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Alex Allan Nutrition
By Alex Allan on 30/03/23 | Nutrition Tips

Should you avoid gluten?

Gluten is in a lot of things we eat, from bread and pasta, to cookies, pastries and even drinks like beer. It’s been a staple for thousands of years but, along with turning vegan, going gluten-free has been one of the biggest health trends in the last decade and is almost as divisive. Some claim gluten is damaging their health. Others argue that we are at risk of nutritional deficiencies if we don’t eat it. So, what’s the truth? 

Like so many things these days, when there is a lot of information and opinion, the waters can become muddied and it’s not always easy to separate fact from fiction. I thought I’d explore the topic so you can decide whether going gluten free is best for you.

What is gluten is and where you’ll find it

Gluten is a collective noun that refers to a number of different proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and anything made from them. 

The main proteins found in wheat are glutenin and gliadin, which are very elastic and give bread its stretchy quality. Some products naturally contain gluten, but gluten is also added in extra quantities to foods to add protein and texture, and to bind processed foods together.

You’ll find gluten in the following products (not an exhaustive list!)

  • Wheat flour
  • Durham wheat
  • Kamut
  • Semolina
  • Bread and breaded or battered foods  
  • Pasta  
  • Noodles
  • Soy sauce (Tamari soy sauce is gluten free)
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Many flavoured crisps
  • Barley squashes
  • Beer, lager, stout, ales
  • Couscous
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Pies and pastries
  • Pizza
  • Cakes and biscuits
  • Dumplings and Yorkshire puddings
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Muesli
  • Many packet sauces (powders and liquid sachets)


  • Malt extract 
  • Malt vinegar
  • Barley malt flavouring 
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Edible starch

What’s the problem with eating gluten?

The gluten proteins are very hard for your body to break down and, when they don’t break down completely, they cause inflammation in the digestive tract or leak through the wall of your small intestine into your bloodstream, creating an immune response. 

Coeliac Disease is the most well-known gluten-related problems. It’s an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten, and it causes your body to attack the small intestine, resulting in damage to the lining of the intestine. 

Symptoms range from digestive distress like diarrhoea, cramping and nausea (among others) to anaemia, neurological disorders and skin diseases like psoriasis and dermatitis. 

Testing for coeliac disease is by intestinal biopsy, usually when the condition is very advanced. There are a few specialist tests not available on the NHS that I can offer clients and that can spot problems before you become very poorly. Email to ask me about this. 

Wheat allergy is an abnormal immune response to one or more proteins found in wheat. Like other true allergies, the body makes a specific inflammatory response and symptoms can be mild or severe, including anaphylaxis, which can cause breathing difficulties and death. Allergies are usually detected using blood or finger-prick testing for IgE antibodies.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is a ‘catch-all’ phrase that covers everything else! Advanced testing for gluten-related disorders (I mentioned this above) can pick up if your body is making an unfavourable response to gluten. Or, quite simply, you might know that gluten causes you issues, which can mean anything from milder intestinal symptoms, headaches, joint pain, and fatigue, as well as neurological symptoms. While not life threatening, these can still have a profound effect on your health and how you feel and should not be ignored. 

Neurological symptoms, really? Yes. What we’ve come to understand about gluten is that it can cross the blood brain barrier in the same way the proteins slip through the normally tight junctions in the gut. If you’ve ever heard people talking about Leaky Brain, this is what they are referring to. Research has shown that gluten can cause central and peripheral nervous system and psychiatric disorders 

Why is this a problem NOW?

But - I hear you cry - bread and gluten-containing products have been around for thousands of years so why is this only a problem now? 

Gluten-containing grains now form the backbone of the modern diet thanks to an over-reliance on convenience and snack foods, and bread and pasta making multiple daily appearances on family menus. It’s not uncommon for me to find clients grabbing cereal or toast in the morning for breakfast, a sandwich or soup and roll at lunch and a pasta dish or pie in the evening. 

We’re just eating way too much.

Add to that, the wheat we eat today is also markedly different from the historic versions that used to be grown thanks to industrial milling that brought us the almost entirely barren white flour and other highly processed foods that see today’s wheat stripped of many of its vital nutrients. Add to that, wheat is now grown very differently with fertilizers and pesticides to increase yields.

Dr William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, had this to say: “This thing being sold to us called wheat – it ain’t wheat. It’s this stocky high-yield plan, a distant relative of the wheat our mothers used to make muffins – light years removed from the wheat of just 40 years ago.” 

Is giving up gluten bad for me?

You might have seen articles proclaiming that unless you are coeliac, you MUST eat gluten-containing products or all kinds of bad things that will happen, including nutrient deficiencies.

This is not the case. Articles citing the supposed nutrient deficiencies when you remove gluten containing foods that have been fortified with B vitamins (ie they have had extra B vitamins added). You could just ensure you eat foods that naturally contain vitamins instead!

As long as you focus on eating real food rather than relying on processed ‘gluten free alternatives’, there is really nothing to worry about.

About ‘gluten free foods’

Don’t make the mistake of thinking gluten free foods are necessarily healthy. When you buy any processed foods like breads, pastries, cakes, and biscuits, you are in for a long list of ingredients, some of which you may not have heard of before. The same is true of gluten free processed food. 

Gluten free breads are a case in point. Because the gluten in regular flour gives bread it’s unique texture, it’s hard to recreate gluten free, which is why gluten free bread often contains corn starch, rice flour, tapioca starch and potato flour, which are more likely to spike your blood sugar levels, be lower in fibre and cost more than regular bread. 

How to go gluten free

If you suspect you have a problem with gluten, the answer is to eat no gluten at all. Don’t reduce it, don’t save it for treats. Because gluten intolerance provokes an immune response, there’s no halfway house. That means don’t eat any gluten-containing foods and try to minimise cross contamination with gluten products. The food industry has come a long way in the last few years, developing products and menus that contain no gluten, but you do need to be vigilant. 

To start, you might find going zero gluten a struggle, but label checking and spotting cross contamination hazards will soon become second nature. Here are my biggest tips for following a zero-gluten diet.

  1. Become an avid reader of food labels. Get to know which food types and which brands contain gluten and, therefore, need to be avoided.
  2. Don’t afraid to say you need to avoid gluten. Real friends will try to accommodate you, and restaurants have an obligation to point out any potential allergens (and remember you are paying for the meal!) 
  3. Carry an emergency snack (nuts, seeds, a protein bar) in case there really is nothing else to eat.

Hidden gluten

Hidden gluten is found in many processed foods, including sausages and beefburgers, sauces, and gravies. Some products, while they contain no gluten-based ingredients, may have been produced in a factory that handles gluten. This means cross contamination is possible (imagine gluten free food surrounded by puffs of normal flour). These are also ideally avoided. This is why oats can be bought as gluten free or regular. Oats themselves contain no gluten but they are often packaged in an environment where other cereals like barley and wheat are processed.

Eating out

Most restaurants now offer a gluten free (GF) menu and, if not, can often advise on GF options on a standard menu. If something is not listed as being ‘gluten free’, always ask the waiting staff. If they don’t know, ask them to check with the chef. Sauces are one of the things you always need to check. Check chips are not fried in the same oil used for breaded products. 

It’s a good idea to call ahead to find out what the GF options are. You’ll soon build up a bank of favourite destinations you know can cater for you. Pizza Express, Ask, Prezzo, and Zizzi now offer a GF pizza base and pasta. Coeliac UK provides a pretty comprehensive listing.  

Cross contamination

This can happen very easily in any kitchen – including your own. Grills, pans, chopping boards and utensils may still have traces of gluten on them so wash them diligently. Take care if using normal flour as residues can remain in the air for up to 24 hours and settle on counters. Crumbs are another hazard – you’ll want a separate butter or spread you can designate GF. You’ll also want a new toaster or use toast bags to prevent the transfer of crumbs.  

If you want to know more or think you might have an issue with gluten, why not book in a call with me?

By Alex on 21/02/23 | Nutrition Tips

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. But did you know that being menopausal, having conditions such as PCOS, and being of black or Asian ethnicity can increase your chances too? And genetic predisposition can affect it too.

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. 


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 mouth-feel 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 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).


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. 

If you would like to know more, why not book in for a free 30 minute health review here.

By Alex on 29/11/22 | Nutrition Tips

Increase your antioxidants

Want to bulletproof your immunity? You need to stockpile those natural antioxidants (and not just the packets and tins of pulses!). When you supercharge this “antioxidant potential” you give your immune system a real boost.

And, if you’re wondering ‘where have I heard about antioxidants before?’ they’re the things skincare companies tell you their anti-ageing moisturisers are full of so double win.

Why are antioxidants important?

Viruses and bacteria produce oxidants, which are reactive forms of oxygen that damage cells and age you faster. Simply, they are bad news. We’re also getting our fill of oxidants from eating chargrilled/ blackened foods or breathing polluted air, and maybe you’ve had a less than great diet over the years. Where you can end up is a situation in which you have too many oxidants and not enough antioxidants.

Revving up your antioxidant status at times like these is a really good idea. While vitamin C seems to get all the praise when it comes to immunity, there’s another molecule that is the under-recognised supporting actor who deserves the starring role – glutathione.

Glutathione – the master antioxidant

Glutathione is one of the most important molecules in the body – almost like a magic elixir of health. Too little of it and you’re at risk of developing one of the most feared health conditions facing us today, including stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.

If you’ve got good enough levels, that’s where the gold is… 

But when levels are adequate or high, that’s when the magic happens. You’ll not only have protection from the conditions above, but you’ll have amazing energy, glowing skin, healthy detoxification, strong heart and brain function, and possibly even a longer life!

Glutathione is made up of three amino acids called cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid (or glutamate). It’s often called the “master” antioxidant because it helps recycle all the other antioxidants in your body like vitamins C and E, as well as alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10. 

Research show glutathione primes the white blood cells of the immune system and helps them produce more infection-fighting substances so they can control both bacterial and viral infections. 

Foods to increase glutathione

Eating the right foods to naturally increase glutathione will help keep you fighting fit. There are a small number of foods that naturally contain glutathione. These include asparagus, avocado, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, garlic, chives, tomatoes, cucumber, almonds, and walnuts. 

Some other foods contain the building blocks needed to make glutathione (they are the pre-cursors – the warm-up act); the foods containing cysteine and other sulphur-containing foods, and selenium. 

Good foods to choose are onions, spring onions, shallots, leeks, kale, bok choy, rocket, spring greens, watercress, radishes.  Some spices such as turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom - have compounds that can also help to restore healthy levels of glutathione and its antioxidant enzymes.

Alpha Lipoic Acid – glutathione’s reloader

Alpha lipoic acid (also called ALA) is a critical co-enzyme that helps to recycle many antioxidants, including vitamin C, E and also glutathione. It is well known for its anti-ageing effects on our cell’s energy factories, the mitochondria.

Good food sources of alpha lipoic acid include: 
• Organ meats
• Beef
• Brewer’s yeast
• Broccoli
• Spinach
• Brussels sprouts
• Peas
• Tomatoes

Selenium – building block of antioxidants

Selenium is an important trace mineral that is key in the production of glutathione (it also happens to be great for thyroid function so if yours is a little off, consider getting more of this antioxidant a double win). Good dietary sources of selenium include:

• Seafood
• Oysters
• Brazil nuts
• Eggs
• Mushrooms
• Whole grains
• Organ meats
• Dairy products

So rather than reaching for an immune supplement, why not think about how you can increase these immune-supporting foods in your diet?

Or, if you're struggling for inspiration, why don’t you book in a free 30-minute health review with me – just click here.

By Alex on 13/10/22 | Nutrition Tips

How useful is the BMI?

If you read magazines, watch TV, see a doctor occasionally or have ever been on a diet, you’ll have heard of the BMI or body mass index. It is a number used to assess whether a person is underweight (BMI <18.5), of a healthy weight (18.5-24.5), overweight (25-30) or obese (>30). It is calculated by dividing body weight (in kilograms) by height (in metres) squared. 

Although widely used and known by all, the BMI is not actually a very useful parameter to assess health or even weight. Why? 

Take a chunky rugby player, six feet (183 cm) tall, weighing 16st (101kg). His BMI is 30.3, making him ‘overweight’. Yet he has a 32-inch waist, is all muscle and fighting fit. Now compare him to an armchair rugby watcher, also six feet tall, weighing 16st, but with a beer belly and a largely sedentary lifestyle. He would have the same BMI, but it doesn’t take an expert to see that the two men couldn’t be more different. For this reason, the BMI alone has limited significance in assessing good health because being ‘overweight’ or not according to BMI means nothing without knowing one’s body composition. 

The BMI does not account for a person's muscle mass. In very muscular people, it suggests ‘overweight’ when they really are slim and healthy. In older people, a ‘healthy weight’ can be anything but, because muscle mass decreases with age, and their fat percentage is high for their weight. In addition, the BMI categories used in Western countries are less suitable for people of other ethnic backgrounds because they have a different stature than white people. 

What is body composition, and why does it matter? 

'Body composition' is the body's ratio of water, muscle, bones, and fat. A body fat percentage of 8-25% is considered normal for men and 20-35% for women. Knowing where the body fat is situated also gives clues about our health. Studies have shown that fat deposited in the abdomen is more problematic than fat elsewhere because it is metabolically active, upsetting hormone levels and causing or exacerbating inflammation. It can also surround and even penetrate vital organs, impairing their function. 

Muscle mass, on the other hand, is ‘expensive’ tissue. That means it burns more calories than fat. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) describes the minimum number of calories a body needs to function. Most people’s BMR lies between 1,000 and 2,000 kcal/day, depending on height, weight, sex, and age. If that strikes you as too little, you’d be right. This is just the absolute minimum of calories you need to lie down and breathe. Once you consider activity levels, the calorie requirement goes right up. A low BMR means your body doesn’t burn many calories in a rested state, and you are likely to put on weight quickly, finding it hard to shed. Building muscle increases the BMR because even when not in use, muscle tissue requires energy, i. e. it burns calories. 

How can I measure my body composition? 

Accurate body composition often reveals surprises. People with a favourable BMI may turn out to be TOFI: thin on the outside, fat on the inside. 

Elaborate methods are used in research to determine body fat percentage as accurately as possible. In a medical or nutritional practice, a so-called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) can help to estimate the body fat percentage. It also usually calculates the BMR. BIA devices measure the resistance in the body and thereby evaluate the body’s water content. From this, in turn, the fat content can be roughly estimated. However, it is not necessary for most people to determine the exact body fat percentage. There are also commercially available scales that make it possible to estimate the body fat content using BIA.

Another measurement you can use is the waist-to-hip ratio. It is calculated by dividing the waist circumference in centimetres by the hip circumference in centimetres. A value of more than 1 for men or more than 0.85 for women is considered unfavourable.

Your body fat percentage is high. Now what? 

Now that you know, you can do something about it. If your BMI is high, your doctor may already have advised you to lose weight. It may surprise you that cutting calories is not the answer. 

If your body fat percentage is elevated, your BMR will likely be low. Many calories you eat are not burned, and any excess is deposited as – you guessed it – more fat. Eating less (fewer calories) seems to be the reasonable solution, but the body is not stupid. If less energy comes in, it will reduce energy expenditure (i. e. reduce its basal metabolic rate). You may feel cold and tired as a result. Muscle tissue may be burned for energy, with the added bonus that it is then gone and won’t cost the body any more of those precious calories. After a while, you’ll get fed up with being tired, cold and hungry all the time and start eating more again. But – surprise – you put any weight lost back on and then some because now that your body has turned down the dial, you are burning calories even less efficiently than you did to begin with. From now on, you are likely to put weight on even more quickly than before.

Increasing the BMR, however, is a lot more helpful; for this, you need to build muscle. More calories need to be burned to supply all this new muscle tissue with energy, and less gets deposited as fat. In fact, if you play your cards right, that pesky body fat can even be burned for energy. Your body composition improves as muscle tissue builds up and fatty tissue is reduced.

So, to improve your body composition, you must find a way to

  • reduce your caloric intake without going hungry
  • exercise to stimulate your muscles to build more lean body mass
  • supply protein to enable muscle growth

Here are my tips to improve your body composition.

Low-carb eating for fat loss

Decreasing your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates can have a beneficial effect on body composition. Numerous studies report improved body composition with a low-carb diet. 

Every time we eat, our blood sugar - or rather blood glucose - level goes up. Whether that's by a little or a lot depends on what the meal consisted of. If it was high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, the blood sugar level rises high. If it was a meal with few carbohydrates and most of those complex carbs, it might just go up a little. 

High blood sugar is hugely damaging to body cells. It ‘sugar coats’ cells, making them stiff and unresponsive. As that can be almost any kind of cell, the symptoms caused by long-term high blood sugar (aka diabetes) are highly varied and can affect the heart, the kidneys, the eyes, the nerves incl. the brain, and more. To avoid damage, if blood sugar (glucose) levels are high, insulin is released to bring them back down to a healthy level again as fast as possible. 

Insulin works by moving glucose inside cells, where it can be used to create energy. However, the cells can only take up so much glucose at any given time. What can’t be squeezed in will continue to circulate, and that’s not an option. So, another thing insulin does is convert excess glucose into fat, which gets stored in fat cells. It can be converted back into glucose if needed, though it usually never is. Instead, more and more glucose from sugary and starchy foods adds to the build-up of fat every day.

Foods that are low in carbs but high in fat and/or protein do not have that effect. Yes, even fat does not make you as fat as sugar and carbs! The food we put into our mouths is more than the sum of its components. What really matters is what our metabolism makes of what we supply. Therefore, it is not as simple as: “Fat makes you fat”, no matter how logical that sounds. 

If glucose levels rise fast and high (as they do after sugary or starchy foods), a lot of insulin is released at a time to deal with the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible. As a result, the blood sugar level drops again, now overshooting its mark and ending up too low. This, too, is a problem, as a certain amount of glucose is required at all times, not least to support the brain. At this point, you may feel tired, unable to concentrate, irritable and hungry. Willpower and reason go out of the window. We now need something fast, ideally something sweet as we know it will make us feel better. 

Fatty foods do not affect blood sugar levels at all, and high-protein foods only minimally. Complex carbohydrates – the kind that releases glucose slowly – raise blood sugar levels gently and not as high. Less insulin is required to deal with it, and that, in turn, reduces blood sugar drops, too. You’re fuller for longer, and cravings become a thing of the past. 

Eat protein with every meal

Making sure that good quality protein is part of every meal you eat kills two birds with one stone. Because it barely affects blood glucose, there will be no steep drops, and you’ll not end up as ravenous as you would on the usual high-carb diet. Being hungry all the time is what makes most people fall off the waggon when dieting, so, clearly, avoiding hunger is a significant advantage. 

To improve your body composition, you’ll also need to build muscle. You'll exercise to achieve that, but that new muscle must be made from something, which is where protein comes in. To create new muscle tissue, you need protein, so tuck in! 

Good protein sources are meat, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy. The best vegan ones are nuts, seeds and pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas – also contain carbs). However, they are not 'complete', meaning they do not have all eight essential amino acids. The way around it is to also include grains in the diet – which are, of course, a source of starch. Grains and pulses don’t necessarily have to be consumed in the same meal, but both must be part of a vegan diet. 

Sustainable calorie reduction

On the face of it, this seems to be the trickiest part. We have seen, after all, that eating too little only causes the body to reduce the basal metabolic rate, which is counterproductive, so we must find a way to preserve muscle despite a low calorie intake. Also, we know that low-calorie diets make us miserable, making it less likely for us to continue. 

One gram of fat contains 9 kcal. The same amount of carbohydrate or protein contains just 4 kcal. It looks like a no-brainer: Cutting out fat will hugely reduce the calorie intake, and it is for that reason that conventional diets recommend you do that. Yet, as we have seen, metabolic processes matter much more than the actual number of calories. Low-fat inevitably means high-carb, and we’re en route to weight gain and misery (see above). As protein is just as low in calories as carbohydrates, I recommend increasing the share of protein in your diet. 

How filling are starchy carbs? Does a bag of crisps or a packet of biscuits stave off hunger? Most people’s experience is that not long after eating starchy carbs, hunger starts niggling again and – surprise – there seems to be room for more. Not so if you increase your protein intake. You’ll soon find that you’re satisfied. There is only so much protein you can eat. That way, diets that are higher in protein naturally reduce calorie intake. 

Time-restricted eating

Another way to effortlessly reduce calories is time-restricted eating. This means eating only during an 8- or 10-hour window and not eating during the remaining 16 or 14 hours of the day. That means just skipping one meal – either breakfast or dinner – and not snacking during the fasting period. 

This way of eating may be much closer to the eating pattern we evolved to maintain. Hunter-gatherers don’t usually sit down for breakfast, lunch and dinner, after all, snacking in between. Humans evolved to eat when hungry and could only eat when the hunt or the foraging trip had been successful. Our bodies are well equipped to bridge the gap while we’re not eating. Body fat accumulated when food was available can now be converted back into glucose. This process cannot happen when glucose levels are up all the time. During fasting, with no new energy coming in, there is finally an opportunity to burn fat. 

Not eating for 14 to 16 hours every day may seem daunting. You may find time-restricted eating difficult if your diet is based on carbohydrates. However, if you increase your protein intake and consume adequate healthy fat, you may be surprised to find that you are not feeling hungry and do not even miss that meal you’re skipping. 

What not to eat or drink

If you want to improve your body composition, there are certain foods or drinks you may want to give a wide berth:

  1. Ultra-processed foods

Cakes, biscuits, crisps, ice cream, ready meals, takeaways and almost anything you can buy ready to eat is not just highly processed but also choc-full of unhealthy fats, sugar, salt and additives. These foods are designed to make us want more. It's not your fault that your hand repeatedly goes back into the crisp packet until it’s empty. You’re supposed to. The best thing you can do for your body is to learn how to prepare your own meals and snacks from scratch. They’re tastier, healthier and more satisfying. 

  1. Soft drinks

Soft drinks are sugar dissolved in water. Regarding our metabolism, it does not even make a difference whether your drink is cola or freshly squeezed fruit juice. The latter may contain more nutrients than the former, but the sugar content is almost exactly the same, and so is its impact on your blood sugar levels. If you regularly consume soft drinks, switching to water is the single most significant step to improving body composition.

  1. Alcohol

Like soft drinks, alcoholic drinks contain just empty calories. They do not have any nutritional value and are even toxic. Avoid. 

Improve your body composition

So, there you have it. The BMI is a less than useful measure of body weight. What really matters is body composition. If you need to lose fat and build muscle, implement the dietary changes described above and introduce regular resistance exercise into your life. 

Want to know more? Why not book in a free 30 minute health review with me – just click here.

Increase protein and keep your carb intake low. Low-carb diets are much better at promoting fat loss than low-calorie diets. At the same time, they are more sustainable as you won’t feel as hungry. Once you get settled into your low-carb diet, up the ante by introducing time-restricted eating. However, take care not to restrict your calorie intake too much as this may cause the loss of muscle mass.  

Want to know more? Why not book in a free 30 minute health review with me – just click here.


By Alex on 23/05/22 | Nutrition Tips

The link between physical health and what you eat is well understood, but did you know that what you eat has a huge impact on your mood and how you feel?

I wonder how we forgot about this connection, because it was common knowledge in times gone by. Way back when (think medieval times), people would eat quince, dates and elderflowers if they were feeling a little blue, and use lettuce and chicory as nature’s tranquilisers. 

Modern science has extensively studied the impact of food on mood, and we now understand why food has such a positive (or negative) effect, and also which foods we should be eating more (or less) of to support mental health. 

Managing anxiety, stress, depression, and other mood disorders is complex, and there’s no one-size-fits all solution. But we know that the right diet and lifestyle plan combined with motivational coaching to help you every step of the way can be an enormous help. 

Good nutrition makes all the difference 

The very edited highlight of the research into what you should eat to balance your energy and improve your mood is to follow a Mediterranean-style diet featuring plenty of whole, natural foods. That also means learning to balance your blood sugar levels. Loss of blood sugar balance has a clear link to stress, anxiety, and depression. 50% of low mood is down to blood sugar imbalances. 

Learning how to become a master of your blood sugar balance is the secret to having more energy, a better mood and controlling your weight – and losing it if you need to. Feeling more confident about the way you look is in itself an excellent way to boost feelings of self-worth. 

In the same way that eating well can positively influence mood, making poor food choices can have the opposite effect. Research by a team at Binghamton, New York, showed that young adults under 30 who ate fast food more than three times a week scored higher when it came to levels of mental distress. The same researchers found that those who ate meat fewer than three times a week had more mental health problems (potentially as the amino acid tryptophan found in meat is the pre-cursor to the feel-good chemical serotonin). 

Key to your mood and brain function 

Few of us get enough omega-3 fats in our diet, and these are key to our mood and brain function. The dry weight of our brain is literally 60% fat - so not surprising that we depend on a daily intake of essential fats. 

EPA, DPA and DHA – certain long-chain omega-3 fats – build and rebuild your brain and are part of the equation for happiness. The higher your blood levels of omega-3 fats, the higher your levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin are likely to be. 

Omega-3 fats help build receptor sites as well as improving their function. There have been ten good quality double-blind controlled trials to date, giving fish oils rich in omega-3s to people with depression. Five showed significant improvement, greater than that reported for anti-depressant drugs. 

Most studies on anti-depressant drugs report something like a 15% reduction in depression ratings. Three studies on omega-3s reported an average reduction of 50% - and without side-effects. 

Sources of omega-3 fats: oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, cod, tuna, halibut), walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed. If you are vegetarian or vegan, consider taking an omega-3 supplement (e.g. DHA from seaweed). Most plant sources of omega-3 do not contain the long-chain fatty acids mentioned above. Although the body can make those from short-chain omega-3s – like the ones found in nuts and seeds – conversion is poor and it is difficult to get enough omega-3 that way, especially if you are not in good health or pregnant, when you need some extra. 

Low mood affects up to 20% of us at any one time 

Low mood affects up to 20% of us at any one time, so everyone is likely to experience some form of it at one time or another, particularly if you are also tackling a gut or hormone issue. 

Many periods of low mood can be almost eradicated by following the simple steps above and by following my signature Mood & Energy programme. Not only because this addresses many of the physical causes of low mood, but also because you are spending your time focusing on a positive action plan and learning new things rather than ruminating about problems. 

To find out more about how a nutrition & lifestyle programme can help, click here to book a free call with me.

By Alex on 04/04/22 | Nutrition Tips

Plan for the life you want to create

How often have you started following a healthy eating plan only to be forced to make unhealthy choices because you didn’t have the right foods in the fridge, you didn’t have time to eat a ‘proper’ breakfast or make the lunch you wanted to take to work? I’m guessing quite a few because that’s just what happens when life gets in the way. 

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. Or maybe ‘goals without a plan are just wishes’? They are things that we want but we have not yet committed to doing them… 

Without a weekly food plan, it will be pure luck if you end up with the right foods in the fridge or cupboards. And, without planning your time, you won’t always make the time to enjoy breakfast or make that lunch. 

Here’s the thing about planning: 

It’s easy to get derailed by events, situations, relationships, and tasks that insert themselves into our already-busy lives. So, if you’re committed to changing the way you eat, losing weight and, in fact, making any change in your life, this post is perfect for you. 

The very first thing you need to do is to find time to sit down and plan your meals. When can you do that? Get that in the diary now. 

If you’re one of those super-busy people who always finds themselves complaining that they don’t have time, I have an exercise for that, too. You see, ‘not having time’ is a story we tell ourselves or other people in order not to have to take responsibility for – or actually have to do – a particular thing. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you make time for what you prioritise in life. Anything else is just an excuse. 

If you’re reading this thinking, ‘yes but…’ let’s take a look at how you are spending your time. 

Ask yourself how you feel about how you are spending your time. Are you in control of your time? If you looked back over your life, would you be happy with the way you had spent your time? 

Every day over the next week use a daily planner to jot down everything you are doing in the time slots provided. This can help you discover the REAL reason behind what you say you want and what you actually do. It’s common, for example, to realise you are spending 15##plus## hours a week randomly online (on Facebook, following links or doing ‘research’). 

Where you are losing time or being inefficient with it? What is the cost to you of spending your time like this? 

Does it make it impossible to follow a healthy eating plan? Are the Starbucks breakfast bills piling up because you haven’t made time to get breakfast at home? How is this working for you? It’s often incredible how much time you gain so reorganise your life in a new way to fit in your new healthy habits. 

Organise your week

Once you at the set-aside time in your diary when you are going to plan your meals, work out when you are going to fit in the shopping. Can you allocate time to go to the supermarket? Or can you book in an online grocery delivery. Get that in the diary now too and book the slot.

Next, work out what’s happening over the course of the week. Are you going out to eat any days? Do your kids have after-school clubs or packed lunches that need making? Are you working late one evening, so might need a quick fix supper? With these in mind, mark in your journal which meals will fit with which occasion. 

Then check your cupboards and fridge for ingredients you may already have for these meals, so that you don’t double up. Write up a shopping list for the ingredients you need for you to take to the supermarket, or put these items into your online shopping basket.

Job done!

You now have a week’s worth of meals planned, ingredients organised, and shopping on its way. You can rest assured that you are eating well and won’t be tempted to order a takeaway as you don’t have the rights foods in! Plus, you know that there isn’t going to be a whole heap of food waste going on, so it’s better for the environment too. It’s a win-win!

And if you’d like some help coming up with a weekly menu, drop me a line! I’m here to help people plan what works for them and their families.

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