BS Health Terms

BS Articles

Here we discuss some of the bewildering array of terms and phrases that are used when talking about a healthy diet. Even the word ‘healthy’ can be interpreted differently; for some its lack of illness for others it’s an idealised state of bodily perfection; so when you throw the word food or diet on the end, you’re left with a lake of ambiguity full of misunderstanding and ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous peoples.

Terms such as ‘clean eating’, ‘heath foods’, ‘super foods’, ‘juicing for health’ or even ‘eating a healthy diet’ have caused great interest among health enthusiast’s, along with controversy and confusion; as their definitions are ambiguous and transient. They might resonate with you, but what do they actually mean?

Well it’s likely that the average person, health enthusiast and Health professionals (and those scientifically-minded) will have differing views. Scientifically minded people are likely to define them using scientific evidence and reasoning whilst health enthusiast’s tend to measure their definitions not with true science, but more subjective reasoning; how these types of things ‘make them feel’ or through even less tangible concepts. The food industry and health enthusiast make use of the ambiguity of these terms so that to them it can mean anything they want it to! It allows them to tell each other and the unfortunate ‘average person’ whose stuck in the proverbial middle how health regimes should be followed, which products to consume and why everyone should join their ‘bubble’.

Below is a table listing some terms along with how they are often perceived/interpreted by the public and by science.

 

  Spoiler alert

This is BS corner so you can be sure that these terms are not evidence based!

 

We will continue to add to this list as we encounter new terms. If you have any terms that you have seen and want added, please let us know!

 

Article written by: Alex Risby BSc, RD & Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist
Feature image by: Susan von Struensee_Nutrition_flickr
Links:Detox The truth behind ‘superfoods’ FSA BS Corner(our blog’s latest section!)

Iron: Understanding & Supporting Healthy Intakes

Diet & Weight Loss

Most of us have been told that iron, especially in the form of spinach (think Popeye!) ‘gives us muscles and makes us strong’! Although I’m sure vegetables were the last thing I was thinking about when I was five!  However, when it comes to understanding the importance of iron’s role and making sure we have a healthy intake of it- how does your knowledge and diet weigh up?!

 

 

Photo by: Kalli McCleary Flickr

Photo by: Kalli McCleary Flickr

The human body contains 2-4mg of iron (men usually and naturally have higher levels); approximately two-thirds is found in Haemoglobin (Hb).

Haemoglobin is a protein found in our red blood cells that: carry oxygen around our body, mygoglobin in our muscles and it also gives it its red colour; myogloblin accepts, stores, transports and releases oxygen.

The body uses iron to make Hb. A protein called transferrin binds to iron and transports it around the body. Without enough iron, our organs and tissues become starved for oxygen.

 

Iron-Deficiency Anemia By: Ed Uthman Flickr

Ferritin is another protein that helps store iron by binding to it; approximately 25% of our iron is stored as ferritin.

It’s found in our liver, spleen, skeletal muscles and bone marrow. Only a small amount is found in the blood, but this is an indicator of how much is stored in our bodies; low ferritin levels are indicative of iron deficiency which causes anaemia.

 

Functions Of Iron

Photo by: Barack Shacked  Flickr

Photo by: Barack Shacked Flickr

Energy Production

If iron stores are low, Hb production slows down, therefore the transport of oxygen is diminished resulting in fatigue, dizziness and lowered immunity.

 

 

Photo by: The American Yoga Academy FlickrImmunitymmunity

Immunity

Our immune system depends on it for efficient functioning; the production of new enzymes is dependent on iron, which is important when we are recovering from illness or strenuous exercise.

 

 

 

 

 

DNA. Photo by: AJC1 FlickrRequired For DNA Synthesis

Iron is required for the function of many proteins involved in cell cycle and DNA synthesis, e.g. Ribonucleotide Reductase.

Production of red blood cells; they help carry oxygen around the body.

 

 

 

Consequences of Low Iron

  • Iron deprivation can result in harmful effects, in particular to our: cardiovascular, respiratory, brain and muscle function.
  • Iron depletion occurs when iron stores are low or exhausted and further decreases can produce iron deficiency anaemia. Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common consequence of a lack of dietary iron.
  • Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Mclean et al 2008, showed that it affects nearly 2 billion people globally; a significant problem in the developed world affecting approximately 50% of the global population and 74% of non-pregnant women.

 

 

Why Women Are At An Increased Risk?

Photo by: Mini-DV Flickr

  • Menstruation with long and/or heavy periods.
  • Eating disorders and/or various ‘restrictive dieting regimes’.
  • Following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle with improper instruction.
  • Consecutive pregnancies/ bleeding during deliveries.

 

 

 

All women should be given dietary information to maximise iron intake and absorption regardless of whether they are vegan/vegetarian or following a ‘typical’ balanced diet.

 

 

Groups At Risk Of Iron Inadequacy

Photo by: Howard Dickins Flickr

Photo by: Howard Dickins Flickr

  • Pregnant women
  • Infants and young children (needed for physical and mental growth)
  • Frequent blood donors
  • People with colon cancer or heart failure
  • People with G.I disorders or that have had G.I surgery
  • Vegetarians/vegans/fussy eaters

 

 

Signs And symptoms of Iron Deficiency

Photo by: Rajesh Jhawar Flickr

  •  Pica
    • Apathy
      • Dizziness
        • Depression
          • A sore tongue
            • Breathlessness
              • Exhaustion/weakness
                • Reduced endurance
                  • Unusually pale skin
                    • Frequent infections
                      • Restless leg syndrome
                        • Memory problems/difficulty focusing
                          • Brittle nails/ concave or spoon-shaped depression in the nails

 

 

Iron DRV’s (UK)

Average adult woman:

(19-50yrs) = 14.8mg/Day (inclusive of pregnant women).

*Breasting feeding could require up to an extra mg per day.

Average adult man:

(19+) = 8.7mg/day

NB: Please refer to your own country’s nutrient guidelines; quantities may vary.

Quick Facts:

  • These DRV’s take in to account that with normal iron metabolism only approximately 5-10% of dietary iron is absorbed through diet and supplements.
  • Children and adolsences having growth spurts may find their intake of iron isn’t adequate.
  • The iron in breast milk has a high bioavailability. Unfortunately not in amounts that are sufficient to meet the needs of infants older than 4 to 6 months. This is why children older than 6 months should not be exclusively breast fed.
  • On average, 1mg of iron/day is lost through faeces, sweat, urine and the exfoliation of old skin cells.
  • Women of child bearing age lose on average 20mg/month through menstruation- but this can vary.
  • Blood donors can lose approximately 200-250mg of iron with each donation.

 

 

Types Of Iron In Our diet

Photo by: Michael T nicknamemiket/ Flickr

Photo by: Michael T nicknamemiket/ Flickr

Haem:

Is iron found in ‘meat’. Its bio-availability is greater and is generally unaffected by other food components.

The bioavailability is approximately 14-18%* from mixed diets that include vitamin c and substantial amounts of meat and seafoods.

 

 

 

 

Photo by: Ric W Flickr

Photo by: Ric W Flickr

Non-Haem:

Is iron found in foods of vegetable origin or fortified foods and is the main form of dietary iron.

The bio-availability is lower and is therefore harder for your body to absorb. The bioavailability is approximately 5-12% (1).

 

 

 

 

 

Some Common Foods That Contain Iron

*Sources: 2,3,4

 Have a look and see if you can roughly calculate what your current iron intake is!

 

Factors That Can Increase & Affect Overall Iron Absorption

Photo by: Flickr

Photo by:V/ Axiomista  Flickr

  • The absorption of iron is affected by the presence of other foods in our guts, e.g.

 calcium, tannins, phenols, protein (inclusive of eggs & milk) and phytates (phytic acid) which all hinder iron absorption.

We should all avoid drinking caffeinated teas, coffee and milk around meal times, especially if we’re taking iron supplements.

 

 

 

Photo by: Julia Khusainova Flickr

  • Vitamin and iron are best friends! Vitamin C helps to increase of the absorption is iron, particularly non-haem, e.g. drink a glass of orange juice with your morning porridge!

 

 

 Our Diets & ‘Supplementation’ For Health And Well-Being

  • Purchasing cookbooks can help inspire new ideas to make sure you keep your meals nutritious, varied and ‘iron rich’. 🙂
  • Some studies have shown, including this article (found in the Journal of Food Science), that cooking in cast iron pots/pans can possibly increase the amount of iron in your food, especially when cooking high-acids foods, e.g. applesauce or tomato-based recipes. Apparently the greater the acidity of the food and the longer you cook it= the more iron that is transferred into the food; it’s a nice thought, but this would be hard for us to measure!
  • If you are embarking on a vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP, a dietitian or a recognised nutritionist to make sure you have all the facts & avoid ill health. If you do suffer from, e.g. ‘heavy’ periods, an underlying G.I problem, or have a limited budget, it might also be a good idea to speak to a health professional about possible supplementation to lower your risk of iron deficiency anaemia.
  • If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia, your GP might prescribe iron supplementation or iron therapy; even an oral contraceptive pill to decrease menstrual blood loss during periods.

We should consult with our health care provider before taking loads of extra supplementation, especially if you are taking prescribed medications, regardless of whether it’s iron or, e.g. vitamin A, zinc or calcium. Firstly, to make sure we are going to do ourselves any harm, e.g. unsupervised use of iron supplements can reduce the absorption of other essential nutrients (such as zinc and calcium) and secondly they can recommend the ones with the most bio-availability and that may cause the least amount of gastrointestinal effects etc.

Unfortunately, taking mineral supplements, especially iron can cause undesirable side effects…

 

Possible Side effects of iron supplementation:
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • sickness
  • diarrhoea
  • heartburn
  • tummy ache

These types of side effects can make compliance poor and will have knock-on effects on your well-being.

 

So having read my article, hopefully you are just a few informed choices away from improving your health….

…As everyone has a responsibility to themselves to source and eat a healthy diet, regardless of their food likes and dislikes…

…Because it’s all too easy to just assume that we are getting enough iron, but the reality is that it’s all too easy to not get enough!

 

Article written by: Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist
Feature image by: Miserablespice Flickr

 

Sources:
1. Am J Clin Nutr May 2010 vol. 91 no. 5 1461S-1467S
2. USDA Database
3.Foods Standards Agency (2002) McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods, Sixth summary edition. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemisty
4.Foods Standards Agency (2002) Food Portion Sizes, 3rd Revised edition edition. London:TSO

The Truth Behind ‘Superfoods’

Diet & Weight Loss

So what’s this ‘superfood’ hype? Is it just a marketing ploy by shops or food manufacturers? Or perhaps there’s new research demonstrating their unique abilities, providing us with nutrients for optimum living that no other foods could?…. It’s not the latter.

 

The term ‘superfood’ was widely used within marketing and the media, but it’s not used by health care professionals. Its not a legally recognised term and is now tightly regulated; EU legislation in 2007 banned companies from marketing foods labelled as ‘superfoods’, unless the food comes with a reliable, scientifically based definition explaining why its beneficial for our health. The FSA has also provided some decent information on food labelling claims.

Generally we associate its definition as a food high in nutrients, antioxidants with impending health benefits. There are various categories advertised, e.g.  bee, green, or seaweed  ‘superfoods’, ‘superfood’ powders and drinks.

Photo by: dilynnroettker Flickr

Photo by: dilynnroettker Flickr

 

We have been overwhelmed by ‘superfood’ articles in numerous forms for a while now.  I’m sure at one point or another you’ve seen an article titled:

10 Top ‘Superfoods’ For….
  • Living longer
  • Weight loss or detox
  • Improving men’s/ women’s health
  • Chronic illness and disease prevention
  • Preventing flu and colds

 

So, where are all the scientific studies backing up these claims? These types of articles can create hype allowing food suppliers to charge more for foods, e.g. blueberries and quinoa, even though they are not marketing these foods with these suggestive marketing terms themselves. Subsequently on a personal level we can struggle to buy healthier foods but at a global level, local communities can find themselves unable to afford their staple foods, e.g. many South Americans, can no longer afford quinoa due to its worldwide popularity.

Quinoa salad. Photo by: savagecabbage.org Flickr

Quinoa salad. Photo by: savagecabbage.org Flickr

 

Supplements of ‘superfoods’ are another big market, e.g. Golgi berries in a powder form that suggest adding it to any recipe, for an inflated price of course. It’s easy to fall foul of claims such as: contains 5x more calcium than…, twice the protein of … and 150% more vitamin c than an orange.  The claims might be technically true but we have to put it into perspective. These supplements might be in a more ‘digestive state’, but no one can guarantee the rate of absorption, or how much we would have to consume to reap the ‘advertised benefits’ and they may not be in line with healthy living advice; they are certainly no substitute for a healthy diet.

Celebrities have also done their fair share of marketing & promoting  them, e.g. Elle Macpherson, Miranda Kerr, Salma Hayek and Victoria Beckham.

Here are some ‘superfood’ examples that have been in the spotlight and what nutrients they can offer.

Suggested ‘Superfoods’:

 

With any food, the portion size, bio-availability, its raw state when purchased and the cooking method can all dictate the amount of nutrients we absorb.

 

Some commonly advertised nutrients from these ‘superfoods’:

nutrient label

Please feel free to refer back to my vitamins and minerals article for further advice and links regarding nutrients and their food sources.

 

“Another big misconception is that antioxidants are interchangeable. They aren’t. Each one has unique chemical behaviors and biological properties. They almost certainly evolved as parts of elaborate networks, with each different substance (or family of substances) playing slightly different roles. This means that no single substance can do the work of the whole crowd”. Harvard school of public Health

 

The reality is that eating a well-balanced diet, not just specific foods will provide your body with enough nutrients to stay healthy and is key to producing the antioxidant effect within us. The body’s antioxidant cycle utilises the antioxidants from a variety of foods that contain, e.g. Vitamins: A, C and E, Selenium and plant chemicals (flavonoids & carotenoids).

woman and apple_c70

Photo by: CC-PR Flickr

I agree with the ethos, ‘let food be your medicine so you can reach good health’.

We all should be eating healthier, but not at the cost of lining the shops pockets or following insincere and overzealous marketing and/or literature.

So eat every colour of the rainbow and avoid becoming obsessed with the search for that one perfect, healthy food… it doesn’t exist.

Let’s not eat in vain and just enjoy our meals!

 

Article Written by: Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist 
Feature image by: Licia Accorsi Flickr
 
Sources:
Europa.EU
Food Standards Agency
NHS Choices
Harvard School Of Public Health

MULTIVITAMINS, MINERALS AND SUPPLEMENTS: A NECESSITY OR AN EXPENSE?

Diet & Weight Loss

Hands up if you are currently taking multivitamins, minerals, or some form of supplement at the moment? How long have you been taking them and do you feel any healthier for it?

I think we all like to look and feel our best (myself included) and being healthy means different things to all of us. We all have different backgrounds, including dietary needs. I take calcium, vitamin D , some vitamin B12 and occasionally iron because I became a vegan this year.

Although I do try and get these things from my current diet, I know that it might not be possible to meet my dietary needs because:

  • Vitamin B12 predominantly comes from animal sources. (1)
  • Our Vitamin D intake mainly comes from sunlight (topping up our levels during April-September/October here in the UK) (2). My levels are reduced due to my factor SPF 40 I wear!
  • Calcium is more readily absorbed with lactose, a sugar found in cows, goat and sheep milk. (3)

Equally someone with high cholesterol could benefit from buying plant sterols tablets, taking 2mg/D, or those especially designed cholesterol lowering drinks/yoghurts with added sterols; studies have proven this along with healthy diet and lifestyle changes, they do help lower total cholesterol.

The market for dietary vitamins and supplements was worth more than £670 million in 2009, according to an NHS report in 2011; it highlighted 8% was for beauty use, and approximately 85% was for combined physical and mental health reasons.

The ‘health industry’ have created their own market by appealing to people’s desires and needs to be as healthy as possible, whilst preying on people’s lack of knowledge. The placebo affect is a very real phenomenon, which many of these companies know all too well; so how do we know that the products advertised and endorsed by celebrities are any better than sugar pills? So it’s understandable we are possibly making the wrong choices regarding the products we should buy or completely avoid.

Recently, articles have shown Kelly Brook to have accepted a new range of health products from her friend Gary Cockerill. His range of vitamin drinks contain: Green Caffeine, Raspberry Ketones, Colon Cleanser and Acai Berry. Health companies have had those various components in the spotlight for a while, have you tried them?

    Would you associate these products with solid healthy living advice?

Photo courtesy of: Holland & Barrett & Evolution Slimming

Photos adapted from: Holland & Barrett & Evolution Slimming

I could write a whole article debating on what these contain and why they aren’t necessarily worth your money.  A lot of articles push what are supposedly the best supplements to buy each season, but do you really want and can you a afford to have a cupboard full of pills valued over £200? No thanks. From a diet point of view, companies will always try to entice us with fancy terms, e.g. anti-oxidant and immune fighting, thermogenic  or colon cleansing effects etc, but if there was a ‘magic weight loss pill’, we’d all be taking it; this is just a costly and possibly unsafe endeavour.

The reality is that a healthy, balanced and well planned diet will provide the right balance of nutrients and keep you performing at your best, so buying a pill is a potential waste of money. Did you know that 50% of vitamins are water soluble? Which means you could literally be throwing money down the toilet if you take these in high doses due to poor absorption; many vitamins and minerals need to be taken with food for better absorption and many of them compete with each other for absorption whilst others can be lethal in high doses, e.g. vitamin A. Take a peek at the NHS or BDA sites for more information regarding vitamins, minerals and supplements.

Am I being cynical? After all, if you have the money we’re all entitled to spend it as we see fit. I suppose it can be a little concerning how much money we invest in health products, not knowing the full risks, but I guess it’s up to us to do our research and if you’re unsure that you’re at risk, talk to a health professional.

Ultimately it’s important to make informed choices regarding our health, don’t you agree?

Article written by: Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist
Feature image by: Andreas Feldl Flickr
Sources:
1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17959839
2. Pearce SHS, et al. Diagnosis and management of vitamin D deficiency. British Medical Journal 2010;340:142-7.
3. Am J Clin Nutr August 2002vol. 76 no. 2 442-446