Q. Can I ask if you have some plain good recipes without lots of herbs and garlic. I don’t mind curries and things but all healthy recipes seem to be curries, garlic, herbs. I just like plain meals. Any ideas?
A. Herbs, spices and other added cooking flavourings are meant to enhance and complement the natural taste of food rather than disguise it. In addition, it is an often used strategy to suggest people add herbs, spices, garlic and so on to recipes and meals in order to help them reduce the amount of added salt they eat. Many people add salt to meals but since many of us eat too much salt it is wise to avoid doing this and cook meals without adding salt whenever possible. Eating too much salt can raise blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of a range of health problems such as heart disease and stroke. Current guidelines advise that adults in the UK should consume no more than 6g (about one teaspoon) of salt a day. There is no rule to say exactly how much of any flavouring you should actually add to a recipe and it is down to personal choice. Since you like plain meals I suggest that you simply take standard simple recipes and reduce or eliminate the flavourings you don’t like, avoid adding salt and see how you get on. Serve your meals with extra veggies and salads to add a range of other flavours. The recently updated UK Eatwell Guide aims to help you get a balance of healthier and more sustainable food and show how much of what you eat overall should come from each food group.
Q. Is eating Brazil nuts instead of meat better while I’m on a diet?
A. If you are looking to lose weight then it’s all about shifting the energy balance so you’re taking in fewer calories than you expend. You will probably need to reduce the amount you eat, but the guidelines to eating foods in the right balance from all the food groups still holds true. Eating a variety of foods helps you get all the nutrients you need, but this becomes harder to achieve when you cut down. Meat provides us with a valuable source of protein, vitamins and minerals with red meat providing one of our main sources of iron and B12. The Department of Health (1) advises that if you eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, you should cut down to 70g which is a small steak, 3 average-sized rashers of bacon or slices of ham, or a quarter-pounder beef burger. Choose lean meat and cut off visible fat to reduce saturated fat and reduce the fat content from chicken and turkey by removing the skin.
With respect to nuts, a large study investigating the effect of eating nuts on mortality concluded that participants who regularly consumed a 28 g daily serving of nuts had a 20 percent lower death rate, compared to those who did not (2). EFSA* health claims acknowledge and guide us to state that eating 30g of nuts per day as part of an energy restricted diet helps maintain a healthy weight and that eating 30g of nuts per day as part of a balanced diet helps maintain heart health but this is for peanuts and tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts) but excludes brazil, macadamia and cashew nuts.
Brazil nuts are renowned for their selenium content. Selenium is an important antioxidant that can protect from the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive particles that can oxidize and thereby, damage the body cells and tissues. Our bodies require very little selenium and consumption on a daily basis should be limited to no more than a few nuts to avoid accumulation of selenium in the tissues (3). In addition, Brazil nuts provide unusually high and variable concentrations of barium and radium which accumulate because of the extensive root system of the tree so at this stage it is not entirely clear that Brazil nuts should be eaten daily (4).
So, in conclusion, both meat and nuts, including Brazil nuts, offer dietary benefits so both, when consumed in moderation, can be eaten whilst you are on a reducing diet. Don’t forget to get active too! All adults between 19 and 64 years should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as fast walking every week, but if you increase this amount and move more, more often, you will use more calories. The combination of increased activity and healthy eating should help you achieve your goal.
- Bao Y, Han J, Hu FB, Giovannucci EL, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Fuchs CS. Association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 2013 Nov 21;369(21):2001-11.
- Brazil nuts: an effective way to improve selenium status. Christine D Thomson, Alexandra Chisholm, Sarah K McLachlan , and Jennirfer M Campbell. Am J Clin Nutr February 2008 . 87 no. 2 379-384
- Furr AK, MacDaniels LH, St John LE, Gutenman WH, Pakkala IS, Lisk DJ. Elemental composition of tree nuts. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 1979;21:392– 6. 32.
*European Food Safety Authority http://www.efsa.europa.eu/