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Alex Allan Nutrition
By Alex Allan on 22/02/24 | Family Health

Diabetes and Me

Has your weight been creeping up on you over the years and is proving difficult to shift – despite your best efforts? Or maybe your energy levels are on the floor? It’s easy to push to the back of your mind. Surely things can’t have got that bad… You’re not one of ‘those’ people whose food and lifestyle choices result in blood sugar levels so wonky, they find themselves in the prediabetes or diabetes trap… It’s easily done, and I see a lot of people in clinic who have been surprised to find they’re occupying that space. 

It really is worth getting your blood sugar levels checked out. Once you know your numbers, you can do something about it and make a huge shift in all aspects of your health, including your weight. Whatever the tests say, I want you to know that, by making some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, it is possible to prevent, control and, in some cases, put it into remission. 

COULD IT BE ME? 

One in six people over the age of 40 is likely to have diabetes, with many more lurking in the grey area leading up to a diabetes diagnosis – prediabetes. 

There’s no upside to having diabetes. This is what may lie in store for anyone receiving the diagnosis: risk of stroke, heart disease, visual disturbances and other eye problems like cataracts and glaucoma, higher risk of bacterial, fungal and yeast infections, high blood pressure, damaged nerves and blood vessels, and fatigue and lack of energy. The list doesn’t stop there, but I think you get my drift. Diabetes is not a good thing.

WHAT IS DIABETES?

Diabetes is a condition in which levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood are higher than normal. 

There are two main kinds of diabetes (type 1 and 2). Both types involve insulin, a hormone responsible for controlling the level of glucose in the blood. Type 1 diabetic patients do not produce sufficient insulin and therefore need to inject it (this type of diabetes is the rarer kind, and often develops at a young age). 

Type 2 diabetic patients, produce insulin, but the cells become insensitive to it and so it fails to do its job properly. Type 2 diabetes accounts for over 90% of all people with diabetes, and the condition usually develops later in life. This type of diabetes is far more strongly associated with diet and lifestyle factors.

DIAGNOSING TYPE 2 DIABETES

Diabetes is diagnosed by testing your blood sugar level. If your fasting plasma glucose level (FBG) is too high (above 7 mmol/l) or your oral glucose tolerance (OGTT) is above 11.1mmol/l, your HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar levels) is above 6.4%, this represents a diagnosis of diabetes. 

For prediabetes, a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal and that often leads to type 2 diabetes, your FBG might read between 5.5 and 7 mmol/l, your OGTT might be between 7.8 and 11.1 mmol/l, and your HbA1c might be between 6% to 6.4%. 

It’s easy to dismiss the risk, but the shift into prediabetes can happen almost without your noticing it. You may experience niggling symptoms, like low energy or your weight creeping up on you, and your usual tricks to get it down no longer work as well as they once did. 

Common risk factors for prediabetes are these:

  • You are overweight.
  • You have a close relative – parent or sibling – who has a diabetes diagnosis.
  • You have high blood pressure or low HDL (‘good’) cholesterol.
  • You’re over 40.
  • You’ve given birth to a baby over 9 pounds.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK THIS APPLIES TO YOU

Your GP will be able to organise blood tests for you. You can also get tested privately. I offer a range of biochemical tests and can work with you to make manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle to get your health back on track. 

From a nutrition professional, what I’m about to say may sound a little biased, but I have seen so many diabetic clients receive unhelpful and incorrect advice about what to eat from doctors. Unfortunately, doctors receive no training in nutrition and have no other option than to follow the Eatwell Guide (published by Public Health England) – which, sadly, is outdated and not evidence-based. You may have been told that you could fix this just by losing a little weight, but I’m afraid that the way you might have gone about this in the past simply is not going to work anymore. And just starving yourself into losing a handful of pounds is not going to fix the underlying problem. It won’t miraculously change the numbers that came up in your test results.

What does work is a whole diet and lifestyle approach. I work with my clients to guide them to make better food choices that help lower their blood sugar levels. The strategy we create is tailored to you and no one else. What you like to eat, avoiding what you don’t like to eat, making changes at a speed that feels right for you to achieve your goals. We also look at these results in a bigger context of other annoying symptoms you might be experiencing and try to mop those up as we go along, too. You would be surprised the impact you can make on your health and how you experience life.

To find out more, why not book yourself in for a complimentary nutrition MOT and take your first steps back to good health today? Just click here.

By Alex Allan on 14/02/24 | Lifestyle Tips

Is self-compassion the key to unlocking your health goals?

In the pursuit of better health, we often focus on the physical aspects – diet, exercise, and sleep – while neglecting a vital component: our emotional wellbeing. You might already appreciate this conceptually but here’s an important question to ponder: how do you treat yourself when you make a mistake, or you don’t reach your goals?

Do you treat yourself with kindness and understanding like you would a friend or do you beat yourself up for your so-called failings? If, like most people, your tendency is to berate yourself, it’s time to bring a little more self-compassion into your life.

It’s good to be kind to yourselves and it can be your greatest ally in reaching your health goals.

“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” Kristin Neff, one of the eminent researchers on self-compassion

What is self-compassion?

At its core, self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you offer to others.

It comprises three key components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

It’s different from self-esteem (although this is also important for wellbeing). Instead of relying on self-judgment and comparisons, self-compassion is about self-acceptance and self-care.

The connection between self-compassion and your health

Research shows a profound connection between emotional wellbeing and physical health. High levels of stress, self-criticism, and negative self-talk can hinder your progress towards health goals. 

This is where self-compassion steps in. By reducing stress and improving mental health, it lays a strong foundation for positive health behaviours.

Silence your harshest critic - yourself

Imagine the inner critic as a relentless coach who constantly points out your flaws and mistakes. It's time to silence that voice. Recognising self-criticism is the first step. 

Pay attention to those moments when you berate yourself for a slip-up. 

Then, challenge these thoughts with self-compassion. 

Ask yourself: "Would I speak to a friend this way?" Almost always, I suspect the answer will be no. 

Start to learn self-kindness

Self-kindness is the heart of self-compassion. Start your day by acknowledging your achievements, no matter how small they might seem. 

If you already practise gratitude, it’s not that far away. Instead of reminding yourself of the good things in your life, you are reminding yourself of the good things in you. 

Treat yourself with the same warmth you'd offer a loved one. Practice self-care as an act of kindness to your body and mind – eat nourishing foods, get enough rest, and engage in activities that bring you joy.

You’re not in it alone – welcome to ‘common humanity’

You're not alone in your health journey, whatever that is. Common humanity is the understanding that all humans face challenges and imperfections. Connect with others who share similar goals. Share your experiences, both the successes and the setbacks. It's comforting to realise that your struggles are part of the human experience. 

It's worth remembering that people love to help, and we often don’t give them that opportunity to provide support. Think of reaching out as something they can feel good about, too.

Stay in the moment

I am a big fan of mindfulness for all sorts of reasons, and it also happens to be a powerful tool when it comes to self-compassion. Mindfulness brings you into the present moment, allowing you to make conscious choices about your health rather than dwell on what should or could have been, which inevitably ends with self-recriminations. 

Practice mindfulness through meditation, deep breathing, or simply by being fully engaged in your daily activities. It will enhance your decision-making related to your wellbeing. If you’re new to mindfulness, it can be helpful to start with some guided meditation using smartphone apps like Calm or Headspace. 

The point of these guided meditations is not to get really good at doing it, but to make the time to do it daily if you can. It is a ten-minute oasis of calm, and it works best to find a point in  your day that you can regularly commit to (even before bed) when you won’t be disturbed. Your mind is bound to wander off part-way through. This is normal so don’t throw in the towel if this happens!

Get started with self-compassion

Set realistic goals. Start small and build from there. Unrealistic expectations can lead to self-criticism.

Track your progress. Keep a journal to monitor your achievements and setbacks. Celebrate every step forward.

Keep a self-compassion diary. Create a journal where you record your self-compassionate thoughts and moments. Reflect on them regularly.

A little word on setbacks…

Setbacks are part of any journey, including your health journey. Instead of viewing them as failures, see them as opportunities for growth. When you slip up, acknowledge it without self-judgment. Remember that self-compassion allows you to learn from setbacks and move forward with resilience.

Self-compassion is not a luxury; it's a fundamental pillar of good health. By treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you offer to others, you create a positive environment for your physical and mental well-being. Begin your self-compassion journey today, and watch as it transforms your path towards your health goals.

If you struggle to support yourself, why not get in touch and see how I can help you. Just book a call here.

By Alex Allan on 07/02/24 | Recipes

15 Minute Chicken Curry

As a nutritionist, I’m often told by my clients that they don’t have time to cook. And this is a recipe that I love to share with them!  Quick, easy and healthy – what’s not to love?

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil

4 x 200g chicken breasts, cut into chunks

2 onion, diced

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

spices: 2 tbsp ground cumin, 3 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp red chilli flakes, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp ground coriander

4 tbsp tomato puree

2 x (400g) can chopped tomatoes

8 tbsp plain yoghurt

2 handfuls of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Method:

  • Put the olive oil in a large pan, and then add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook for 3 minutes until softened.
  • Add the chicken and cook for a further 3 minutes until browned.
  • Once the chicken is browned, add the red chilli flakes, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and ground coriander, and mix well and cook for a further minute. 
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato puree to the pan, and gently simmer for 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Add a splash of water if it dries out. 
  • Stir in the yoghurt and coriander before serving with your choice of cauliflower rice or broccoli rice.
  • Enjoy!

By Alex Allan on 01/02/24 | Family Health

Eat to improve your heart health

Many people fear a heart attack. Think of it as the last straw. Heart disease is, in many cases, a lifestyle disease that is avoidable and, with the right focus, you can avoid it, too.

There are some pretty big risk factors (outside of smoking and drinking in excess), and these include being diabetic, having high cholesterol and being overweight. 

What I want to talk to you about today is which dietary changes you might start to make from today, to protect your health and that of your loved ones. There’s fantastic news in this regard because a number of huge studies point to diet and lifestyle change being IT when it comes to prevention.

The INTERHEART study, published in the Lancet in 2004, followed 30,000 people in 52 countries. Researchers found that lifestyle changes could prevent at least 90 percent of all heart disease. 

This was another big one: the EPIC study in 2009 looked at how 23,000 people adhered to 4 simple behaviours: not smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. Sticking to these four behaviours alone seemed to prevent 93% of cases of diabetes, 81% of cases of heart attacks, 50% of cases of strokes, and 36% of cases of all cancers. 

A SIMPLE STRATEGY FOR GOOD HEALTH

Of course, everyone is individual, and there is no official ‘single diet’ that all humans should eat. But if there were, this would be it because it handles what the essence of the problem is – overweight and a highly inflammatory internal environment.

Before I dive in with some of the answers, I want to say a little something about fat because chances are, if you’ve heard one thing about staving off a heart attack, it’s ‘cut back on fat’ (and especially the saturated kind). 

The success of some low-fat dietary models in weight loss is thought to be more likely due to the simultaneous reduction of sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. 

Dietary fat actually turns off fat production in your liver. Unlike carbohydrates and protein, dietary fat does not trigger your pancreas to secrete insulin. 

There is one type of fat everyone should avoid, and it’s trans fats, a kind of Frankenstein fat added to food to improve shelf life and mouthfeel of products. One study actually found that the risk of coronary heart disease doubled with each 2 percent increase in calories from trans fats (Iqbal, 2014). Another researcher even concluded: “On a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of CHD more than any other micronutrient.” (Mozaffarian et al., 2006).

THE REAL VILLIANS…

The real villains in the piece are refined grains and sugar. During processing, refined grains are stripped of the bran and germ, two parts of the grain kernel that contain a wealth of nutrients. The final product is starch with next to no nutritional value, providing little more than carbohydrates and calories. Refined carbohydrates can be found in a wide variety of foods, including white bread, pasta and rice, muffins, cakes, cookies, crackers, and bagels. Unfortunately, these foods make up a pretty good chunk of the modern Western diet and may be linked to a higher risk of heart disease. 

One study from China found that a higher carbohydrate intake, mainly from refined grains, was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease among 117,366 adults (Yu et al., 2013).

Sugar is one of the main culprits of heart disease. Added sugars from foods like sweets, desserts, juice and soft drinks can spike blood sugar levels, damaging the blood vessels, overloading the liver and increasing the risk of heart disease.

Interestingly, a study from Harvard School of Public Health actually found that participants who drank the highest amount of sugar-sweetened beverages had a 20 percent higher relative risk of developing coronary heart disease than those who drank the lowest amount (de Koning et al., 2012).

WHAT THIS MEANS IS …

A lower carbohydrate diet is recommended to balance blood sugar and therefore reduce insulin and blood glucose levels. Elevated insulin is a major risk factor for heart disease and promotes inflammation. You’re also likely will lose weight on a blood sugar balancing diet, and that in itself will reduce the risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and high blood pressure.

  1. PROTEIN Eat a source of protein at every meal and snack. This can be any fish/ seafood, poultry, meat, nuts, seeds, tofu, eggs. Given you probably eat enough meat already and many people don’t eat nearly enough vegetable protein, see if you can bring in more fish and more vegetable sources of protein over the week. Ideally, eat two to three vegetable-based protein meals weekly. Replace animal-based protein meals with lentils, legumes, tofu, quinoa or nuts and seeds, for example. If you’re a fish eater, get in wild-caught fish, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, twice a week.
  2. FRUIT & VEG Get plenty of fruit and veg but focus specifically on eating veg that grow above the ground and fruit that can be grown in this country. These foods naturally contain either less natural sugar or lower amounts of carbohydrates, which have an impact on hormones. At each meal, have this cover at least half of your plate. The aim is 7 a day and ideally 5 from veg. Over the course of a week, aim to eat all different colours - span the rainbow to enjoy a diverse intake of nutrients. Enjoy berries, citrus fruit, peppers and leafy greens.
  3. FIBRE is a great addition, the soluble kind you’ll find in oats, lentils, split peas, flaxseed, citrus fruits and apples. All of those are heart-healthy choices. From the insoluble category, eat nuts and whole grains.
  4. FAT Some fats are healthy, and let’s not forget that fat is actually essential for life. Get your fat from avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds. 
  5. CARBS Think carefully about the quality (what kind) and the quantity (how much) of starchy carbs like bread, pasta, cereals, potato, rice. Focus on wholemeal over white, sweet potato over regular white potato, basmati or brown rice over long grain. You can also try throwing in a few ‘faux carbs’ like cauliflower or broccoli rice, courgetti (courgette spiralised into noodle shapes), butternut squash waffles, and so on. 
  6. PROCESSED MEAT In recent years, there have been numerous studies connecting processed meats, like hot dogs, salami and tinned meat, to a range of adverse effects on health. Not surprisingly, processed meats can also negatively affect heart health, so best to give them a wide berth.
  7. VEGETABLE OILS can be very damaging for heart health. Recent studies show that oils like rapeseed are not helpful (even though the supermarkets are brimming with these options). In fact, the linoleic acid they contain has been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  8. SUGAR Remove as much sugar as you can from your diet as this is the real villain in the tale. That means saving sugary treats for high days and holidays and, most of the time, ditching breakfast cereals, cakes, cookies, pastries, and so on, and checking the label of jarred sauces, where sugar often lurks.
  9. FIZZY POP Avoid fizzy soft drinks. Eliminating soft drinks is one of the best things that everyone can do for their heart. Besides being laden with controversial chemicals and unhealthy ingredients, soft drinks are also brimming with added sugars.

Do you notice a trend in my diet tips? What’s to focus on is real food. What you would benefit from decreasing is the processed stuff most people kid themselves is OK for them to eat. Truly, your body doesn't know what’s going on when you shovel in heavily processed or chemically altered foods. 

Eating this way - sometimes referred to as a low GL (glycaemic load) diet - will also help, providing your body with a steady supply of energy through the day, rather than a high-octane rollercoaster of energy spikes and troughs.

Putting the food work into your life alongside the commitment to regularly de-stress, move your body and prioritise sleep is not always easy to do on your own. It is always helpful to have someone – like me – in the wings helping you fit what you already know about eating well into your life and keeping you motivated to follow your plan for long enough that you really see a shift in your health. And if you would like some support - why not book in a call with me here

By Alex Allan on 25/01/24 | Nutrition Tips

How to eat well ##plus## spend less

Eating food you have cooked or prepared at home is healthier for you. It is also considerably cheaper. The key to this is planning. You’ve probably heard the saying ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. Without a weekly food plan, it will be pure luck if you end up with the right foods in the fridge or cupboard. And, without planning your time, you won’t always make the time to enjoy breakfast or make that lunch. You could be saving a LOT of money each and every week by following these tips.

EXERCISE 1: HOW MUCH ARE YOU REALLY (OVER)SPENDING?

Be honest with yourself about your spending and shopping habits. That starts with looking into how much you spend each week on take-out coffee, croissants, and other breakfasts; lunchtime salads, soups and sandwiches; snacks and other food treats; and ready meals, takeaways or last-minute meals out. 

Make a note every time you buy something (not the main food shop) to eat out of the house. Do this for a week, then multiply by 4 to give you an approximate monthly total. 

Log into your banking app (or go online) and make a note of how much you spent over the last month on food. 

Add the two figures together. This gives you your total for how much you are spending on food each month. I suspect you will be shocked. Most people are. 

Commit to saving a certain amount each week or month. Decide what that is. Commit to it and write it down. What will you do with that extra money? Where can you economise?

EXERCISE 2: PLAN YOUR PLANNING

Become a planning ninja. The thing about planning is that you need to actually plan to plan. It’s easy to get derailed by events, situations, relationships and tasks that insert themselves into our already busy lives. 

Choose a time when you know you will be free every week to plan your meals – breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Ideally plan midweek for the following week. Put a reminder alarm on your phone. If this planning job doesn’t get done, you will have no choice but to shop on a day-to-day basis, which is much more expensive. 

EXERCISE 3: AUDIT WHAT YOU HAVE

Turn these meal plans into a shopping list. 

Also create a master list of what you already have in your freezer, fridge and cupboards. 

Cross anything you already have off your shopping list.  

EXERCISE 4: SHOP YOUR PLAN

As an experiment, spend at least one week only allowing yourself to buy what is on your shopping list. No extras! The planning and shopping discipline may take a little time to get used to, but it is worth persevering. 

Off-list shopping and impulse buys are the biggest enemy for anyone wanting to keep to a budget. Do not go to the supermarket hungry. You are more likely to shop off-list when you do. 

EXERCISE 5: GET CREATIVE

A huge amount of food is thrown away, because we’re not sure what to do with leftovers. Make a commitment to using yours and prepare to save money. There is a bank of resources online to help you find easy recipe suggestions for pretty much anything you may have lurking in the fridge. 

This will feel uncomfortable at first. You will be making some meals you have definitely not tried before!

Try the following:

Tesco Meal Planner Left Over Tool (https://realfood.tesco.com/meal-planner/leftover-tool.html)

All Recipes Leftovers Tool (http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipes/tag-476/leftovers-recipes.aspx)

Love Food Hate Waste (https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/recipes/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIoqb6tqnl3QIVA7ftCh2Cjg_eEAAYASAAEgK12_D_BwE

GOLDEN RULES OF HEALTHY EATING ON A BUDGET

1 INCLUDE PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL AND SNACK

Protein keeps energy levels stable and is essential for the body’s growth and repair, and healthy skin and nails. Protein is found in meat and poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, lentils, beans, pulses (like chickpeas), quinoa, nuts and seeds. Protein should make up a quarter of your meal (about the size of a clenched fist). Many people do not have protein-based breakfasts. How can you change yours? 

MONEY-SAVING TIP: the cheapest sources of protein are vegetarian sources, like beans and lentils. Consider going meat-free one or two days a week. Eggs sold as ‘mixed sizes’ are cheaper than buying all M or L. 

2 EAT PLENTY OF FIBRE

That means lots of vegetables – likely more than you are currently eating. The recommendation is 5 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit (ideally low sugar fruit like berries, apples, pears, plums – anything grown in the UK) a day. Fibre keeps energy levels constant, balances your hormones, fills you up, keeps you regular and those fruit and veg contain many immune-boosting plant chemicals. Aim to eat a rainbow of colours over the course of the week. 

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Greengrocers are often the cheapest places to buy your veg. Also consider basing meals around special supermarket deals (example Aldi’s Super 6), and don’t rule out the basics and essentials ranges of veg (usually just means they are not regular shapes and sizes). Don’t rule out frozen veg either. It’s cheap, often frozen soon after picking so it’s very fresh, and offers the ultimate convenience. And you are likely to waste less. 

3 CHOOSE HEALTHY FATS

Eating fat doesn’t make you gain fat or otherwise put on weight, but some fats are healthier than others. The body loves omega 3 fats, which boost mood and support the stress response, and reduce inflammation. They are found in oily fish (salmon, trout, halibut, cod, fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts. Other healthy sources of fat are avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds. 

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Frozen fish is a far cheaper option than refrigerated. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s inferior. Often supermarket ‘fishmonger’ counter fish has been frozen. 

4 THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT STARCHY ‘CARBS’

Many diets rely heavily on white, pasta, bread, rice and potatoes, but these (especially when eaten without protein) can unbalance your blood sugar levels and cause you to store fat. Swap to healthier wholegrain alternatives; brown rice, wholemeal pasta and bread, and sweet potatoes, and ensure this element takes up no more than a quarter of your meal. 

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Many people bulk up meals with starch, especially on a budget. Your body will love you for bulking meals up with veg instead. Eating large portions of starchy foods will have you craving more food than if you had more modest portions. 

5 CUT SUGAR

Most people have an understanding that sugar is not good for them. Eating sugary food is like a treadmill, with one biscuit creating the need for the next. Sugar creates a blood sugar or energy imbalance, fuels inflammation in the body, and makes you put on weight. 

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Consider that the more sugar you eat, the more you need to eat. Sugary ‘treats’ soon become a three times a day habit. Depending what you’re snacking on, cutting it out (or cutting down) could save several ££ each day.

Don't hesitate to get in touch with me if you'd like to know more about meal planning and general health - you can book a call with me here.

By Alex Allan on 18/01/24 | Recipes

Pomegranate and Pistachio Chia Pudding

This is a very easy breakfast to make! It’s protein-rich and full of gorgeous antioxidants. If you double or triple the proportions, you can make 3 at a time. Pop them in the fridge and they will keep up to 3 days. Perfect for batch cooking.

Ingredients:

3 tbsp chia seeds

180ml coconut or almond milk

(unsweetened)

1 tsp vanilla extract

40g pomegranate seeds

1 tbsp pistachios, chopped

Method:

1. In a small bowl, combine chia seeds, vanilla, and milk

2. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours (or overnight, if possible)

3. When ready to serve, stir the chia mixture, then layer in a glass with pomegranate seeds

4. Top with pistachios

5. Enjoy!

 

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