Month: February 2014

Get ‘Vegucated’

I watched a thought-provoking documentary last night called ‘Vegucated‘. It followed 3 meat, cheese and dairy loving New Yorkers who adopted a vegan diet for 6 weeks to discover what its all about.


It was very watchable and although the film covered very briefly, the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet, its main focus was on the atrocities committed to fill our fridges and stomachs.

Today I can’t get the images out of my head of male chicks being thrown live into a crusher, deemed useless because they don’t lay eggs, piglets being castrated and cattle being branded without anaesthetic. You might say ignorance is bliss but once you’ve seen this film, bliss goes out of the window and disappears over the horizon.
I wish the film had given more of an insight into health benefits, suggested healthy vegan meals and covered any potential nutritional deficiencies that may result in this dietary switch. In an earlier post I mentioned that I had chosen to study vegetarianism as part of my degree course which was really interesting and I had attended a vegetarian Healthy Eating cookery course at the Vegetarian Society in Altrincham which was great fun and informative. Veganism wasn’t on my radar then, so I’ll need to do some research starting with the following links:

Vegans choose not to eat anything which is taken from animals, for example:

  • No meat, fish nor other substances that come directly from killing an animal, such as animal fats and gelatine
  • No dairy products such as cows milk, cheese and yogurt; nor goats milk
  • No eggs nor foods containing eggs such as Quorn
  • No honey

I’ve started reading ‘The Omnivores Dilemma‘ and today I wish I was a Koala bear! Pollan the author contrasts the omnivores situation with that of that of specialized eaters such as koala’s. Whilst omnivores struggle to make everyday food choices the koala doesn’t worry about what to eat: if it smells like eucalyptus leaf, it must be dinner.

To deal with today’s lunch time dilemma I made a batch of sushi with avocado, carrot, cucumber and ginger – delicious!








Networking broadens your horizons

What I really enjoy about going to new places and meeting new people is that you find out all sorts of interesting information that you didn’t know, you didn’t know.

When I’m out and about, if I’m introduced to a new topic or given a name of an individual or organisation I’ve never heard of, I note it down and follow it up with a bit of research.   I’m one of those annoying people that during a lecture or presentation I make copious notes.  Sometimes I don’t refer back to them, just the process of writing down seems to help me remember.  Taking time-out to reflect back on the events of the day is not always easy, but it is great way of consolidating knowledge and broadening horizons.

At the ‘Can Cook’ Event I blogged about in yesterdays post, Robbie told us about his food hero Michael Pollan the author of ‘Cooked’ and ‘Omnivores Dilemma’.  I wrote in my notes.. MUST READ!!  I’ve ordered both books and will let you know what I think in a future post.


Yesterday we also spent time talking about the struggles of cooking on a tight budget and Robbie referred to a famous blog called ‘A girl called Jack’. It was a teeny bit embarrassing that as nutrition students we were not already aware of this blog, but that’s the beauty of networking.  I’ve just spent an hour catching up on Jack Monroe’s journey from unemployed, single parent to journalist / campaigner on poverty issues and it’s a beguiling read.


If you get a spare few minutes check out the following link you won’t be disappointed.


Can Cook – Liverpool

Just had a fabulous morning at ‘Can Cook’ in the Matchworks, South Liverpool.


I went along with a group of fellow students from Edge Hill University’s Nutrition and Health Degree Course.  We were treated to a grand tour of the venue, spent an entertaining couple of hours with Robbie Davidson ‘Can Cook’s’ Director and finished off with a delicious freshly cooked lunch of chicken and chickpea stew with crusty bread. Thanks goes to Natalie for the great hospitality.

Robbie talked to the group passionately about his aspirations for ‘Can Cook’ and how the enterprise got started.  His vision is to connect people through food with initiatives such as:

  • Kitchen Share Incubator – Offering help and support to food entrepreneurs including use of the Kitchen Share facilities, events to showcase products and business planning.
  • Cookery school – A state of the art, purpose built kitchen perfect for cookery demos / corporate events.
  • Pop Up Studio / kiosks – Temporary cookery facilities offer a unique way of delivering healthier messages in workplaces, communities, schools etc.
  • A new meals on wheels service – Providing fresh, nutritious food that people actually want to eat.
  • Innovative street food trucks – As an alternative to junk food currently available, street food trucks will a make reasonably priced delicious, fresh food easily accessible. These are not your standard butty vans, these are very different!
  • Cook Books – ‘Everyday cooking for everyday people’ and ‘Takeaways’.


What I love about ‘Can Cook’ are their values. They want to encourage people the eat healthier, freshly prepared food by giving the confidence and knowledge to cook from scratch and to see that it doesn’t have to be over complicated.  They want cooking to be fun, and although they are not labouring the science behind nutrition, they are advocating a shift to a healthier balanced diet.

The work they are involved in to make charity food bank parcel’s more nutritiously sound is the overall winner for me. As a trainee nutritionist I’ve thought long and hard about volunteering with a Food Bank because it is such a worthwhile cause. I couldn’t however get over the ethical dilemma of issuing food parcel’s to vulnerable people that I wouldn’t eat myself, or feed to my own family.  Keep up the great work ‘Can Cook’ I’ll certainly be watching this space with interest.

Find out more at:


Vitamin D

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks researching vitamin D for a presentation I’m doing as part of my ‘Nutrition Across the Lifespan module, so I thought I’d share my findings with you.

Sunshine, not food, is where most of our vitamin D comes from. It’s not like other vitamins in that it’s a pro hormone that requires UVB light for its synthesis in the skin and that’s why it’s sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’.


Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium for healthy bones and teeth. Even if you eat a calcium rich diet without enough vitamin D your body can’t absorb the calcium into bones and cells where it is needed.

The British Dietetic Association states that if you go out in the sun two or three times a week for at least 15 minutes (before applying sun cream) your body will make enough vitamin D to last the whole year. In the northern hemisphere, like in the UK, the suns rays are only strong enough between April and September.

Evidence from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey confirms that in the UK the status of vitamin D is low in adults aged 19 – 64 and children aged 11 – 18 (both male and female) and that this has implications for bone health including an increased risk of rickets and osteomalacia.

There are a few dietary sources of vitamin D and they include:

  • Oily fish such as salmon, pilchards, trout, sardines and kippers.
  • Cod liver oil.
  • Eggs, (yolks) meat and milk contain small amounts but this varies depending on the season.
  • Margarine, some breakfast cereals, and some yogurts have added or ‘fortified’ vitamin D
  • Mushrooms.

Pregnant and breast-feeding women, babies and children, people over 65 years of age, and anyone whose skin is not exposed to the sun are at risk of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency and supplementation is recommended. Too much vitamin D however, can cause liver and bone problems so care needs to be taken. Anyone concerned about not getting enough vitamin D should speak to a Doctor or other health professional.

Sounds to me like a good excuse to make the most of being outside in the sun!


Winter Olympics 2014

I don’t know about you but I’m loving the Winter Olympics in Sochi. In particular I’m loving the strength and determination of the female athletes who are truly inspirational.


The ups and downs of the last few days have been captivating. A real highlight was our first gold medal win of the games, by Lizzy Yarnold in the skeleton, which was made even more emotional by the reaction of Amy Williams who had previously won skeleton gold in 2010.

The GB speed skater Elise Christie’s Olympic hopes went from bad to worse when she was disqualified for crashing in the 500m and then after putting that disappointment behind her missed out on qualifying in the 1500m for not crossing the line correctly. I can’t begin to image how terrible she felt.

The women’s cross country 4x5km relay was another highlight.
The race ended spectacularly when the Swedish athlete Charlotte Kalla came from behind in the final leg to catch the two leaders and then overtake them in a breathless race to the finish, and the gold.

Add all this to the outstanding fundraising efforts of Davina McColl over the last week and it confirms that with hard work and determination we can do anything we put our minds too.

It was blowing a gale again yesterday so I ran for 2 hours on the treadmill. I normally get bored on the treadmill after half an hour but watching the Olympic coverage definitely spurred on.

I’ve spent an hour today doing a revision and assignment plan to take me through to the 30th May when my last assignment is handed in. This along with my marathon training plan pretty much has my life mapped out and jam packed for the next 14 weeks.

I gave up alcohol on 31st December 2013 and don’t intend to drink again until after the London marathon. I’ve not missed it at all and it has definitely helped my training. I did use to enjoy a glass of red wine but I didn’t enjoy having a fuzzy head in the morning. I’ve decided you can’t run and drink and not because I might spill it!

Last weekend I ran for 18 miles and made sure I stayed hydrated and had a ‘Red Hot devil’ Nutri-juice drink at every six mile marker. I was tired at the end but my legs and muscles all felt fine.

Marathon training is relentless if you’re not out running you getting ready for running. I’m icing my shins, have spent a fortune on gels, I’m living in Lycra, I’ve changed my diet to include more carbs, and my idea of fun is a soak in the bath and a sports massage. I’m grateful to Davina and the Olympic athletes for their inspiration and with only 8 weeks to go until ‘race day’ I need all the help I can get.


Valentines day 2014

Happy Valentine’s day!

At Uni today the British Heart Foundation had a stall promoting the importance of heart health which I thought was a really great idea especially on Valentines Day. They had heart shaped balloons, lots of free information with hearts on and free red apples and raspberries to give away. It made for a eye catching display and didn’t look out of place amongst the other stalls selling valentines cards and heart shaped goodies.


The health promotion highlighted 10 steps we can all take to make our heart healthier:

1. Get active – do 150 minute moderate intensity aerobic activity ever week. (30 minutes x 5 days a week).
2. Give up smoking – this is one of the main risk factors for coronary heart disease.
3. Manage your weight – stick to a well balanced diet, low in fat and high in fruit and vegetables.
4. Ditch the salt – stop using salt at the table and try adding less when cooking. Check labels: 1.5g salt or 0.6g sodium per 100g is high.
5. Get your 5 a day – eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
6. Eat oily fish – omega 3 fats in fish such as mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna and salmon help protect against heart disease.
7. Walk off stress – if feeling under pressure go for a walk as it helps reduce tension.
8. Cut saturated fat – choose semi-skimmed over full-fat milk, leaner cuts of meat and steam or grill foods rather than frying.
9. Drink less alcohol – it’s fattening.
10. Read food labels – checking what the ingredients are will help make healthier food choices.

For more information check out:

A healthy lifestyle can prevent fatty material called atheroma building up in the coronary arteries, which in turn can help prevent coronary heart disease. The good news is that incidence rates for heart attacks have decreased for all age groups and both sexes since the 1960’s. The bad news is cardiovascular disease remains the biggest killer in the UK.

It’s never too late to change your lifestyle and protect your heart, if you are over 40 you should be invited in by your GP for an NHS health check. If you fit into this age group and you’ve not been invited yet, speak to your GP.

Lots of love x


Coeliac Disease

I mentioned in an earlier post that my son has Coeliac Disease. I remember when he was first diagnosed that it all seemed so complicated, now we just take it in our stride. Over time the quality and quantity of gluten free products has increased and if I see something new we always have to give it a try.

From a nutritional perspective a diet without gluten is very healthy, the downside however is that many of the products such as gluten free bread and desserts are more expensive. 

In 2012 I attended the British Dietetic Association Research Symposium and one of the poster presentations outlining some primary research, highlighted that a basket of nutritionally balanced gluten free food cost on average £7.50 more than a standard basket of food. It was also said to costs more than the average weekly spend on food based of information from DEFRA. The presentation highlighted  that ‘own brand’ foods products were cheaper than branded gluten free foods and availability varies, especially in rural locations (Abernethy & Bannerman: 2011).

My son being diagnosed with Coeliac disease change both of our lives. My son got his health back and I changed my career path. Once I had seen first hand the massive impact diet had on my sons health and well being I was hooked, and decided to study for a degree in nutrition. My longer term goal is to become a dietitian and to help other families in similar situations to ours.

If you are not sure what Coeliac disease is – the facts from Coeliac UK are:

  • It is a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to gluten
  • 1 in 100 people have the condition
  • Symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness, headaches, sudden weight loss, hair loss, anaemia and osteoporosis
  • Once diagnosed, it is treated by following a gluten-free diet for life

When my sons diagnosis was confirmed we went to see a dietitian at our local hospital, who was really helpful and put it all into perspective. We also joined Coeliac UK whose website is brilliant and has everything you need to know about the condition:

I’m in my second your at University and I am enjoying every minutes. My son has come to terms with his condition, he’s full of energy and is the picture of health!



Nutrition across the lifespan

As part of the ‘Nutrition Across the Lifespan’ module we have been learning how to analyse an individuals diet using the nutrient analysis software system ‘Microdiet’ and SSPS statistics software.  This has been a real steep learning curve for me, but once I became familiar with the systems and statistical terminology it opened up a whole new world. I’m a pragmatist so the hands on learning in this module has been perfect for me. Firstly we looked at dietary assessment methodology including food frequency questionnaires and diaries.

To start with we kept our own food diary to help us understand the strengths and weaknesses of this method.  It quickly became apparent that once the novelty of making a note of everything we had eaten had worn off, it became a real chore. If we didn’t write it down immediately we forgot what we had eaten and assessing portion sizes meant it was quite a lengthy process.

Food Diary

Day _____ Remember to record portion sizes and brands

Time of food or drink


Amount / portion size






We also practiced interviewing our fellow students to gather information on what they had been eating ensuring nothing was missed, including brands and again portion sizes recorded. This also took quite some time but was a useful exercise and helped illustrate potential pitfalls first hand.

We then entered each separate food item in to the Microdiet software system which required lots of concentration to ensure accurate recording.  The nest step was to transfer this data into the statistics software system SSPS to analyse the information. We were able to compare data and find out if there was statistical significance in the variables we entered. All this practical work was invaluable as it has helped me understand the complexities of the process and what problems I might come across. I’ve got some more work to do to further analyse the information and compare my findings with that published in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS).

I’m really enjoying the module, its covering lots of new ground and is giving me a great insight in to nutritional challenges faced from pre-conception to older adults.

The following toolkit from the Medical Research Council is great for students and researchers.


Vitamin A

One of the best sources of vitamin A is ‘liver’ its just a pity that not many people eat it today. My mum was a great cook and I remember ‘liver and onions’ being one of my favourite meals when I was growing up. Home made beef burgers, Sunday dinner, pea soup with bacon bones and cottage pie were real favourites too.  We had fruit and veg every day, meals were all made from scratch and nothing went to waste.


Unfortunately that’s not the case today, everyone is so busy.  This makes it even more vital that we understand where vitamins and minerals come from and if we are eating takeaway food and not making meals from scratch, we need to read labels or ask what is in them.

During my research I’ve discovered that vitamin A:

  • Known as retinol when it’s from animal sources and carotene when from plant sources.
  • Found in liver, vegetables (especially carrots) milk, milk products, butter and fat spreads.
  • Promotes growth and development.
  • Essential for healthy skin and mucous membranes (increasing resistance to infections).
  • Essential for night vision.
  • Promotes tooth and bone development.
  • Carotene is an antioxidant that may help protect against cancer.

Insufficient vitamin A in the diet may result in:

  • night blindness
  • impaired vision
  • intestinal infections
  • in more severe cases is can result in eye inflammation and blindness in children

This is a fat soluble vitamin so is stored in the body. If too much is consumed it can lead to:

  • nausea
  • infertility
  • blurred vision
  • in severe cases it can lead to loss of hair, enlarged liver and spleen and growth inhibition.
  • Excess vitamin A can increase incidence of fractures.

There is evidence that in the UK many 19 – 24 year olds may be deficient. Simply eating more vegetables, especially the old favourite the carrot, eating milk products and drinking milk, can protect eyesight and help prevent more severe health problems further down the line. It is best to restrict eating liver and pate to once a week and menopausal and pregnant women need to check out the NHS website for the latest information. (See link below).


(vegetables especially carrots), milk, milk products, butter and fat spreads.

It’s a pity that not many people eat liver today, when I was growing my mum made a delicious plate of liver and onions

Marathon nutrition

I’m having a relaxing evening, no running tonight for me.  I did a quick track session early Friday morning followed by a 6 mile run on Saturday and 12 miles yesterday so really do need a rest.

I dug out the ‘You’re In! Marathon News magazine I received through the post notifying me I had a London Marathon place to see what is said about nutrition.  This is the advice given for marathon running:

In preparation for training:

  • It’s important to get essential vitamins and minerals – so eat lots of fruit and veg.
  • Eat protein, such as beans, fish, pulses and lean meat to aid muscle repair.
  • Carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and couscous provide energy to fuel long runs.
  • Drink fluids to keep hydrated.
  • Cut down on alcohol and junk food.

During training / the race:

  • It’s vital to take on hydration and nutrition during the race, so practice in training.
  • Drink 250ml (half a pint) 30 minutes before the start.
  • Take on some fluid every four, six or eight miles (water or energy drinks). (500ml per hour for slower runners).
  • Practice with different energy gels and sweets to find out what suits you, in preparation for the race.
  • Don’t eat or drink something for the first time on race day.
  • Don’t drink too much, that can lead to water intoxication.

After training:

  • Rehydrate gradually over the next 24 – 48 hours.
  • Eat some salty food and space out your drinks to replace water, salt and glycogen.
  • Have a drink but don’t drink excessively.
  • Have something to eat.

I like to have a beetroot juice with celery, cucumber, lemon and ginger about 30 minutes before a run but I do need to practice hydration and nutrition during my long runs.

I’m going to buy some energy drinks and gels and start putting this advice into practice this week!