • For vegetarians, eggs also contain iron, iodine, selenium and vitamins B12 and B2, and are affordable and versatile.
  • Why not have a small handful of nuts and seeds as a snack, some nuts and seeds can be a good source of iron, selenium, vitamin B2 and short-chain omega-3 ALA.
  • Yeast extract, particularly fortified varieties, are a good source of vitamins B12 and B2 and can taste great on toasted seeded bread!
  • Make sure you remember to take your folic acid and vitamin D supplements.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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Eating a healthy, varied diet in pregnancy will help you to get most of the vitamins and minerals you need. There are some vitamins and minerals that are especially important.

It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, but when you are pregnant you will need to take a folic acid supplement. It's recommended that you take: 

  • 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day – you should take this from before you are pregnant until you are 12 weeks pregnant

The Department of Health also advises you to consider taking a vitamin D supplement (see Vitamin D in pregnancy).

Do not take vitamin A supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol), as too much could harm your baby.

You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets, or your GP may be able to prescribe them for you. If you want to get your folic acid from a multivitamin tablet, make sure that the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol).

You may be eligible for free vitamins through the Healthy Start scheme. Read more about Healthy Start.

Folic acid before and during pregnancy

Folic acid is important for pregnancy, as it can help to prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida. You should take a 400mcg folic acid tablet every day while you are trying to get pregnant and until you are 12 weeks pregnant. If you didn't take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. 

You should also eat foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid), such as green leafy vegetables and brown rice. Some breakfast cereals and some fat spreads such as margarine have folic acid added to them. It is difficult to get the amount of folate recommended for pregnancy from food alone, which is why it is important to take a folic acid supplement.

Read more about healthy eating in pregnancy.

Higher dose folic acid

Some women have an increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, and are advised to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid each day until they are 12 weeks pregnant. Women have an increased risk if:

  • they or their partner have a neural tube defect
  • they have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • they or their partner have a family history of neural tube defects
  • they have diabetes  

In addition, women who are taking anti-epileptic medication should consult their GP for advice, as they may also need to take a higher dose of folic acid. Find out about epilepsy, anti-epileptic medication and pregnancy.

If any of the above applies to you, talk to your GP as they can prescribe a higher dose of folic acid. Your GP or midwife may also recommend additional screening tests during your pregnancy.

Vitamin D in pregnancy

Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms (10mcg) of vitamin D a day, and should consider taking a supplement containing this amount.

Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to summer sunlight (from late March/early April to the end of September). It's not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body's needs, but if you are out in the sun take care to cover up or protect your skin with sunscreen before you start to turn red or burn.

Vitamin D is also in some foods, including oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines), eggs and red meat. Vitamin D is added to all infant formula milk, as well as some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives. The amounts added to these products can vary and might only be added in small amounts.  

As vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, whether naturally or added, it might be difficult to get enough from foods alone. So everyone over the age of five years, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D.

Most people aged five years and over in the UK will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer (from late March/early April to the end of September), so you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.

You can get vitamin supplements containing vitamin D free of charge if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and qualify for the Healthy Start scheme.

If you have dark skin

If you have dark skin (for example, if you are of African, African Caribbean or south Asian origin) or always cover your skin when outside, you may be at particular risk of not having enough vitamin D (vitamin D deficiency). Talk to your midwife or doctor if this applies to you.

Iron in pregnancy

If you are short of iron, you’ll probably get very tired and may suffer from anaemia. Lean meat, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and nuts contain iron. If you'd like to eat peanuts or foods that contain peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, you can do so as part of a healthy balanced diet unless you're allergic to them, or your health professional advises you not to.

Many breakfast cereals have iron added. If the iron level in your blood becomes low, your GP or midwife will advise you to take iron supplements.

Vitamin C in pregnancy

Vitamin C protects cells and helps to keep them healthy.

A balanced diet containing fruit and vegetables, including broccoli, citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, and blackcurrants, can provide all the vitamin C that you need.

Calcium in pregnancy

Calcium is vital for making your baby's bones and teeth. Dairy products and fish with edible bones – such as sardines – are rich in calcium. Breakfast cereals, dried fruit – such as figs and apricots – bread, almonds, tofu (a vegetable protein made from soya beans) and green leafy vegetables – such as watercress, broccoli and curly kale – are other good sources of calcium. 

You also need to know which foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Vegetarian, vegan and special diets in pregnancy

A varied and balanced vegetarian diet should give enough nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy. However, you might find it more difficult to get enough iron and vitamin B12. Talk to your midwife or doctor about how to make sure you are getting enough of these important nutrients.

If you are vegan (you cut out all animal products from your diet), or you follow a restricted diet because of food intolerance (for example, a gluten-free diet for coeliac disease) or for religious reasons, talk to your midwife or GP. Ask to be referred to a dietitian for advice on how to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.

Find out more about healthy eating for vegetarian and vegan pregnant women.

Healthy Start vitamins

The Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers to pregnant women and families who qualify. The vouchers can be used to buy milk and plain fresh and frozen vegetables at local shops. You'll also get coupons that can be exchanged for free vitamins locally.

Healthy Start vitamin tablets for women are specially designed for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and contain vitamins C and D and folic acid.

Healthy Start children's vitamin drops are for infants aged from six months to four years old, and contain vitamins A, C and D.

If you qualify for the Healthy Start scheme, you can swap your coupons for free vitamins locally – just ask your midwife or health visitor where they are accepted in your area. You can also use the Healthy Start postcode search to find where you can use the vouchers. 

If you're not on the Healthy Start scheme, some NHS organisations still offer the vitamins for free or sell them – ask your midwife about local arrangements.

You qualify for Healthy Start if you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, and you or your family get:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit unless your family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only*) and has an annual family income of £16,190 or less (2014/15)

If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you qualify for Healthy Start vouchers regardless of your income.

*Working Tax Credit run-on is the Working Tax Credit you receive in the four weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours per week (single adults) or 24 hours per week (couples).

You can download a Healthy Start application form at the Healthy Start website, or call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 and order a copy. 

If you are claiming Universal Credit and are pregnant or have a child under four years old, call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 for information about any discretionary support that may be available.


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What should I avoid when pregnant?

To reduce the risk of getting a foodborne illness during pregnancy and eating foods that may harm your baby there are certain things you may need to give up or take care with when you're pregnant.

Meat and fish

  • Pâté (all types), as on rare occasions pâté can contain listeria bacteria, which can be harmful to you and your baby.
  • Raw or undercooked meat, including cured uncooked meats for example parma ham (prosciutto) and salami. These can carry bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses and parasites which on rare occasions can cause an infection called toxoplasmosis. Meat should be cooked thoroughly with no pink meat or blood left (rare meat). However, cold cooked meats like turkey, ham and chicken are safe to eat.
  • Liver contains very high levels of vitamin A, which can harm your baby.
  • Shark, marlin and swordfish, as they can contain high levels of mercury that can harm your baby’s developing nervous system. Tuna can also contain mercury, so you should not eat more than two tuna steaks or four cans a week.
  • Raw shellfish, as it carries a risk of food poisoning. Thoroughly cooked shellfish is safe to eat.
  • Raw or lightly cooked wild fish, in dishes such as sushi, unless the fish has been frozen first. Wild fish can sometimes contain parasitic worms but freezing or cooking kills any worms. Sushi containing farmed fish, such as farmed salmon, is very unlikely to contain parasitic worms.
  • Fish is great for your baby’s health and development, but you should not eat more than two portions of oily fish and certain non-oily fish (dogfish, sea bass, sea bream, turbot, halibut, crab) a week because they can contain pollutants, which may harm your baby.


Cheese and dairy

  • Soft blue cheeses (such as gorgonzola and roquefort), soft cheeses with white rinds (mould ripened - such as brie and camembert) and soft cheeses made from unpasteurised milk, unless thoroughly cooked to kill any bacteria in the cheese. Pasteurised soft cheeses like cream cheese, cottage cheese and mozzarella are safe.
  • All hard cheeses are safe to eat, even if unpasteurised or with blue veins (such as stilton), because they contain less water and so bacteria is less likely to grow.
  • Unpasteurised (raw) milk and foods containing it, unless thoroughly cooked, as they can contain bacteria that are harmful to you and your baby.
     

Eggs

  • Raw or partially cooked eggs, as well as products containing raw eggs such as homemade mayonnaise, salad dressings and some ice creams. Raw eggs might contain salmonella which can cause food poisoning. Most shop-bought mayonnaises, dressings and ice creams contain pasteurised eggs so are safe to eat, but check if you are eating out at a restaurant as they may make their own.

Alcohol

  • Alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy. In 2016, the Department of Health updated the guidelines for alcohol consumption and clarified that the safest aproach was to not drink alcohol at all during pregnancy, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum, removing the previous advice to limit alcohol intake to no more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice per week. 

Caffeine

  • Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, some sports/energy drinks, some soft drinks and some cold and flu remedies. A high caffeine intake has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and a low birth weight. You should limit your intake of caffeine to around 200mg per day, roughly 2 mugs of instant coffee, one and a half mugs of filter coffee or 2 and a half mugs of tea.
Foods containing caffeine  Amount of caffeine 
1 mug of instant coffee  100 mg
1 mug of filter coffee  140 mg
1 mug of tea

 75 mg

1 can of energy drink  80 mg
1 can of cola  40 mg
50 g bar plain chocolate  50 mg
50 g bar milk chocolate

 25 mg

  • Coffee from a coffee shop or restaurant may contain higher levels of caffeine compared to coffee made at home, if you are concerned about the level of caffeine, opt for a reduced strength or decaffeinated coffee.

Herbal teas

Herbal teas should be drunk in moderation (around four cups a day), as little is known about the safety of drinking herbal teas during pregnancy.
 

Peanuts

In the past the government advised against eating peanuts during pregnancy, if the parents had a history of allergies. Based on new research, the advice was changed, so if you wish you can now choose to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them or your midwife or doctor advises you not to.
 

Vitamin and fish oil supplements

Supplements or multivitamins containing vitamin A. Fish liver oil also contains vitamin A and should therefore be avoided. High levels of vitamin A can harm your baby.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk


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Unfold Close  TOP TIPS FOR HEALTHY AGEING

Being physically active offers many health benefits throughout life. Even in older age, increasing activity levels can improve life expectancy and increase the number of years spent disease and disability free.

Being physically active can:

- Increase life expectancy

- help protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia

- help you to maintain a good appetite

- help you to keep mobile

- help with joint stiffness and pain associated with arthritis

- reduce bone loss and strengthen muscle – reducing your risk of falling and fracturing bones

- improve your mood and sense of well-being.

The recommendation for older people is the same as for younger adults – at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. One way to achieve this is to do 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week.

For those already doing physical activity, similar benefits can be gained from doing 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity.

People have different capabilities when it comes to being physically active, so it is important to consider what is right for you. Many older adults are already quite active, whereas others may have mobility issues or health conditions that limit the types of activities they can do.

Physical activity doesn't need to be strenuous to bring health benefits - what's important is to include it as part of your regular routine. Even small changes each day will help – for example you could take the stairs instead of the lift, walk to the shops instead of driving, or go for short walks. In general, the more physically active you are, the greater the benefits. However, if you have not been particularly active in the past you should start gradually and build up the amount you do to minimise the risk of injury.

You might feel like it is a challenge, but we can all benefit from some regular physical activity, however small.

The benefits of different types of activity

Cardiovascular activities (i.e. those that get you at least slightly out of breath) will help to keep your heart, lungs and blood vessels healthy. These include:

- Brisk walking (e.g. walking the dog)

- Swimming

- Gardening

- Golf (no cart!)

- Tennis

- Aerobics, including water aerobics

- Cycling

- Dancing

- Washing the car

Muscle-strengthening exercises help to limit the losses in muscle and bone mass that happen as we age, reducing the risk of falling and improve ability to perform daily tasks. Try to do these types of activity twice a week. Incorporating all these types of activity into your routine can help you keep your independence as you get older.

These include:

- Climbing stairs

- Walking uphill

- Digging the garden

- Resistance exercises or using weights

- Carrying, for example shopping, gardening tools or even grandchildren!

Older adults at risk of falls should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week.

Balancing activities include:

- Tai Chi

- Yoga

- Bowls (indoor and outdoor)

- Dancing

- Walking

- Cycling

- Gardening

- Stretching exercises.

All adults could benefit from spending less time in sedentary activity, so it is a good idea to reduce the amount of time spent watching the TV, take regular short walks around the garden or street and break up long bus or car journeys by walking part of the way.

Here are some examples of how some people got started.

It’s all about confidence….

John suffered a mild heart attack at the age of 71 and was told by his doctor he needed to be more physically active. At first he was worried that doing anything strenuous might bring on another heart attack but his GP reassured him that if he started slowly and built up gradually he’d feel better. John was referred to the local community sports centre where he met an instructor who developed a programme specially for him. He started attending twice a week and his programme included walking and stationary cycling on an exercise bike, as well as some exercises to build his strength and flexibility. He was shown how to monitor his heart rate to make sure he was doing the right level of activity and was reassured, by meeting other people with similar heart problems, that his health would benefit from the effort he put in.

After a couple of months, John was enjoying being more active and felt fitter and less out of breath when he was doing simple tasks around the house or walking. He’d developed confidence in his programme and started to swim and walk regularly as well. He was delighted to find that he had lost a bit of weight and he made some great new friends who he looked forward to seeing at the community centre.

You are never too old….

Margaret used to love swimming but thought she’d grown too old for it. She had stopped visiting her local pool over 10 years ago as she had become increasingly self-conscious about her age and her body shape. At the age of 68 she was diagnosed with mild arthritis and her GP suggested that swimming would be beneficial. She contacted her local pool and discovered that it offered special free sessions for the over 60’s, as well as women only sessions. She now attends regularly (at least twice a week) and really enjoys it. It’s helped ease the symptoms of her arthritis, she’s lost some weight and made new friends.


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B vitamins have a range of important functions in the body, including contributing to healthy red blood cells, metabolism, nerve function, healthy skin, vision and reducing tiredness.

Sources of B vitamins in the diet:

  • Folate/Folic acid: some green vegetables, and fortified grains and grain products
  • Vitamin B6: fortified cereals, peanuts, pork, poultry, fish, milk and vegetables
  • Vitamin B12: animal products (such as fish, meat, eggs, or dairy); fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods such as soya drink.

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Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK.

Smoking speeds up the biological ageing process, increasing the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, cataracts and other age-related diseases. It also causes premature skin ageing and increases risk of eye damage and poor gum health. Stopping smoking improves health at any age.


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  • Our sense of taste and smell can change as we age, which can affect our appetite and how much we like food.
  • Make foods as tempting and tasty as possible so that eating stays enjoyable.
  • Keep meals from becoming bland and uninteresting by varying colours and textures as much as possible.
  • Try adding herbs and spices such as mint, rosemary, cinnamon or paprika.

As we age, it is common to become less interested in food. You may find that you are less hungry than you used to be, so it can be harder to get all the nutrients needed for good health.

Certain medicines, smoking and alcohol may affect the way the body absorbs nutrients. For example, smoking affects the absorption of vitamin C from foods and also vitamin C is used up in the body more quickly in those who smoke.

It is therefore important to eat a varied diet to ensure we get enough of all the essential vitamins and minerals we need. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and this applies to what we eat too. Try to avoid eating the same things every day.


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Calcium is important for the development and maintenance of bones. We lose bone mass as we age, so it is important that we consume plenty of calcium. After the menopause, women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and reduced bone density. This is because the hormone oestrogen has a protective effect over bone breakdown and after menopause, less oestrogen is produced.

As a result, it is particularly important that older women get plenty of calcium from their diet to minimise bone loss. Milk, cheese and yogurt are rich in calcium, but other sources include fish with edible bones (e.g. salmon, sardines), some green leafy vegetables like kale, calcium fortified soy products (e.g. soya drink, tofu), white bread and fortified breakfast cereals. You should be able to get all the calcium you need from your diet, but if you do take calcium supplements, be careful not to take too much – stick to less than 1500mg per day.


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Fruit and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals essential for good health, as well as phytochemicals (substances made by the plants such as polyphenols) that may have health benefits. They are also generally low in fat and high in fibre. Many studies have shown that people who consume diets high in fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

We should all be aiming for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day. This includes fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables, as well as smoothies and 100% fruit juices. One portion is generally 80g, for example:

Fruit

  • a medium piece of fruit such as an apple, orange or banana,
  • half a large grapefruit,
  • a slice of melon
  • 2 satsumas.

For dried fruit, a portion is 30g, for example 3 dried apricots or 1 tablespoon of raisins.

A glass of 150mls of fruit juice counts as a maximum of one portion per day. For more information on what counts click here. Choose as wide a variety as possible and if you are opting for fresh produce go for those in season as they are often cheaper and may be more sustainable.

Cooked Vegetables

  • 2 broccoli spears
  • 4 heaped tablespoons of kale, spinach, spring greens or green beans
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of carrots, peas or sweetcorn,
  • 8 cauliflower florets.

Salad vegetables

  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 5cm piece of cucumber
  • 1 medium tomato or 7 cherry tomatoes.

Beans and pulses, such as kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and baked beans, can also count towards your 5-A-Day target (a portion is 80g), although like fruit juices they are generally recommended to only count as one portion a day, even if more is consumed.


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Eating plenty of fibre-rich foods, such as wholegrain breads, wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and some vegetables, fruit and pulses, will improve digestive health and can help to protect against heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

High fibre foods may help you to stay fuller for longer so can be useful if you are watching your weight. But if you have a poor appetite, eat fibre rich foods in moderation as filling up on bulky foods may prevent you from getting all the nutrients you need. It is also very important to drink enough water when eating a diet high in fibre. For more information on hydration, click here.


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Getting enough good quality sleep can become more difficult as we get older as sleeping problems are common.  But getting a good night’s rest is essential for our health and well-being.


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As we age, we become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. We are also more likely to react more slowly and lose our sense of balance which can make us more unsteady and likely to fall. So even if we drink the same amount of alcohol it is likely to affect an older person more than a younger person.

There are no specific recommendations for the older person. The Department of Health recommends that men and women shouldn’t regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more.

Alcoholic drinks can be enjoyed and are unlikely to be harmful for most people within these limits. There is even some evidence that moderate drinking may be protective against heart disease.

But very little research has been done, and there are some particular problems for the older person. For example, health problems in older age can make us more susceptible to alcohol and can interfere with the effectiveness of many medicines. Check with your doctor about whether it is safe for you to drink with your particular health problem or medication.

Drinking too much can damage many parts of the body and increase the risk of health problems including:

  • Stomach lining – ulcers or bleeding
  • Liver - cirrhosis
  • Cancer – mouth, stomach and liver
  • malnutrition - alcohol has calories but can not provide the essential nutrients a balanced varied diet provides to keep us healthy.

Too much alcohol can also affect mental health including anxiety, depression, confusion and dementia.

If you think you may be drinking too much, talk to a health professional, there is support available.


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All fish and shellfish provide us with a range of vitamins and minerals, but oily fish, such as herring, salmon and mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which may help protect against heart disease. For this reason, we are advised to eat at least two portions (140g cooked weight) of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish.

Oily fish include:

  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Pilchards
  • Kipper
  • Whitebait
  • Anchovies

There is currently a lot of interest in the role of these fatty acids on many other age-related conditions. For example, some research suggests they may help to alleviate some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. But because oily fish can contain contaminants you shouldn’t eat more than 4 portions per week (or one portion of swordfish as this may be high in mercury).

For more information on fish, click here.


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For a number of reasons, older people are at greater risk of dehydration than younger people.

Ageing produces a decrease in our thirst sensation so it is easy for dehydration to go unnoticed. So as we age, it is especially important to drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic beverages.

Early signs of dehydration include dizziness, tiredness and headaches. Long-term mild dehydration increases the risk of kidney stones, constipation and cholesterol problems, as well as diminished physical and mental performance.

Eight to ten drinks are recommended each day to replace fluid that is lost from the body. Water is a great choice but tea, coffee and fruit juice all count. You will need to drink more if the weather is hot or humid or if you are physically active.

It is really important not to restrict your fluid intake. If getting up during the night is an issue, you may like to consume more of your fluid earlier in the day.

For more information on hydration, click here.


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Some research suggests that keeping active physically, mentally and socially is important for good cognitive health (the ability to think, learn, and remember). Simple things like games, puzzles, reading or even taking a new route to the shops will keep your mind active and engaged.


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Dental problems are common in later life and can affect the foods we eat. Hard-to-chew foods are often replaced by soft foods, which may restrict the amount of choice and variety in the diet, potentially limiting nutrient intake. Ill-fitting dentures can also make it uncomfortable to eat. If you have any questions about denture care, speak to your dentist.

Try to keep sugar containing foods and drinks to mealtimes. Chewing sugar-free gum can help to protect teeth and, of course, brush them regularly with a fluoride toothpaste and visit the dentist for regular check-ups.


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There are two basic kinds of fatty acids: saturated and unsaturated. Eating a diet rich in saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease. So eating less is important for heart health.

Butter, lard, ghee, palm oil and coconut oil contain a high proportion of saturated fat. Other foods with a relatively high saturated fat content include cakes, chocolate, biscuits, pies and pastries. The white fat you see on red meat and underneath poultry skin is also high in saturated fat.

Reducing saturated fat and replacing some of it with unsaturated fat may be good for your heart.

Vegetable oils (such as rapeseed, olive, sunflower, soya, sesame oils) and fat spreads made from these oils are a healthier alternative to saturated fats. These are high in unsaturated fatty acids. Oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon, contain unsaturated fatty acids called omega-3s, which can also benefit heart health.

Where possible, cut back on saturated fat and opt for small amounts of foods containing unsaturated fats instead.

It’s easy to make small changes to cut back on saturated fat. Here’s some examples of simple swaps you can make to reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume:

Swap To
Chicken with skin Chicken without skin
Regular cheddar Reduced fat cheddar
Butter Reduced fat spread
Chocolate biscuit Plain biscuit
Regular mince Lean or extra lean mince
Whole milk Semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk

Remember the recommended maximum daily amount of saturated fat in the diet is 20g for women and 30g for men.


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While some sodium in the diet is necessary for health, it can raise blood pressure (raised blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease). Salt (sodium chloride) is the main source of sodium in our diet. Adults should eat less than 6g of salt per day. The food industry are reducing the amount of salt in many foods but a lot of the salt we eat is found in processed foods and it is important to look at the labels to select lower salt options. For more information on labels, click here.

A decreasing sense of taste as we age can encourage us to add more salt to meals for flavour. Watch the amount you add at the table and use herbs, spices and a variety of different foods to flavour meals instead of adding salt.

Reducing salt in the diet can be easy, it just involves making a few small changes to the foods you choose and the methods you use to cook them. Try these ideas:

• Be careful of foods that may be high in salt such as bacon, pickles, smoked fish, anchovies, soy sauce, bottled sauces, gravy, stock cubes, cured meats, and some packet soups

• Always check the labels and choose reduced salt versions where possible

• For foods high in salt, opt for smaller portions of these foods and don’t eat them too often

• When choosing canned vegetables, pulses and fish pick those that say no added salt or are canned in water

• Use herbs and spices, such as garlic, ginger, chilli, lemon or lime, to flavour meals rather than adding salt

• Leave the salt cellar off the table. This will remove the temptation to add it to your plate

• Gradually cut down on the salt you are eating. Your taste will slowly adapt to eating food that is less salty.

Did you know...

Sea salt contains as much sodium as table salt. It doesn't matter how expensive salt is, where it is from, or whether it comes in grains, crystals or flakes - it still contains sodium. It's the sodium in salt that can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of suffering from heart disease.


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There are some people that will be prescribed supplements, for example iron for iron deficiency anaemia. Some people choose to take other supplements because they believe they will benefit their health but there is not enough strong evidence that currently supports their use.

If you do decide to take supplements, it’s important to remember that supplements will not replace a balanced diet! It is also important to remember that taken in excess, supplements may be harmful.

For example according to some research, having more than an average of 1.5mg a day of vitamin A over many years may affect your bones, making them more likely to fracture. As a precaution, it may be advisable for people at increased risk of osteoporosis, such as postmenopausal women and older people, not to consume vitamin A at intakes greater than 1500 µg/day. This could be achieved by ensuring that supplements containing vitamin A are limited (including those containing fish liver oil), particularly in liver consumers as liver and its products like pate are particularly high in vitamin A.

'Functional food’ is a term used to describe a food modified in some way that may provide health benefits over and above the nutritional value of the food. For example, plant stanols and sterols found in some fat spreads and dairy products can help lower cholesterol.

Fortified foods can play a role in a healthy diet. For example, fortified soya drinks can be fortified with calcium, which is important for those who do not consume dairy products, the major source of calcium in the UK diet. As vitamin B12 is predominantly found in foods of animal origin, fortified foods are an important source of vitamin B12 for vegans.

Fat spreads are important sources of vitamins A and D in the UK diet because of voluntary fortification. White and brown flour (not wholemeal) are also fortified by law with iron, calcium thiamin and niacin.


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Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet. But The Department of Health recommends certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency. They recommend that people aged 65 years and over and people not exposed to much sun should also take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D.

Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health (it is needed by the body to absorb calcium) and muscle function. Because vitamin D is needed for increased bone and muscle strength, low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of falls and fracture. Most of the vitamin D that your body needs is made in the skin from sunlight but our skin becomes less efficient in producing vitamin D from the sun as we age and our exposure to sunlight often declines, particularly for those who are less mobile. People with darker skin are at higher risk of deficiencies than those with whiter skin.

Some vitamin D can also be obtained from dietary sources such as oily fish and eggs and fortified breakfast cereals, fortified fat spreads and fortified dairy products.


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  • Being underweight or overweight is bad for your health.
  • Being underweight can make it difficult for your body to fight infections or illness and puts you at risk of fracturing bones if you fall.
  • Carrying around excess weight, particularly around the waist, may increase your risk of developing heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Overweight

  • As we get older our energy needs can decrease so it can be easier to gain weight
  • Our body composition changes and we tend to lose muscle and gain fat. As fat requires less energy than muscle to function our energy needs to drop
  • Many people also become less physically active as they age
  • If you're using fewer calories and you haven't changed your diet, this will lead to weight gain
  • Hormonal changes as we get older also mean we become more likely to lay fat around the middle
  • So keep an eye on your weight as you get older – it’s easy for it to creep up gradually without noticing.

What is a healthy weight?

Weight alone does not take into account a person’s height. In view of this, weight is usually converted to Body Mass Index or BMI (weight (kg)/height (m2)). The standard World Health Organisation) classifications for BMI:

BMI
Normal weight 18.5-24.99
Overweight 25-29.99
Obese 30 and over

You can calculate your BMI on the NHS BMI calculator

http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Healthyweightcalculator.aspx

In the older person some studies have shown that BMI isn't as good an indicator of health, but the same BMI cut-offs are still used as a guide.

Watch your waist size

Your BMI is a good starting point but you should also measure your waist. This is because people who carry too much weight around their middle have a greater risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes if your waist circumference is:

• Men - over 94cm/37inches (substantially increased risk over 102cm/40inches)

• Women - over 80cm/31.5inches (substantially increased risk over 88cm/34.5inches)

The cut-offs are lower for people of Asian backgrounds – If you are an Asian woman and have a waist circumference of more than 80 cm(31.5inches) or a man with a waist circumference of 90 cm(35inches) or more you are at greater risk and should seek advice from a healthcare professional.

Your health is at risk if you have a waist size of: Your health is at high risk if you have a waist size of:
Men Over 94cm (about 37 inches) Over 102cm (about 40 inches)
Women Over 80cm (about 31.5 inches) Over 88cm (about 34.5 inches)
Asian men Over 90cm (about 35.5 inches)
Asian women Over 80cm (about 31.5 inches)


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