Category Archives: Nutrition

Can you get better at fat burning by eating fat?


New research shows that endurance athletes who eat a low-carb/high fat diet are better at fat burning.

We’ve long been taught that people who take part in endurance sports – anything from a 10k upwards in running, say – should have a high carbohydrate diet. The theory being that our body uses glucose as a fuel and carbohydrates can readily be broken down into glucose by the digestive system to provide that fuel.

Back in the 1970s though, some healthcare professionals, led by the ‘pesky’ Dr Atkins postulated that cutting carbs and eating more fat was a good way to loose weight. Their theory being that from an evolution perspective, fat was stored by the body to be used as a secondary fuel source when times were hard. Cut the carbs and the body will burn fat as fuel instead they argued.

Atkins and similar diets were demonised at the time by the health authorities who were bent prescribing low-fat diets and by the media who went for the easy ‘lose weight by eating fry ups’ headline (something never really advocated in the Atkins books).

Over the past few years, the thinking in healthcare has started to change… fats are no longer demonised, and healthy fats (think those avocado, nut butters, olive oil and coconut oil) are considered essential for healthy hearts and bodily functions.

And this new research by Ohio State University has gone one further and shown that decades of thinking in sports nutrition could be about to be turned on its head.

In the study of 20 ultramarathon runners, they found that those on a high-fat diet burned twice as much fat in exercise than those on a high-carb one.

The 10 low-carb runners  ate a diet with 10 percent carbs, 19 percent protein and 70 percent fat. High-carb runners ate a diet with 59 percent carbs, 14 percent protein and 25 percent fat.

If you want to find out more, there’s an excellent article in Science Daily here.

For those who are not runners, switching to a low-carb diet may help… Studies have shown that Atkins-style diets do lead to weight loss, although some have theorised that sticking to such a rigid regime can be challenging.

If you do want to try this kind of thing to see if it works for you, there’s a couple of things to be aware of.

One study has shown that the make up of Atkins-style diets can see reduce levels of vitamins such as thiamine, folic acid, vitamin C and iron. And they can cause constipation due to a lack of dietary fibre.

As such, supplementation with a good multivitamin is essential… and even the latest Atkins books encourage the use of psyllium husks, flaxseed and increased water consumption to reduce the possibility of constipation.

Healthy Christmas dinner


It’s the time of year where we all over-indulge, but follow these tips for a more healthy Christmas dinner.

Turkey – the bodybuilders’ favourite bird is packed with protein and low in fat if you stick to breast meat. If you can afford it, go for a crown without the fattier legs and wings. Either way, cook the bird on a trivet to allow fat to drip out, rather than having the turkey sit in it. You can still baste it to keep it moist.

Roast potatoes – if you were being uber good, you could replace these for baked potatoes and cut out a hefty chunk of calories. If not, try roasting them in coconut oil. Coconut oil is said to be metabolised rather than stored by the body – and studies show that people who consume two tablespoons a day burned more calories than a group who didn’t.

Cranberry sauce – make your own rather than store bought. It takes little time and all you need are cranberries and a natural sweetener such as stevia or agave nectar. Ensure you don’t put too much in by boiling the cranberries first and then adding and taste testing a couple of spoonfuls a time so you don’t overdo it.

Veg – eating more Brussels is a good start. But simply steaming them and not slathering them in butter (a little won’t hurt) is a good way to do.

Desert – try a fruit salad with Greek yoghurt instead of the usual stodge.

However you cook it – and who am I to tell you not to have a day off the health kick – have an absolutely brilliant Christmas.


Cancer is not just down to bad luck


A study earlier this year caused quite a storm by suggesting that cancer in human beings is down to inherent issues such as genetics.

Of course, the media had a field day, covering the story as cancer being down to ‘bad luck’.

But a new study this week challenges the findings of the first. The study, published in the journal Nature shows that environmental factors such as diet, overexposure to the sun, tobacco and alcohol, as well as viruses such as hepatitis B and C impact between 70 and 90 per cent of cancer incidences – pretty high odds.

The high percentage risk factors “provide direct evidence that environmental factors play important roles in cancer incidence and they are modifiable through lifestyle changes and/or vaccinations”, the researchers wrote.

That doesn’t mean that if you stay healthy, exercise regularly and have a good diet that you won’t get cancer – but it does mean you can reduce the risk.

And it makes sense. If you look at the engine in your car, combustion engines have been around for a little over 150 years. We know that if we service them regularly, the car is less likely to break down. If we feed them the right fuel, they’ll keep running. You don’t pull up at the petrol station in a diesel car and fill it with with unleaded – you know the car will stop working – and you know that if you leave the car rusting and don’t take it for a run every so often, some of the parts will begin to seize up.

Conversely, humans have been around for around 2.5 million years. In that time, the body has evolved into a highly efficient machine adept at burning the right fuels and adapting to environmental changes and stimulated by exercise.

Yet so many of us don’t exercise our bodies and don’t feed them the right fuel (Think how long processed foods, refined sugars and trans fats have been around in comparison to humans…. it’s unlikely the body has adapted to these manmade nutrient-light ‘foods’).

Whenever I have this debate with people, someone will inevitably roll out the friend of a friend’s granny who chain smokes, sinks a bottle of gin a day and has lived to get a telegram from the Queen – that’s past 100 for younger readers who might not know what a telegram is 🙂

And that might be true (although I can come up with loads of other examples of people who have done  the opposite and still live long healthy lives.

But here’s another was of looking at it  that I read in one of the reports about the new study this week. Think of your chances of getting cancer as a game of Russian Roulette.

You have a revolver and there’s a genetic bullet in it – this is your probability of getting cancer from intrinsic factors, ie genes, your family history etc.

There are other bullets… the extrinsic factors: things like a lack of exercise, bad diet, environmental pollution, smoking, drinking too much…

How many of those do you really want to load into the chamber before you pull the trigger?



Top 5 worst celebrity diets to avoid in 2016

hanks baldwin

The New Year is almost upon us and with it comes a host of resolutions, often about food. As such the British Dietetic Association has released it’s list of Top 5 worst celebrity diets to avoid in 2016.

They are:

1.  No Sugar diet (last year’s number 3)

Celebrity Link:  Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin (who appeared together on Saturday Night Live earlier this year, above) have reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about?  The Sugar Free Diet is when you exclude all types of sugar (and often carbohydrates too) from your diet.

BDA Verdict:  Not such a sweet deal! Confusion reigns. Cutting down on free sugars, reducing the amount of sugar you add, and consuming fewer products already containing added sugar, in addition to being label aware is definitely a positive. However, some versions of the No Sugar/Sugar Free Diet promote cutting out all sugar from your diet which is not only almost impossible, but would mean eliminating foods like vegetables, fruit, dairy products and nuts – leading to a less than healthy diet.  Also it is important to be aware of some substitutes these diet plans recommend like agave, palm sugar, maple syrup or honey, as these are actually just sugars in another form and a huge contradiction.

2. The all-kale and chewing gum diet

Celebrity Link: Jake Gyllenhaal reportedly followed this ‘diet’ to shed weight for a film role.

What’s it all about? There isn’t much to this one, as all you can eat is kale salad and chewing gum.

BDA Verdict: Kale-amity! This diet is extreme, socially isolating, unbalanced, hard to sustain and potentially harmful. An actor would be carefully monitored and supervised to shed weight for a role. Many people get drawn in by so called ‘super foods’ but no one food can provide all the nutrients you need. These foods are not a magic bullet, neither does balanced nutrition work by a ‘good’ food cancelling out other poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Nothing is wrong with kale, but if that is all you consume all day, every day, then problems will arise – it’s all about balance, a healthy relationship with food (not obsession) and variety.

3.   Bulletproof diet

Celebrity Link:  Harry Styles and Shailene Woodley have reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about?  This quirky diet plan includes a daily ‘Bulletproof coffee’ which is essentially a black coffee with 2 Tbsp butter,and a Tbsp MCT oil added totting up at around 400kcal per cup. Foods are classified as bulletproof, suspect or kryptonite with rules on timing of meals

BDA Verdict:  While the idea of minimising alcohol and processed food is positive, the classification of foods is at odds with health recommendations and lacks evidence. Time restricted eating is also at odds with many lifestyles. The negative of the recommended Bulletproof coffee is that consuming 400+ calories from one beverage provides a lot of energy but few nutrients from a drink, rather than individuals choosing food and drink with more nutritional content for the same calorie value. 

 4.   The Super Elixir

Celebrity Link: This product is endorsed by Elle McPherson.

What’s it all about? ‘The Super Elixir’ is a food supplement aiming to change body tissue from an acidic to an alkaline state. It comes in the form of a green powder and contains just over 45 ingredients including a number of powdered fruits and vegetables, sweeteners, several Chinese herbs and some digestive enzymes. The recommended dose is 2 teaspoons (or 10g) per day meaning a month’s supply will set you back – brace yourself – £96 for 300 g.

BDA Verdict:  How much?! The benefits that this costly powder claims to provide can easily be obtained from fruit and vegetables and a balanced diet, without the hefty price tag. Moreover our bodies are naturally capable of regulating acidity levels. Why not save your £1152 per year, spend it on some delicious fruit and vegetables and a splurge on a ‘Super’ holiday instead! 

5.   Trim Secrets

Celebrity Link:   Baroness Michelle Mone OBE, founder of lingerie brand Ultimo and life peer in the House of Lords, established Trim Secrets with a Scottish naturopath. Chanelle Hayes (former Big Brother star) has reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about? Trim Secrets is a pill which claims to suppress appetite whilst boosting the metabolism, allegedly aiding both men and women to lose weight when combined with the Trim Secrets 5-stage diet plan. The diet plan includes a balanced diet of 1500 calories per day along with a Trim Secrets capsule taken three times a day before each meal, 1.5 litres of water daily, regular exercise and avoiding stress.

 BDA Verdict:  By consuming 1500 calories per day, most individuals should lose weight regardless of whether they are taking this pill, and that’s no secret. The pill has echoes of the grapefruit diet and includes guarana which is high in caffeine yet states it’s caffeine free. Beware of pills and potions and make sure you know exactly what you are buying and taking.

Speaking about these and other fad diets, Sian Porter, consultant dietitian and Spokesperson for the BDA, said:

 “Maybe it’s not as exciting but the truth is if you do want to lose some weight do it by eating a healthy, balanced diet that you can stick to, watch your portion sizes and be physically active. Think of it as a marathon approach to achieving your goals, as opposed to a sprint approach.  Aim to make permanent changes to your diet and lifestyle that are sustainable for you in the long term, not someone else’s lifestyle, nor abandoned by the end of January.”

Why you should keeping a health and fitness diary

If you’re serious about improving your well-being, you really should be keeping a health and fitness diary.

The big health news this week is that finally a study has proved what many in the fitness industry have been saying for years: there’s no one-size-fits all diet (and funnily enough, no one-size fits all exercise plan either).

The Personalised Nutrition Project by Professor Eran Segal and Dr Eran Elinav of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science looked at 1,000 volunteers who had their blood sugars checked every five minutes for a week while they ate their normal diet.

They also had their gut flora checked and answered questions about what they ate, their exercise and their sleep patterns.

“The first super surprise was how differently the response was to the same food,” said Elinnav… and the big headlines from the study were along the like of Is this the future of food?, Obesity may be misunderstood and There really is no one size fits all diet plan.

But to myself, fellow PTs and nutrition therapists, that’s no surprise at all.

We are all individuals so it makes sense that our bodies react in different ways to different stimuli, whether that be diet, exercise or our environment.

Even the job you do can have health ramifications – a hairdresser in a busy salon breathing in hair spray and dye chemicals all day will be affected in a different way to a gardener who spends all day in the open air.

And it’s why keeping some kind of a fitness/diet record is so important.

We’ve all been there before: doing what we are supposed to do with a fitness regime or a diet and found it’s had little or no effect – and it’s largely because while we are generally genetically the same, all of our bodies react differently.

Short of doing a barrage of (expensive) tests, the only way that can work for you is by trial and error. And that doesn’t mean flitting from one exercise/diet program to another, but by accurately recording what you are doing … and if it’s not working, tweaking things slightly to see if it has an effect.

Employing a fitness professional should help you reach your goals quicker – a good PT or a nutrition therapist would recognise some of the imbalances and be able to target better the things to change… but this is not a sale pitch, everyone can benefit from keeping a health and fitness diary.

Set yourself a goal, pick a program or diet and record everything you do accurately… and if things don’t improve and they do or you reach a plateau, change one thing at a time and give it a week or two to see what effect it has. By keeping accurate records, you’ll be able to quickly see what’s working and what’s not.

Technology can help too, there are dozens of apps and websites out there now so as MyFitnessPal that can help, making the process easy, accurate and, above all, second nature.


Polenta porridge


Delicious polenta porridge is a great way to start the day…

Most fitness pros will tell you you can’t beat a bowl of porridge in the morning. There’s slow-release carbs, protein and lots of fibre – the latter essential for good gut health.

Even when I’m low-carbing, I usually start my day with a bowl, getting most of my allowance for the day out of the way at breakfast.

It can become a tad staid though, so I was glad to come across this idea in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Light & Easy: Healthy Recipes for Every Day, a book I’d recommend to anyone looking to go gluten and/or lactose-free.

It borrows from Jamaican breakfast porridge to use polenta, or cornmeal, instead of oats.. Incidentally, cornmeal is also the main staple of the Tarahumara, the Mexican tribe with near-mythical running strength and energy who are the stars of the excellent book Born To Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen.

It’s quick and easy to make, and while polenta can be a little on the bland side with nothing added to it, chopping a banana on top, drizzling with Greek honey and dusting with cinnamon all help to spice it up.

As a dish, there’s 4g of protein per portion, as well as 4g of fibre.

Ingredients (serves 2)

75g quick cook polenta
200ml Alpro coconut milk
1 banana
20g Rowse Greek honey
A sprinkling of cinnamon


Heat the coconut milk till steaming (do not boil)
Add the polenta and whisk for about a minute until it thickens
Divide between two bowls
Top with the banana, a drizzle of honey and a dust of cinnamon.

It really is that easy!

If you want to link to the recipe on Myfitnesspal, you can do so here (you must be logged in to view)


Sugar – the hidden killer


You might have seen in the news this week that there’s been a kerfuffle about a potential ‘sugar tax’ on food and drink that’s high in sugar.

You can decide for yourself on the politics of whether a price hike is the right thing to do or not – but one thing for sure is we are facing an obesity crisis, and too much sugar is at the heart of it all.

A shocking 6 in 10 British adults are either overweight or obese . And our kids are catching up – in the last year of primary school 3 in 10 kids are also overweight or obese, and dentists report that half of eight-year-olds have tooth decay from too much sugar.

So why is sugar so bad?

When we consume it, our body produces a hormone called insulin which helps the sugar get into our cells to provide energy, if we consume more than our energy needs, insulin converts that extra sugar to fat, meaning we put on weight.

Even worse, when we over-consume for a long period of time, our insulin levels remain high and we can become resistant to it, our body doesn’t produce enough: hello type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is an awful disease for many reasons – it can cause blindness, leads to all manner of other conditions including heart attacks and strokes, and can lead to amputations. The worst part is if it comes about because of a high-sugar diet, it’s self-inflicted to a point.

The row this week has come about following a report by Public Health England that called for a sugar tax. Naturally, big business in the form of the food and drink industry don’t want this – and the government is caught somewhere in the middle of the interests of the country’s health and interests of companies who are worth a lot of money.

The report highlighted that we should take no more than 5 per cent of our calorific intake from sugar, but we typically take in between 12 and 15 per cent of our calories from sugar.

The advice is simple: if you want to live a healthy life, eat a balanced diet, reduce your sugar intake and exercise more.

There’s a great write up on the row here... I’d really advise you read it, even if you already on a low-sugar diet.

Glutathione – the must-have antioxidant

You’ve probably heard all about free radicals and antioxidants… but let me introduce you to the one must-have anti-oxidant, glutathione.

I’m about to embark on a part-time MSc in Nutrition Therapy – and while I’ve only been on a foundation course in biochemistry over the summer as a pre-requisite, I thought I’d share some of the things I’m learning that will better inform you about your own diet and lifestyle.

The first one of these is about the key antioxidant – glutathione.

For some background, free radicals are ‘rogue’ chemicals that enter our bodies and can cause our body stress. Chemically, they occur when atoms or molecules try and steal electrons from other atoms or molecules, hence destabilising them. They also cause a cascade affect where the molecule that had it’s electron pinched then steals from one from the next molecule and so on. In simple terms,  you could say they result when electrons behave badly.

Free radicals can enter our body via a number of channels – chemicals in the air, cigarette smoke, via the processing of alcohol in our bodies (though booze alone does not contain so many), burnt toast… the list goes on an on.

Free radicals are not always so bad. Our body produce them itself, especially in response to exercise – but it finds ways to deal with them and that body production/defence of produced free radicals helps strengthen our bodies’ defence mechanisms.

Where problems do occur is when you get an excess of free radicals – and this can lead to oxidative stress on the body. An excess of free radicals is thought to be a factor in ageing prematurely, but also a pre-cursor to some diseases such as cancer.

As such, keeping the body’s oxidative stress levels low is key – and this is done by the intake of antioxidants, molecules that donate electrons to those cheeky, thieving molecules to stop them from nicking electrons from elsewhere.

The ones that get all the publicity are things like vitamins C, E and D – and you should certainly ensure a high intake of those from both foods and supplements if necessary.

But glutathione is one few of us will have heard about – and yet it is probably the most important one.

Glutathione is produced naturally in the body – and thanks to the presence of sulphur, it acts like sticky flypaper, attracting all the toxins and helping expel them. But it also keeps those other vitamins like C and E clear of impurities and helps them get on with their jobs.

Scientists think it may benefit it us by:

  1. helping beat chronic fatigue syndrome
  2. boosting the immune system
  3. fighting diseases such as HIV/AIDS and cancer
  4. helping the body detoxify
  5. helping combat the aging process

and much more…

While your body produces glutathione, levels can drop when the body is subject to oxidative stress, so you MUST ensure you keep your levels high.

Here are some ways you can do this:

  1. Consumer sulphur-rich foods such as onions, garlic, brocolli and kale.
  2. Exercise more – exercising boosts glutathione levels.
  3. Supplement your diet: Alpha lipoic acid, selenium, milk thistle and vitamins B, C and E all help. I use Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition formula, available at most health food shops.
  4. You can also supplement it direct, but some of it will be lost in the digestion process and it will not be as good as the ‘homemade’ stuff.

There’s a great video on how important glutathione is by Mark Hyman, one of the best forward thinkers on nutrition. You can see it below.

When olive oil is bad for you

Olive oil

It’s been the backbone of all the publicity surrounding the Mediterranean diet, but is olive oil the cure-all it’s meant to be? It certainly is packed with antioxidants and good Omega 9 fats, but are there times when olive oil is bad for you?

Let’s start with the obvious – Calories! Like all oils, olive oil is super dense when it comes to calories. Just one tablespoon full contains a whopping 120 calories – that’s around 40 more than in a whole banana! Drenching food in too much olive oil can seriously increase the calorific content of a salad, so make sure you are drizzling sparingly if you are trying to lose weight. Of course, a tablespoon of olive oil is still going to be better for you than a tablespoon of mayo or a commercial dressing.

Olive oil spreads. The food industry has long been producing olive oil spreads and promoting them as a healthy alternative to butter – but let’s have a look at just how that works. First of all, let’s get the terms right – an oil is a lipid that remains liquid at room temperature, a fat is a lipid that is solid at room temperature.

So ‘olive oil spread’ is kind of an oxymoron. How can an oil be a fat? Well food manufacturers treat the oil so it solidifies. The cost of this can be that the oil turns from a healthier monounsaturated fat into a trans fat. Widely thought to be most ‘evil’ of all fats, trans fats can also be found in many biscuits and supermarket cakes, as well as margarines.

Trans fats were originally manufactured to increase the shelf life of goods – they make produce last longer. Want to know how that happens? The bacteria that attack healthy, fresh food and turn it bad over time won’t touch trans fats. That’s right, the things that nature provided to give a natural shelf life to things we eat, don’t like to eat trans fats. Now tell me why you or I should think it’s a good idea to have them in our diet.

Frying with olive oil. I admit, I was guilty of this for a long time. Olive oil is healthier than other oils, so surely it’s better to use it to cook with? Well I was wrong! Oils get damaged beyond their boiling point and the boiling point for the fats that are better for you are lower than on other fats – it can even turn them into trans fats. Saturated fats structure remains the same when their temperatures reach smoking point. The moral of the story? Use saturated fats such as butter (yes, butter!!! *) or coconut oil for cooking.

So while olive oil in moderation is good for you, there are certainly times when it isn’t! To get the best health benefits from olive oil, drizzle it in moderation to take advantage of its high omega 9 content.

* All natural fats, including those derived from animals, are essential in moderation – that’s not a licence to start lathering your toast in the stuff, remember those calories.

James’ egg muffins


done pan

These egg muffins are light, healthy, protein packed and take less than 30 minutes to make.

When you’re working out and need some extra protein to aid muscle recovery, it can be hard to find something to snack on – and chowing down on chicken all the time can be a chore.


So here’s a great alternative: egg muffins. I can rustle up a batch of these in around 30 minutes and, although they last about a week in the fridge in an air-tight box, they never last that long.

Delicious hot or cold, you can have them for breakfast, with a side salad for a light lunch or pop them in yours or the kids’ lunch box.

Each one is just 60 or so calories but contain 10 g of protein, which will help you feel fuller longer, as will the fibre in the veggies.


8 large eggs
8-10 button mushrooms
handful of spinach leaves
1/2 red pepper
30g (about quarter of a block) feta cheese
12 sprays of low-cal oil

Pre-heat your oven to 200C
Fine chop all the vegetables
Cut the feta into 12 equal pieces
Spray a muffin tray (make sure it’s well covered to avoid sticking)
Divide the veggies and the feta between the trays
Whisk the eggs and divide between the trays
Give each one a little stir
Bake for 20 mins or until set and golden brown