Our dietary experts are on hand to provide help and guidance on a wide range of dietary issues
Q I don’t achieve 5-A-Day – do I need vitamin supplements?
A It isn’t only vitamins that your diet may be lacking if you aren’t achieving your 5-A-Day. Fruit and vegetables provide other important antioxidants along with fibre which is important for gut function.
You probably won’t come to any harm if you decide to take an over the counter multivitamin, although it may be an unnecessary cost. It’s also important to be aware that with some supplements brought over the internet, there can also be risks involved with the quality, quantity (dose provided) and any potential interactions that the supplements may have with other medications.
However, from time to time, some people do need additional vitamin supplements which their diets cannot provide, but it’s important that you talk to your health care provider who can inform you exactly when these are. For example, all women thinking of having a baby should take a 400 micrograms (mcg) folic acid supplement every day, as should any pregnant woman up to week 12 of her pregnancy. Folic acid can help to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
In the meantime, try to up your intake of 5-A-Day and remember, a portion is only 80g which you can quite easily get from half a large apple!
Q1: Anna Daniels
Anna Daniels RD combines her knowledge of food science with dietetics with the goal in assisting the nation to eat healthier meals.
Q I’m eating less meat, how can I get the protein I need?
A Many people worry that cutting down on meat and following a more plant-based diet means that they won’t be fulfilling their body’s protein requirements – which is needed for growth and repair and maintenance of good health.
Be reassured that if you’re eating a mixture of different plant foods, you can get all the amino acids (protein building blocks) your body needs from non-meat sources. This has been credited by the government’s new dietary recommendations, the Eatwell Guide, which recommends plant-based proteins over animal proteins for both the nation’s health and a more sustainable planet.
Plant sources of protein are not only nutritious but also tasty, filling and inexpensive. Choose a range of beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and nut butters (e.g. peanut butter), soya and soya products (e.g. tofu), quinoa, hemp and seeds and grains (e.g. wholegrain cereals, pasta and bread) to help ensure your diet is balanced. Eggs, milk and dairy products are also good sources if you’re eating them.
Meat substitutes, such as vegetarian and vegan burgers and sausages, can be useful for topping up your protein intakes and for adapting to eating less meat. As with many processed foods, these can often be high in salt and saturated fat, so compare nutrition labels when shopping and eat only in moderation.
Q2: Helen Bond
Helen Bond RD has 20 years’ experience working in the NHS, in PR, within the media and across the food and pharmaceutical industries.
Q What are empty calories?
A Foods high in fat, sugar and alcohol, such as chocolate, crisps, chips and fizzy and alcoholic drinks are often said to provide ‘empty calories’. This term is misleading! Calories are units of energy and these so called ‘empty calorie foods’ are high in energy (calories). These same foods however, are also poor in vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Too much sugar, fat and alcohol in the diet is associated with increased health risks such as weight gain, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.
For a healthy body, aim to eat more nutrient-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts and beans.
Most people could benefit from eating fewer ‘empty calorie’ foods, but it’s not necessary to demonise or totally ban these foods because we eat and drink for pleasure and cultural reasons, not just for nutrition. Enjoying your food, being active and including nutritious foods is as important as considering the quantities of ‘empty calorie’ foods.
Q3: Jade Clark
Jade Clark RD has a specialist interest in public health, diabetes, workplace health and behaviour change.