Thinking about: Intermittent Fasting

Thinking about: Intermittent Fasting

I receive many questions about intermittent fasting (IF) and so I decided to dive in and take a look at the research and hopefully share some of my thoughts and sensible take-home points with you all.

Before I start though, it is worth mentioning that this is a big topic and the evidence is very mixed so it’s not possible to cover the entire body of research on this topic in one article. But I hope that it is at least a helpful start for those of you wishing to understand a little more about it, and to act as a springboard for your own research (particularly important if you are a fellow health or nutrition professional).

The bottom line, to my mind at least, is that there are no clear-cut answers around intermittent fasting – the potential benefits and risks likely vary hugely from person to person. Therefore, as always, please discuss any changes you are considering making to your diet and lifestyle with a qualified nutrition or healthcare professional beforehand to make sure that you are doing what is best for you and you have all the appropriate support in place. Intermittent fasting is not necessarily safe or appropriate for everyone.

Photo by di_an_h on Unsplash

What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Intermittent fasting is a structured way of eating that limits your intake of food and drink during certain days of the week, or specified hours of the day. It is focused more on when you do or don’t eat, rather than what you do or don’t eat. Examples could include:

  • The 5:2 diet – where you eat normally for 5 days of the week, but significantly restrict your energy intake (usually to around 500-600 calories) for 2 days of the week.
  • The 6:1 diet – where you eat normally for 6 days of the week, but eat nothing for 24 hours on the final day of the week.
  • Alternate day fasting – where you eat normally one day, and then fast the next.
  • Time-restricted feeding – where you eat all of your meals over a 6-10 hour window, say 10am to 6pm, but fast overnight most evenings.

As you can see, there are lots of different ways to do intermittent fasting. And that in itself can be problematic, as all these different patterns are often grouped together to be analysed in the scientific literature, rather than looking at each one individually. It’s hard, therefore, to say whether one type of fasting programme might be better than another for various outcomes. More specific research is required.

What are the potential benefits?

Unfortunately, there is not (yet) a whole lot of good quality research examining the effects of intermittent fasting in humans. There are more studies in animals. Those studies that do exist tend to be quite small, and quite short. It’s therefore really important that we don’t try to draw conclusions from such studies and apply them to everyone, for life.

There are also not a lot of studies comparing intermittent fasting with other, perhaps more sustainable, approaches to healthy eating. So it’s hard to say it is better than another approach, such as following a generally healthy diet. As always, it is probably a case of finding the right approach for each individual, and so intermittent fasting is unlikely to be any sort of one-size-fits-all solution.

However, there are some possible benefits to IF, that warrant ongoing research:

  • Intermittent fasting may help overweight adults to lose weight (compared to no diet), but according to a 2018 review on the topic, it was no more effective for weight loss than standard dieting approaches (Harris et al., 2018).
  • Some people, however, report that intermittent fasting is easier to stick to than a more general, everyday shift in eating habits – at least in the short term (Varady et al., 2009). This is not the case with everyone, though, and it might in fact be harder to stick to in the longer term for some people.
  • There is some evidence that intermittent fasting may help with blood sugar management and improve insulin resistance, but this outcome is not supported by all studies (Cho et al., 2019).
  • There have been other benefits reported, such as effects on blood lipids, aging and brain health, but more high-quality research in humans is needed before using IF for specific health outcomes can be recommended(Mattson, Longo and Harvie, 2017).

What are some of the potential risks?

Potentially negative effects of intermittent fasting in the longer term are still unclear. In the short term, potential ‘side effects’ of fasting might include the following (Harvie and Howell, 2017);

  • Headaches
  • Fainting
  • Weakness
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration (although water is allowed during fasts – so if you are fasting, do make sure you drink plenty)
  • Hunger pangs
  • Irritability or worsening of mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Eating-related thoughts
  • Fear of loss of control
  • Over-eating on non-restricted days

I would also put a possible risk of nutritional deficiencies into this list, particularly if intermittent fasting is followed long term without the support of a nutrition professional. If this is something you choose to do, it is therefore really important to ensure that on the times or days where you are not fasting, you get a very highly nutritious and balanced diet. Your body still needs all the essential micronutrients, high-quality proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and water you usually would, but consumed in fewer days or hours.

Who, generally, should not practice intermittent fasting?

As intermittent fasting can be quite a radical nutritional approach (especially if it is maintained for the longer term), it is highly recommended that you speak to your GP or an appropriately qualified nutrition professional before starting, to check whether it is safe and to help guide you through best practices. Below are some of the people or groups who are advised not to practice intermittent fasting, but note that this is most certainly not an exhaustive list of all risks and contraindications.

  • Pregnant or lactating women, or women trying to get pregnant
  • Those who have any history of eating disorder or any psychological or emotional struggles around food
  • Children or adolescents: Adolescent girls, for example, have been reported to potentially be more at risk of future eating disorders if they practice fasting (Stice et al., 2008)
  • People who are underweight, borderline underweight, or at risk of becoming underweight
  • Highly active people
  • Elderly people
  • People who are already feeling particularly run-down, exhausted, or stressed
  • Those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, or who are taking certain medications (particularly if they need to be taken alongside food).

Take-home points:

There is not a great deal of high quality, human evidence around IF yet – and not enough (in my opinion) to specifically recommend any specific type of IF for a specific goal or condition.

Always speak to your GP or a qualified nutrition professional before commencing a fasting programme, to see if it is suitable for you. Not everyone can safely fast, and it may make lead to a deterioration in both physical and/or mental health in some people.

If you are looking to start fasting for weight loss reasons, perhaps have a think about other lifestyle shifts first. I’ve written about this at length in my books and in articles online. The most important thing in weight loss is consistency – make changes that you can stick to, and try to tackle any root causes of weight gain too (please see my article Thinking About Weight Loss).

If you do choose to fast, think carefully about how fasting might impact day-to-day life on your low intake days. You are likely to be hungry, and possibly irritable and tired too – which could impact your work or family. It may also limit your ability to exercise, and you may well need to plan social engagements carefully.

Do make sure that you are still giving your body all the essential nutrients you need to function. Eating less food also means eating fewer nutrients. You will need to make up for this by eating a wide variety of really nutritious food on your non-fasting days. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water on both fasting and non-fasting days – set a timer if you are not great at remembering to do this to help reduce the risk of dehydration.

A sensible, physiological overnight fast of roughly 12 hours, however, I would not usually class as intermittent fasting. This is aligned to normal healthy eating habits – finishing your evening meal by 8pm and having breakfast the next day around 8am. It gives your digestion a break, and can reduce mindless evening snacking (without impacting significantly on your three main meals). This is a safe strategy for most otherwise healthy adults to follow.

Please be very wary of any apps or social media adverts that promote restrictive intermittent fasting programmes. I would not recommend using or following these, as they may not be safe or appropriate for you as a unique individual.

References

Cho, Y., Hong, N., Kim, K., Cho, S., Lee, M., Lee, Y., Lee, Y., Kang, E., Cha, B. and Lee, B. (2019). The Effectiveness of Intermittent Fasting to Reduce Body Mass Index and Glucose Metabolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(10), p.1645.

Harris, L., Hamilton, S., Azevedo, L., Olajide, J., De Brún, C., Waller, G., Whittaker, V., Sharp, T., Lean, M., Hankey, C. and Ells, L. (2018). Intermittent fasting interventions for treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, 16(2), pp.507-547.

Harvie, M. and Howell, A. (2017). Potential Benefits and Harms of Intermittent Energy Restriction and Intermittent Fasting Amongst Obese, Overweight and Normal Weight Subjects—A Narrative Review of Human and Animal Evidence. Behavioral Sciences, 7(4), p.4.

Mattson, M., Longo, V. and Harvie, M. (2017). Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing Research Reviews, 39, pp.46-58.

Stice, E., Davis, K., Miller, N. and Marti, C. (2008). Fasting increases risk for onset of binge eating and bulimic pathology: A 5-year prospective study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117(4), pp.941-946.

Varady, K., Bhutani, S., Church, E. and Klempel, M. (2009). Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(5), pp.1138-1143.


How to make healthy food taste amazing

How To Make Healthy Food Taste Amazing

 

April 2021

So much of the enjoyment of food comes from flavour. But a common complaint I hear from clients is that their food tastes bland, especially when they are just starting out with healthy eating. While I know that this absolutely doesn’t have to be the case – healthy food can (and I’d suggest should) taste incredible – it can nonetheless happen if we don’t focus on perhaps one of the most important aspects of healthy cooking: Adding a pop of flavour.

To help you get started (or indeed, to offer a few new ideas), I have put together a load of flavour combinations that I recommend to my clients and use myself when cooking. With just a few quick and simple additions of herbs, spices, vegetables and a few other ingredients, we can quickly bring a nutritious meal to joyful life. Think of this as your quick reference guide. Perhaps print it out and stick it on your fridge or on the back of your kitchen cupboard doors.

Quick & Healthy Marinades

Click here for printable download of Quick & Healthy Marinades

New in Nutrition

New In Nutrition | Feb 2021

February 2021

New in Nutrition is a place to showcase the new products, books, podcasts, people, places or initiatives that my team and I feel are doing interesting, important or exciting things in nutrition and wellness. I hope it will soon become the go-to place to hear about nutrition news.

If you ever stumble across something new that you think we would all enjoy (that’s related to nutrition), please do drop us a tip-off email hello@ameliafreer.com and we will take a look. Thank you!

1. Book | Feel Great Lose Weight by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Drawing on 20 years as a GP, Dr Chatterjee has created a conscious, long-lasting approach to weight loss that goes far beyond fad diets and helps to find the best solutions that work for you. Helping us to understand the effects of what, why, when, where and how we eat, as well as the root causes of weight gain and an approach that focuses on nourishing our bodies without crash diets or gruelling workouts, this is the sort of sensible, safe and practical weight loss book that I can get behind. And I don’t say that lightly!

Amazon

Waterstones

2. Foodie | Natoora Nationwide Delivery

With a relentless pursuit of flavour, Natoora is well known for sourcing some of the best and most beautiful seasonal produce for the best restaurants (and is a secret source for most of the food stylists I’ve worked with too!). Wonderfully, it is now available for home delivery, nationwide through the new Natoora app. Alongside fresh fruits and vegetables (the selection is amazing), they also provide sustainably-sourced dairy and charcuterie.

Get the app for iPhone and Android.

3. Supplement | Beauty Pie

Although I advocate eating a fresh and varied diet to ensure we are getting all the nutrients our bodies require from our food, there are times that we all need a little something extra. I have been super impressed by the new range of supplements by the beauty members club, Beauty Pie. The range of supplements includes a multivitamin, vitamin D capsule and omega 3 fish oil. These supplements have been bio-engineered by top hormonal nutritionist, Kay Ali and are made without fillers or artificial preservatives or colours. I was particularly interested to try the Bi-omega 3 capsules which contain a high dose of cell protecting omega 3 essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized by our bodies. I love that these are made from wild, sustainably caught fish and all the other products in the range are vegan.

Beauty Pie are offering one month’s free membership for any level of membership, by using the code AMELIASENTME. Terms and conditions apply, please see the Beauty Pie website for details.

4. Wine | Oranj

Oranj wine is a new online platform that champions natural wines, and offers monthly, sommelier-curated wine boxes for delivery nationwide. Childhood friends, Jasper and Ewin, had originally planned to open a bar celebrating low intervention wines, but unfortunately had to change their plans due to Covid, and so was borne Oranj delivery service. Customers now have the chance to enjoy some of the best natural wines from lesser known producers in the comfort of their own homes.

5. Book | The Origins of Cooking by Ferran Adria

OK, so this is not your average book, and it’s not got an average price tag. But Ferran Adria (of El Bulli fame) has put together a definitive tome of the origins of cooking in association with Phaiden. This would make a very special gift for anyone who loves to cook.

Amazon

Waterstones

6. Plant-Based | Oato Nationwide Delivery

For anyone following a plant-based diet, a good tip to hear about is that Oato (which produces fresh oat milk from British oats, fortified with calcium) now distributes it directly to your doorstep in reusable, returnable glass bottles through Milk & More.  This service is helping to reduce the use of hard-to-recycle Tetrapak’s and is pretty convenient too.

Connect to a milk round here.

7. Publication | The Agricultural Transition Plan

This plan sets out changes to agricultural policy in England from 1st January 2021. The good news is that it promises a generally positive direction for the UK’s agrifood future, focusing on changes to grants and subsidies for farmers that re-prioritise ecosystem protection. We will see how this progresses, but where our food comes from and how it is produced has a big role to play in both our own health, and the health of our planet.

Follow the brilliant @farmstofeedus to stay up to date on these changes.

8. Foodie | Dishoom Vegan Sausage Naan Roll Kit

I am a madly keen Dishoom fan. Do you have their cookbook? I would highly recommend it if you don’t. The flavours they create are just extraordinary. Anyway, excitingly, one of their most-loved dishes is now available to us all to enjoy from the comfort of our homes with their new recipe kit. It arrives at your door with everything required to enjoy two vegan sausage naan rolls, as well as ingredients to make some of their renowned Masala Chai. The kit costs £16, plus delivery. And for every kit sold, Dishoom donates a meal to Magic Breakfast. I’ve made these – and they really are delicious. Nationwide delivery to most of UK mainland.

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.


Small changes still count

Small changes still count

February 2021

Photo by Utsav Shah on Unsplash

However persuasively sold to us, it simply isn’t true that we need to radically change everything about our lifestyle and somehow becomes a new, ‘better’ person to be healthy. You would certainly be forgiven for thinking that was the case, given the plethora of advice, books, programmes and media noise surrounding health and wellbeing. Yet so often, grand gestures of renewal end up with a dejected retreat back into our old ways and we enter that familiar cycle of feeling like we have somehow ‘failed’ at the diet or regime we had so positively set out to maintain. Then the shame, guilt and need for comfort can creep back in and we find ourselves right back where we started.

So firstly, I would like to offer a collective wave of compassion to anyone and everyone who has ever been in this position. It’s tough, it’s confusing and I want you to know that you are most definitely not alone. Secondly, I would like to make a plea that this dichotomy we’ve inadvertently created, between being ‘good’ and ‘bad’, on-a-diet or off-a-diet, being entirely healthy or being wholly indulgent, is unrealistic and certainly unsustainable for the long run. We exist in shades of grey – where some parts of our days, myself included, are inevitably slightly healthier than others. Some whole days are more balanced, with more movement, more vegetables and more sleep. Others are a rollercoaster of stress, eating-on-the-go and late nights. That is real life and I would suggest that no restrictive or rules-based lifestyle will ever really be able to flex enough to meet all of these inevitable challenges.

There are, however, certain aspects of healthy living that are important not only to our current sense of energy and wellbeing, but also to our longer-term health. Whilst in the broadest terms, many of these factors are important for all of us (not smoking, restorative sleep, connection to others, a nourishing diet, stress reduction etc.), the combination, nuances and degree to which we need to be consistent, will vary between us and over time. We don’t need to do it all, and especially not in one go, in fact just making some small habit changes can add up to achievable and sustainable lifestyle improvements,

Photo by Susan Bell

Instead, I am an advocate of taking mini steps. And if those mini steps are too big, then make them micro ones instead. You want to feel like it is laughably easy to instigate the change you’re proposing. And even with my (pretty full-on) support, I would never ask a client to make more than 3 small changes at a time. If you’re doing it without professional input, I suggest that just 1-2 changes are enough. We are all busy, with numerous other things taking up our time and headspace.

But don’t be lulled into thinking that these little shifts are not important. My colleague, Rozzie, talks about the power of ‘1-degree course corrections’. If you set a ship just 1 degree off-course, it will end up in a completely different city by the time it crosses an ocean. The same principle applies to our wellbeing: shifting behaviour just 1 degree, maintained over the course of decades, can lead us into a completely different health space than if we’d stayed on the same bearing. One extra serving of vegetables per day adds up to 3650 more portions over a decade (and that’s a lot of fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals). Just 30 minutes extra activity per week is 520 hours more heart-healthy movement over 20 years. Micro changes do add up. The fable of the hare and the tortoise come to mind here – big changes that burn out over weeks will ultimately be overtaken by incremental achievable changes that we just keep plugging away at.

I guess this could also be expressed as an equation, for those who are mathematically minded, that would look something like this:

Size of lifestyle shift x length of time change is maintained = degree of potential benefit

So remember, you don’t have to do it all to be healthy. You just need to do enough, on a relatively consistent basis, to feel well.

Photo by Jen Rich

Little shift ideas

  • Meditate or practice some mindful breathing for 2 minutes every morning, before getting out of bed
  • Eat one extra portion of vegetables per day
  • Drink a glass of water before lunchtime
  • Always take the stairs when you can. Park the far side of each car park.
  • Switch off your mobile phone before going to sleep
  • Have some protein with breakfast (nuts, seeds, nut butter, eggs, natural yoghurt etc.)
  • Avoid drinking caffeine after 3pm
  • Have three alcohol-free days per week
  • Eat a portion of oily fish once a week (mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines)
  • Have a small portion of (unsalted) nuts or seeds once a day – they are packed full of various essential vitamins and minerals. A portion is roughly 30g / a small handful.
  • Arrange one phone call per month with a friend who makes you laugh, rather than just texting
  • Briskly walk for 10 minutes at lunchtime
  • Sit down to eat your evening meal, leaving your phone and TV off

Other articles you might enjoy reading: Non-Food Treats; The Power of Positive Nutrition; Is Joy a missing piece of the healthy puzzle


This article was commissioned by Natural Health Magazine


How to spend less on food and still eat deliciously well 

Photo by Wavebreakmedia from Getty Images Pro

How to spend less on food and still eat deliciously well

Jan 2021

Food is often one of the biggest expenditures in many household budgets, after rent or mortgage payments. It is also non-negotiable: We have to eat, so we have to spend money on food. But many households are feeling the pinch, even more so after the events of last year, and wish to optimise how far their budget will stretch. The food budget is one regular outgoing that we have a degree of control over, so it is often an obvious place to begin.

I hoped it might be helpful to pull together a few suggestions and ideas for simultaneously eating well and saving money. I freely admit that I am not an expert on shopping and cooking on a really tight budget (I would highly recommend the exceptional work of Jack Monroe for this). Please know that I am saying this with enormous gratitude, as I am very conscious of the blessing of having food choices on a daily basis. However, budget is still a consideration alongside variety and nutritional balance*. This is something that my team and I do in our own lives on a regular basis, so hopefully might be able to share a couple of insights.

Part One: Making conscious budget choices

The good news is that it is possible to eat an abundantly nourishing and delicious diet on a relative budget. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be hugely expensive. However, depending on how tight the budget is, compromises may have to be made along the way. It’s a balancing act that we each have to find, according to the unique needs of our households. I think accepting that there are compromises and making choices about which ones matter most to us, is a good way to start thinking about budget priorities.

Photo by CarmenMurillo from Getty Images Pro

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Cooking from scratch (avoiding pre-prepared dishes, ready meals and ingredients certainly saves money).
  • Accepting a bit of repetition and batch cooking.
  • Reducing the number of drinks, meals eaten out or take-aways, to re-direct additional money into the weekly grocery shop.
  • Shopping in different ways, such as changing supermarkets and buying dried goods in bulk online.
  • Avoiding branded or premium products and looking instead for whole food ingredients and cooking from scratch.
  • Cutting back on other spending. Prioritising food shopping above other discretionary spending, such as memberships, clothes, holidays, beauty or homeware for example. This is simply highlighting the importance of making conscious choices about what you choose to prioritise. The money often does, afterall, usually come from the same pot
  • Fewer specifically health-focused foods (such as premium snacks, drinks, powders or other items like organic food). Non-organic food is not unhealthy, and still provides plentiful flavour and nutrition. Just wash your produce (fruit & veg) first, and peel where necessary. It’s a very personal decision so do what’s right for you.

Deciding which compromises we are prepared to make will depend a great deal on us as individuals. It is, however, well worth having a think about if you want to tighten your food budget. I hope that this offers a few ideas. I am sure I’ve missed a fair few.

*  That is also not to say that it is impossible to find variety and nutritional balance on a very tight budget, but it is harder, and may involve using multiple different suppliers. Grocers towards the end of the day may have good offers on fresh produce, and bulk dried goods can be ordered online, or as part of a local co-operative, for example. Using a large supermarket is not often the most cost-effective way to shop, but it is often the most convenient and is available to the broadest range of people. It is however, yet again, another compromise. Basically, I’m trying to say that this topic is complicated and nuanced and highly individual – much like nutrition itself. 

Part Two: 7 tips for shopping and cooking well on a budget

Photo by Ali Allen

1. Meal plan

This is my number 1 tip for helping to eat well on a budget. A meal plan helps you shop for exactly what you need, so food waste is drastically reduced. It saves time and stress throughout a busy week, as you never have to decide what to cook last minute, and it ensures nutritional variety as you can plan for different recipes and meals. Take a look at this article for a step-by-step guide on meal planning, and here is a free printable weekly meal planner to use.

2. Organise your fridge, freezer and cupboards

It’s really helpful to get into the habit of thinking a bit like a shop-keeper when organising your fridge, freezer and cupboards. You want to keep track of your ‘stock’ so you know what’s running out and what you’ve already got plenty of. Keep items on rotation, so that things get used in the order you purchased them, rather than older items staying pushed back for so long they end up going out-of-date. Remember, you’re not saving money if you never eat the food. Try to keep things neat, tidy, well-labelled and organised, as this really helps if you’re searching for ingredients when you need to cook something quickly from scratch.

3. Minimise or eliminate food waste.

According to the BBC, in the UK we throw away almost 20% of the food we buy. This could add up to a whopping £600 worth of food wasted per year for the average household. This has a high environmental cost and it badly impacts our budget too. Meal planning helps with this, as you buy only what you need, but getting inventive with leftovers – perhaps starting by branding them ‘planned-overs’ – and utilising the freezer or slow-cooker to use up or store odds and ends (such as making a bottom-of-the-fridge vegetable stew and freezing in batches – recipe in Simply Good For You will all help too. I will share more on this in the coming months.

4. Focus spending on the essentials

This one might seem obvious, but if you want to optimise the quality of your diet for your available budget, you need to focus that spending on the things that really pack the biggest nutritional punch (such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, high quality proteins, healthy fats, pulses, and minimally processed carbohydrates).

Once those important foundational foods are purchased, you can then consider the nice-but-not-necessary items, such as garnishes, condiments, sweet things, powders, snacks foods, ‘superfood’ products etc if you wish. We do not need to include these items in our diets to eat well, although I completely understand that they might be joyful for some of you. It’s really about prioritising the most important foods first and then seeing what is left over.

5. Exchange your time for cost savings

Pre-prepared and packaged goods, such as ready meals, pre-cooked grains, pulses or peeled and chopped vegetables can certainly save time. But they come at a premium cost. Putting the effort in saves money, while bulk cooking and preparation ensures that that time is still efficiently spent.

6. Watch the take-aways, snacks and coffees

It is worth spending half an hour or so going over your bank statements from the past couple of months and adding up all the discretionary food and drink spending you’ve made above and beyond your essential groceries.

Include all the take-aways, coffees, snacks and drinks that you’d purchased. These items can add up to a significant amount of money. While it is, of course, important to support local establishments at the moment, if this pushes your budget into a place where you feel squeezed on the important nutritional basics, then perhaps it’s worth reconsidering. Set yourself a weekly budget if necessary, and put the remainder towards boosting your grocery shop.

7. Try the discount supermarkets

If you have access to a Lidl or Aldi locally, give them a go. Their range of nourishing whole foods, organic produce and cost-effective olive oil, nuts and seeds are very good. Alternatively, try using a bulk or discount whole food online supplier (for more information, see this article).

Part Three: 1-week healthy meal plan – on a relative budget

In the spirit of putting all this theory into practice, my team and I have put together this 1-week meal plan, giving just one example of how we could potentially spend our money wisely to optimise nutrition within a relatively tight budget.

Photo by seb_ra from Getty Images Pro

I am very aware that this is not the cheapest way to eat overall, and it is of course possible and necessary for some to reduce this spending further, but I wanted to offer the option of a compromise somewhere between a realistic budget and a dietary intake that is really varied, balanced, nourishing and seasonal. Feel free to tweak, edit and adjust this as much as you would like, to meet either your own nutritional requirements, budget or tastes. This is just an example, but I hope it might offer a few ideas to get you started.

We developed this meal plan based on the following ‘guidelines’:

  1. An allowance of roughly £50-55 budget for a week of meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for 2 people.  This works out at roughly £1.25 per meal (3 meals a day for 2 people = 42 meals = roughly £1.20-£1.30 per meal).
  2. We assumed some basic staples are already in your cupboards (salt, pepper, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, stock cubes / powder, olive oil, spices). Don’t be afraid to make substitutions according to what you have available – most recipes can switch spices, change oils or swap vinegars or mustards without detriment, according to what you have at home.
  3. The meal plan needed to achieve the majority of the Positive Nutrition Pyramid daily (i.e., provide balanced and varied nutrition) and include > 30 different plant foods in a week. We have assumed a mostly vegetarian diet to increase how many people this meal plan appeals to, but have included one meal of oily fish for important omega-3 fatty acids. You can adapt this plan to meet your own requirements.
  4. It should use ingredients available from a mainstream supermarket.
  5. We have also assumed that most drinks consumed would be water (or tea and coffee according to what you have already).  Desserts are mainly simple fresh fruit, and snacks have not been included as (hopefully!) the meals are well-balanced enough already to keep you feeling full and satisfied between meals.

SHOP THE EDIT

Simply Good For You | Amelia Freer

SHOP

Cooking on a Bootstrap | Jack Monroe

SHOP

Tin Can Cook | Jack Monroe

SHOP

Vegan One Pound Meals | Miguel Barclay

SHOP

Storecupboard One Pound Meals | Miguel Barclay

SHOP

Magnetic Meal Planner Board

SHOP

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.


100 healthy, plant-based recipes

100 delicious plant-based recipe ideas

January 2021

A great many of us are choosing to enjoy more plant-based meals, for taste, health, environmental and/or ethical reasons.

With over a million people now signed up to Veganuary (where you commit to eating an entirely plant-based diet for the month of January), and some deciding to stay plant-based for the longer term, it’s a way of eating that is going to be increasingly common, and important, as we move into the future.

From a nutritional perspective, it is important to learn about some key nutrients that we need to be conscious of in a plant-based diet, to avoid inadvertently developing nutrient deficiencies. I have written about this comprehensively in this article, and also discussed some of the wider pros and cons in this article; Thinking about: Eating a plant-based diet. I’d also highly recommend taking a look at this article from the NHS on creating a healthy vegan diet. Finally, if you’re interested in developing your nutrition and practical cooking knowledge more generally, take a look at my online course, The Joy of Healthy Eating. I dedicate a whole lesson in this to finding plant-based balance.

As always, alongside the nutrition, I am also greatly interested in taste, joy and flavour in food. So I have put together this list of dozens of plant-based meal and recipe ideas. Some may need little adaptations (such as switching honey for maple syrup, natural yoghurt for coconut or soy yoghurt, dairy milk for your choice of plant m*lk alternatives, chicken stock for vegetable stock, using a chia / flax egg rather than a hen’s egg or omitting a garnishing ingredient – such as feta or parmesan), but with a little common sense I think most of them are easily tweaked. There is lots of advice on The Vegan Society website to help with this.

Photo by Susan Bell

in my books

Turmeric and mango spiced chia pot (Page 148, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Banana, mint and lime smoothie (Page 182, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Green smoothie (Page 210, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Avocado papaya salsa (Page 68, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Grab-and-go chia pots (Page 159, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Beauty bars (Page 42, Simply Good For You)

Coconut muesli (Page 39, Simply Good For You)

Berry smoothie (Page 35, Simply Good For You)

Chocolate smoothie (Page 35, Simply Good For You)

Fruity breakfast crumble bars (Page 45, Simply Good For You)

Winter Buddha Bowl by Amelia Freer
Photo by Simon Reed

in my books

Walnut lentil pate (Page 174, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Kale Waldorf salad (Page 228, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Chopped black bean salad (Page 247, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Green bean, pea and pistachio salad (Page 282, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Beetroot houmous (Page 136, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Green houmous (Page 73, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Guacamole (Page 70, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Steamed asparagus with pumpkin-seed salsa verde (Page 41, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Purple sprouting broccoli with peanut sauce (Page 146, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

There are masses of hero toppings for toast, pitta or jacket potatoes, many of which are plant-based, in Simply Good For You.

Soup for the soul (Page 86, Simply Good For You) – use vegetable stock.

Instant watercress & avocado soup (Page 85, Simply Good For You)

Instant tomato & cannellini soup (Page 82, Simply Good For You)

Mediterranean quinoa salad (Page 99, Simply Good For You)

Photo by Susan Bell

in my books

Aubergine & chickpea curry (Page 186, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Falafel burgers (Page 248, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Lentil cottage pie (Page 283, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Stuffed peppers with chilli (Page 262, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Broccoli and cashew stir-fry (Page 24, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Nori wraps (Page 159, Simply Good For You)

Lazy dahl (Page 223, Simply Good For You)

Stir-fried veggies and tofu (Page 224, Simply Good For You)

One-Tray roasted salads (Pages 228 – 235, Simply Good For You)

Cauliflower & chickpea tray bake with rocket and pickled red onion (Page 236, Simply Good For You)

Butternut, cashew & sage pasta (Page 243, Simply Good For You)

Pad Thai with turmeric tofu (Page 244, Simply Good For You)

Photo by Susan Bell

in my books

Nutty banana nice cream (Page 227, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Baked orange & almond pear (Page 266, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan)

Passion fruit ‘crumble’ (Page 284, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Peanut butter & Jam Smoothie (Page 178, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Set strawberries with coconut cream (Page 246, Cook. Nourish. Glow)

Mango jelly (Page 263, Simply Good For You) – Use vegan setting agent alternative

Roasted fruit salad (Page 268, Simply Good For You)

Rhubarb and star anise crumble pot (Page 271, Simply Good For You)

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Simply Good For You

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Nourish & Glow: The 10-day plan

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Cook. Nourish. Glow.

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The Joy of Healthy Eating

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GreenFeast, Autumn-Winter | Nigel Slater

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GreenFeast, Spring-Summer | Nigel Slater

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Curry Easy Vegetarian | Madhur Jaffrey

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The Green Roasting Tin | Rukmini Iyer

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BOSH! | Henry Firth & Ian Theasby

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12 Nourishing Convenience Foods

12 Nourishing Convenience Foods

December 2020

While I am an enthusiastic advocate of simple, home-cooked meals, there are certainly times when turning to healthy convenience foods is a real blessing. Having a few of these ready-prepared ingredients or meals stashed away can make all the difference to eating well on those busiest of days.

For years, I worked with clients who were incredibly busy so they really couldn’t shop and cook for themselves – there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. So we would work out together what they could buy near their home or office that would still be nutritionally complete (and of course, tasty). It usually does work out a bit more expensive, but if time is your main priority, then don’t feel guilty about leaning on a few short cuts (if you are able).

Here are just a few of my personal favourites to give you an idea. Most big supermarkets or local health food shops will stock a range of similar products so see what’s available where you normally shop.

1. Ready-cooked lentil pouches

I am rarely without a good few packets of these in my cupboards, especially cooked Puy lentils. As a source of protein that goes well with so many other dishes and flavours, cooked lentils are a really handy ingredient to add to cooked vegetables, salad leaves, make a quick vegetarian bolognaise or to boost a smaller portion of leftovers. I also use them to make a simple vegetarian pate (there’s a good recipe in Nourish & Glow: The 10-day plan for this), and add them to mince dishes to stretch the meat out further, or pulse them into quick lentil burgers.

2. Hummus

If I have time, I like to make my own hummus mostly because a tin of chickpeas makes a really good amount and we get through so much at home! However, buying ready-made hummus is definitely a time and washing up saver and it can still be a nutritious item to buy. I tend to opt for organic ones and once finished, I give the containers a really good wash, then re-use them to freeze portions of my own hummus when I make a bigger batch.

3. Vegetable soups

Although it’s pretty simple to make soup, it does require you to have the ingredients to hand and a little bit of time and energy to make it. Thankfully, there are some delicious vegetable soups available to buy ready-made that tend to offer an economic ready meal that is packed with nutrition. Just add a source of extra protein (such as some seeds, crumbled feta, torn cooked chicken, roasted chickpeas etc.) and you’ve got a balanced meal ready in minutes. I keep the containers for these too and re-use them multiple times to freeze foods when batch cooking.

4. Good chicken stock

Making your own chicken stock is a really good way of eking out every last morsel of nutrition from a chicken or leftover vegetable peelings. But it does require a long time cooking and inevitable washing up. So, buying a packet of ready-made chicken stock (or simply a good organic stock cube or bouillon powder) certainly makes many dishes quicker and easier, lending a depth of flavour that is hard to beat.

5. Cooked chicken

Roasting a chicken is not a particularly labour intensive process, but it does require time (usually one and a half hours at least), which is often hard to find at the end of a long day. So picking up a ready-cooked chicken on the way home is a really good little trick. Add a big handful of washed salad leaves, chopped tomatoes and diced avocado and you’ve got supper on the table in just a couple of minutes. P.s. it’s a GREAT picnic dish too. Just remember to pack napkins.

6. Protein pots

In lots of lunch places and convenience stores, you can now find ‘protein pots’ to buy. They might contain beans, nuts, boiled eggs, chicken or prawns, often in tasty little combinations, and offer a great nutritional boost to otherwise relatively low-protein lunches. They are also a great snack option if you’re out-and-about and feeling hungry.

(Image from www.delivery.pret.co.uk)

7. Washed salads & prepared vegetables

Healthy cooking is so much about vegetable prep. I reckon it takes about 80% of the prep time required to make nutritious meals. So one of the best ways to speed things up is to buy vegetables ready-prepared. It is definitely more expensive to do this, but it undoubtedly saves time. Don’t forget to look in the freezer section too. There are often many more veggie choices than just peas available ready-to-cook from frozen. I’ll add a cube or two of frozen spinach to most stews and curries to add in extra greens and often add frozen baby broad beans to dishes for a protein boost.

8. Smoked mackerel

My fridge is rarely without a packet of smoked mackerel. It’s such a convenient ingredient and a source of protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids to add to quick salads for lunch or supper. I often whizz it up into a speedy mackerel pate and dollop it onto toast or lettuce cups.

9. Tinned sardines

Nutritional guidelines recommend that we aim to have one portion of oily fish per week. Tinned sardines are a very economical and easy way to achieve that target and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. You can now buy boneless sardines although the edible bones of these little fish do provide a good source of calcium (which is helpful if you don’t consume dairy products, for example).

10. Nut butters

I always have at least one or two jars of nut butters on the go at any one time. A tablespoon dolloped onto porridge, swiped over toast, blended in a smoothie or spooned into some yoghurt can nutritionally elevate a meal in seconds, offering some important healthy fats, a little protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. I look out for unsweetened, unsalted nut butters that don’t have any added palm oil.

11. Ready-made falafels

SO handy when you’re in a hurry and want a filling meal that doesn’t require much mess or preparation. Willow loves falafels and these ready-made ones are always a winner. They also make a really simple appetiser, with a quick tahini dressing for dipping.

12. Organic baked beans

Who doesn’t love beans on toast? It might just be one of the most comforting dishes I know. These organic ones from Biona come in a recyclable glass jar and are utterly delicious.

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.


New in Nutrition

New In Nutrition | Nov 2020

November 2020

New in Nutrition is a place to showcase the new products, books, podcasts, people, places or initiatives that my team and I feel are doing interesting, important or exciting things in nutrition and wellness. I hope it will soon become the go-to place to hear about nutrition news.

If you ever stumble across something new that you think we would all enjoy (that’s related to nutrition), please do drop us a tip-off email hello@ameliafreer.com and we will take a look. Thank you!

1. Supplement | Bare Biology: Re-branded

A brand I have loved for years, which makes high-quality, independently tested and sensibly-dosed Omega-3 supplements, Bare Biology has just undergone a complete re-branding. I think the new designs look wonderful. I am currently taking their Life & Soul Mini Capsules, 2 daily (but as always, please consult your own health or nutrition provider prior to commencing or changing any supplements). They have also just launched a new Strawberry Marine Collagen Powder with Vitamin C, which blends well into smoothies.

Take a look at their website here and enter code AMELIA20 for 20% off your first order, valid until 18th December 2020.

2. Book | Cook, Eat, Repeat, by Nigella Lawson

A delicious and delightful combination of recipes intertwined with narrative essays about food, all written in Nigella’s engaging and insightful prose. Good nutrition is not just about eating enough vegetables. It is about embracing all the joys of good food in appropriate balance and I can’t think of anyone quite so brilliant as Nigella to remind us of how wonderfully important the pleasure of food is in our increasingly busy lives.

Amazon

Waterstones – signed edition

3. Film | Kiss the Ground, available on Netflix

An important film that explains the essential role that soil plays in our health and as a key solution to climate change. Healthy soil – healthy planet – healthy climate – healthy people. Kiss the Ground engagingly explains how we can potentially reverse global warming and benefit our health and nutrition through regenerative agriculture. It fills me with hope.

Netflix

4. Course | The Joy of Healthy Eating, by Amelia Freer

This is, I’m afraid, a bit of a shameless plug, but my new 30-part online video course filmed in collaboration with Create Academy is now available and covers the power of positive nutrition and the joy of healthy eating. Far from being about dieting or restrictive rules, my aim is to empower you with fundamental knowledge about nutrition and efficient cooking, so that you can make informed choices for yourself and follow them through in the kitchen with minimal effort or stress. Please take a look at my course page for lots more information.

Order now

5. Foodie | Wild Radish

A brand-new recipe delivery service from some of Britain’s best chefs, offering seasonal dishes to create at home, using the same ingredients and suppliers that award-winning kitchens use. Plus, each box comes with a carefully chosen bottle of wine to perfectly match the meal. A chef’s table, at your table. Each box contains dinner for two, either a meat, fish or vegetarian option. A treat indeed.

Only available in London currently, but will be expanding soon.

Order now

6. Initiative | Bite Back 2030

Bite Back is led by a team of incredible young activists from across the UK who want healthy food to be an option for every family. They are on a mission to know the truth about how our food system is designed, how it can be redesigned to put young people’s health first and how to build powerful alliances to help make that a reality. See their latest report, Hungry for Change, based on the experiences of one thousand 14- to 19-year-olds during lockdown.

Follow: @biteback2030

Read: Hungry for Change

7. Book | The Sourdough School Sweet Baking, by Vanesssa Kimble

If you’re in the mood for some comfort baking over these colder months, then this is the book for you. Vanessa Kimble (who runs The Sourdough School in Northamptonshire) has written a gem of a book on sweet sourdough bakes that not only nourish the gut but can support our mood too. With a forward by Tim Spector, and ringing endorsements from Diana Henry and Nigella, this really is a book that is ‘impossible to read without wanting to scuttle off into the kitchen’. Couldn’t have put it better myself (and I’m not usually an enthusiastic baker, so that’s saying something!).

Waterstones

Amazon

8. Publication | Marine Conservation Society

The MSC has recently updated its Good Fish Guide, helping to guide our choices about which fish are the most sustainable (green rated) and which are the least sustainable (red rated). It has a really easy-to-use website with search function, so you can quickly jump to check out the fish you buy most often. Interesting findings? Line-caught mackerel is OK, wild Atlantic salmon is now classed as ‘at risk’. It’s more than worth finding a few minutes to check out the sustainability ratings of your favourite fish.

See the guide here

9. Foodie | Roots of Kimchi

Newly launched Roots of Kimchi makes small-batch kimchi (addictively delicious Korean fermented vegetables) here in the UK, based on the family recipes of their Korean-born chef, Seo. I am a complete fermented vegetable addict – I add it to as many things as I can, from open sandwiches and salads to my everyday breakfast. It not only boosts flavour but can also be a source of beneficial probiotic bacteria too. To try Roots of Kimchi products with a 10% discount head to the website and enter the code AF10, this code is valid until 25th November and can be used once per customer. Roots of Kimchi is also available from Amazon and selected health food stores.

10. Policy | Agriculture Bill

Attempts to protect current standards of food safety and animal welfare and farming practices in law were overturned by the UK government in mid-October.  This defeat occurred in parliament despite a high-profile campaign to protect it, notably led by Jamie Oliver to #saveourstandards, and a YouGov poll finding that the vast majority of people wanted to protect current British standards in future trade deals. Please read this to understand the implications of this vote.

The Agriculture Bill 2019-2021

Photo by Iga Palacz on Unsplash

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.


The Power of Positive Nutrition

The Power of Positive Nutrition

November 2020

This article was commissioned by Natural Health Magazine

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Everyday food choices have become quite fraught for many people, which I think is a real shame. Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, comforts and lovingly held expressions of cultural and familial identity and this is not inherently confusing. It is just food. Ingredients alone cannot be all ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Of course, certain types of food, once ingested and digested, may be more beneficial to health than others. And the production of different foods will have variable ethical and environmental considerations.

But sharing a few glasses of wine with a girlfriend who is having a rough time is not ‘bad’ or enjoying a slice of cake on your child’s birthday is not ‘naughty’, or even confusing. These are all lovely experiences that can beneficially nourish our social and emotional health.

I feel that limiting ourselves to such black-and-white nutritional thinking can inadvertently be a risk factor for creating unnecessary anxiety and restrictive rules around food. We of course need to find a sensible balance and prioritise having plenty of nutritious foods, but a little perspective and common sense can go a long way here.

I therefore can’t help but find the confusion around food, with messages coming at us from all directions about what we supposedly ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be eating, as well as the unprecedented shaming of other people’s nutritional decisions, really worrying. We seem to have lost sight of the bigger picture – that the fact we have abundant food and choice is a reason to be joyful. Many, many people around the world simply do not have this option. Gratitude can be a powerful antidote to the noise.

How do we move forward? How can we begin to establish what a good enough diet looks like for us as individuals – and feel confident enough in our choices to be able to respectfully allow the tide of incoming opinion to the contrary to simply wash over us? Good Enough in terms of nutritional quality, but also speed, taste, sustainability and cost.

Photo by Jony Ariadi on Unsplash

I suggest we start from the basics. Human bodies need a wide variety of essential nutrients to function. These are a collection of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids (healthy fats) that we cannot make for ourselves, and therefore need to consume in our food. This is a universal equaliser – while different people will vary in exactly how much they need of each nutrient for optimal function (something we are still not often good at defining or measuring, even in a research context) – we all need at least some of these essential nutrients.

A balanced and varied diet is generally the best way to provide ourselves with this diversity of nutrients. In reality, that looks like a diet containing plenty of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables, high quality proteins, healthy fats, nuts and seeds and unrefined wholegrains or other complex carbohydrates. For most of us, this is a sensible place to begin.

This approach helps to shift our focus onto getting enough of the important and necessary nutrients our bodies need for growth, repair and metabolic function, rather than a worrying about having ‘too much’ of the less nutritionally dense foods. And that mindset shift is the basis of Positive Nutrition. It’s fundamentally about what we do eat everyday, of the foods our bodies need, rather than what we don’t eat so much of. It’s a shift in thinking from deprivation to abundance that can be incredibly liberating, particularly if we have been caught up in a cycle of on-off dieting for a long time. It also provides us with a framework upon which we can start to experiment, play and discover more about what works for us, at this moment in time.

Knowing what we do about individual variability in responses to food – from genetics to the impact of the microbiota – there can never be a single diet that works for all. It just doesn’t make sense, from a scientific point of view, that this could exist. So instead, we could take the principles of Positive Nutrition, and then give ourselves the freedom to adapt, tweak and shift them to work for us. Perhaps adding more carbohydrates if we are particularly active, or reducing our intake of vegetables if we struggle with a higher-fibre diet. Shifting to a more plant-based approach, or prioritising our food budget on a few more ethically sourced animal ingredients. Or simply using it as the basis to find a handful of easy, nourishing recipes that work well for our families in the busyness and chaos of everyday life.

It’s deeply empowering to know ourselves well, nutritionally and gastronomically. Knowing what works for us as individuals, and knowing what we can let go of. To me, that’s the power of positive nutrition.

Would you like to learn more about this topic?

What is Positive Nutrition?

Understanding food categories

For lots more on how to embrace Positive Nutrition in your life, and specific information on how to use the Positive Nutrition Pyramid please see my third book, Nourish & Glow: The 10-day plan, which is written specifically about this topic.

Download free, printable copies of the Positive Nutrition Pyramid in A4 and with 4 to a page.

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Nourish & Glow: The 10-day plan

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Natural Health Magazine

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Simply Good For You

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Thinking about: Caffeine

Thinking about: Caffeine

October 2020

Wrapping my hands around a steaming mug of coffee on a cold morning, or sharing a cup of tea with a friend are a couple of my favourite simple pleasures. But I am often asked if the caffeine within these warming drinks has any health effects we should know about?

As always, there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in nutrition and so arming ourselves with some knowledge of the underlying nutritional science enables us to make informed decisions about the food and drinks we enjoy. You’ll find lots more of this in the nutrition articles section of this website.

Photo by Jen Rich

Let’s start with what Caffeine actually is.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring plant compound, which is thought to function for the plant as an insect repellant and herbicide (Wikoff et al., 2017).  In humans, it is the most commonly consumed stimulant worldwide and is well known for its effects on our wakefulness, focus and concentration.

Once consumed, caffeine is rapidly absorbed into our bloodstream and starts to have an effect just 15 – 20 minutes later. How long those stimulatory effects last varies significantly from person to person, but can be anywhere between 2-8+ hours.

How much caffeine do you drink?

Drink Approximate caffeine per serving
Mug of filter coffee 90 – 140mg
Mug of instant coffee 60 – 100mg
Single espresso (60ml) 80mg
Mug of black tea 50 – 75mg
340ml coca-cola / diet coke 35 – 45mg
50g dark chocolate 20 – 35mg
Mug of cocoa 15mg
Green tea 15mg

What are the health benefits of caffeine?

The good news first. Beyond the obvious benefits that caffeine can have in terms of pleasure (there is often an enjoyable ritual in making and drinking a cup of tea or coffee), helping us to get going in the morning, maintaining focus and concentration at work, or keeping us awake on late-night drives, caffeine may also come with some other health benefits.

Caffeine-containing drinks, including coffee, black tea, green tea and even cocoa, for example, also may contain relatively high amounts of health-boosting polyphenols.

Polyphenols are a group of beneficial dietary antioxidants and are found in particularly high concentrations in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, tea, coffee, spices, dark chocolate and red wine. Take a look at this article on why eating the rainbow is not a cliched phrase for more background on this topic.

Polyphenols have been reported to play a possible role in the prevention of some cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases and perhaps even diabetes (Scalbert et al., 2005). More specifically, caffeine consumption has been linked to a possible decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease in some people (Costa et al., 2010), while green tea may potentially be beneficial for reducing heart disease and stroke risk (Pang et al., 2016). More research is required to confirm such associations, but they do offer some hopeful possibilities for future studies to build upon.

A review published in the British Medical Journal examining lots of different studies into coffee and various health outcomes found that the greatest benefit of coffee consumption for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease was seen at around 3 cups a day (although this is a population level study, so this intake might not apply to you as an individual). Interestingly, decaffeinated coffee was also found to have beneficial effects on the same outcomes, with estimates suggesting 2-4 cups a day having the largest effects (Poole et al., 2017). However, more rigorously designed studies are again needed to confirm these findings.

Caffeine may also be beneficial to support sports performance, by reducing perceived fatigue (Doherty and Smith, 2005) and potentially increasing muscle power output. This is often used to athletic advantage, as fortified sports gels frequently contain the same amount of caffeine as a large mug of coffee.

Are there any downsides of caffeine?

Alongside the potential benefits mentioned above, there are also a few circumstances where excessive caffeine may be detrimental to our health.

Although this is not a completely comprehensive list, below are a few examples of times when being conscious of your caffeine consumption may be beneficial:

  • If you are planning pregnancy or are currently pregnant, national guidelines recommend that you avoid consuming more than 200mg caffeine per day, as high caffeine consumption has been potentially linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, having a baby with a low birth weight and preterm birth (Poole et al., 2017).For more information on this; https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/limit-caffeine-during-pregnancy.aspx
  • If you suffer from anxiety or panic, the physical symptoms of caffeine consumption (such as nervousness, palpitations, irritability or stomach upsets) can sometimes make your worry feel worse. It may be better to cut right down on caffeine in these instances. It’s one of the first things that may be recommended to clients who are particularly struggling with worry and poor sleep.
  • Excessive caffeine consumption can, in some cases, lead to palpitations and ‘ectopic’ heartbeats (the feeling of your heart beating in your chest). Of course, it is absolutely essential to discuss any symptoms like these promptly with a doctor, but you may find that you are encouraged to moderate your caffeine as part of your management plan.For more information on this; https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-palpitations/
  • If you suffer from insomnia or sleeping difficulties, you are probably already being mindful of minimising your evening caffeine intake. But any caffeine consumption, even first thing in the morning, could still be having an impact. It will somewhat depend on your genetics, however – that’s why some lucky people can neck a couple of espressos before bed and still sleep like a baby.If, however, you are struggling with your sleep, you may like to try cutting down (or even cutting out) caffeine completely for a couple of weeks to see if this makes a difference. Start by reducing caffeine consumed after 3pm. Some people find that they need to stop caffeine as early as 10am to positively impact their sleep. It is a case of individual trial-and-error to see what works best for you, understanding that this may well change over time.
  • Habitual caffeine consumption may lead to a certain amount of tolerance; you may end up needing a bigger ‘hit’ to get the same energising effects. This can be a particularly vicious circle for those suffering from fatigue; the more tired you feel, the more you reach for a caffeine boost – which eventually increases your tolerance and means you need even more caffeine to feel ‘normal’.If you suffer from fatigue that is impacting your daily life, it is always worth discussing this with a qualified healthcare professional to see if there is any underlying cause that needs addressing in the first instance.
  • Caffeine intake may also increase blood pressure slightly (although potentially less so when consumed as coffee than from other sources) (Noordzji et al., 2005). If you suffer from high blood pressure, it may therefore be worthwhile sticking to moderate amounts of caffeine (approximately 200-300mg/day). More research is required to give definitive answers on this topic.
  • If you suffer from osteoporosis, or are considered to be at risk of developing weak bones, it may be sensible to limit the amount of caffeine you consume, as it can potentially interfere with calcium absorption and excretion, particularly with higher intakes (Wikoff et al., 2017). This effect may be more significant in women (Poole et al., 2017). Again, the pragmatic solution might be to just stick to a sensible and moderate amount (no more than 400mg/day) and to make sure you are consuming plentiful of sources of calcium in your diet too.

Things to consider when cutting down caffeine consumption…

Dramatically cutting down caffeine can trigger headaches and significant fatigue in many people and even more so in those prone to migraines or frequent headaches. It is therefore recommended than anyone considering reducing their caffeine intake should cut down consumption slowly (by around 1 cup/day every 4-5 days), rather than trying to go ‘cold turkey’.

The bottom line?

  1. Moderation is probably key when it comes to caffeine; 1-3 cups of coffee or 2-4 cups of tea (perhaps including some green tea) a day is a sensible caffeine intake for most people. Some people can tolerate more than this, some people less. As always, there’s no single ‘rule’ for everyone. Have a play around to work out what suits you.
  2. For some, cutting out caffeine completely may be appropriate – perhaps for a short while anyway. It is recommended that this is done slowly over time.
  3. If you love the taste of tea and coffee but would still like to cut down on your caffeine consumption, look out for organic decaffeinated versions. Clipper does the best decaf tea I have personally tasted, or there is an amazing array of herbal teas available.

Written by my colleague Rosamund Yoxall BMBS BSc.

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CRU Kafe organic coffee capsules

These are my go to coffee capsules that work in the nespresso machine. They are organic, biodegradable and taste delicious.

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Clipper decaf tea

I love clipper everyday tea but this decaf option is the best I have tasted if you want a decaf option.

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Green tea

This one is my favourite and I add a little squeeze or slice of lemon to it.

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Herbal tea

There are so many to choose from but this fennel one is the one I buy time and time again.

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Tea set

If I could, I would buy tea sets forever and am often hunting in second hand shops for lovely cups. No one does tea better than Fortnum & Mason and I have been saving up for this gorgeous green set for a while now.

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Coffee machine

I use this machine and find it really easy to use and a much faster solution than brewing coffee in the traditional way.

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For more information:

This fact sheet on Caffeine is produced by the European Food Standards Agency and is a treasure trove of information.

For professionals:

Coffee consumption and health: Umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes.

Please note, this article uses affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.

References & Bibliography

Costa J., Lunet N., Santos C., Santos J., Vaz-Carneiro A. (2010) Caffeine Exposure and the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 20(1); S221-S238

Doherty M. and Smith P. (2005) Effects of caffeine ingestion on rating of perceived exertion during and after exercise: a meta-analysis, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 15 (2); 69-78

Noordzij M., Uiterwaal S, Arends LR, Kok FJ, Grobbee DE, Geleijnse JM. (2005) Blood pressure response to chronic intake of coffee and caffeine: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Hypertension, 23(5); 921-928

Pang, J., Zhang, Z., Zheng, T., Bassig, B.A., Mao, C. and Liu, X. (2016) ‘Green tea consumption and risk of cardiovascular and ischemic related diseases: A meta-analysis’, International Journal of Cardiology, 202, pp. 967–974.

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