Spring Health

Spring Health

March 2022

The following article is for information only and is no substitute for medical advice or your own research. Please be mindful of your needs and seek appropriate professional support as necessary.

There’s something refreshingly optimistic about spring. Not just in the budding natural world I observe beyond my windows, but in my heart and mind too. All of the silent work of winter starts to reveal itself and the air is filled with possibility. It’s exciting and energising and I find that it often filters down into my everyday habits too.

New season produce, longer daylight hours and hopefully a few gaps in the weather allow me to get outdoors and move a bit. It certainly feels easier to take good care of myself in spring than it does during the winter months. These little acts of self-kindness always serve to lighten my mood.

But there can, of course, still be challenges for our health and motivation at any time of year. So it’s just as important to know when to ease off and rest, as it is to know when to strive. I think that is probably something that is true for most aspects of life.

Preparing to eat well

Over the years, I have found a few ways to make life that little bit easier when it comes to regularly enjoying home-cooked food, especially when circumstances might make it harder to find the time or energy to go shopping or get creative in the kitchen.

A spring clean

It can be really worthwhile getting right into the back of your kitchen cupboards and giving them a good spring clean and tidy up. I find it a pretty satisfying task (yes I am Monica from Friends!) but it helps us to see what we have, what needs using up and what we might need to buy.

Keeping a few basic ingredients to hand in the kitchen also makes throwing a quick meal together much easier.

Here are some of the key staples I like to keep stocked at home:

Store-cupboard: Olive oil, tahini, nuts & seeds / nut butters, vinegar, mustard, pesto, pasta, brown rice, oats, tinned / jarred fish, tinned / jarred / dried beans, chopped tomatoes, flour, honey / maple syrup, spices, tea / coffee, salt & pepper.

 Freezer: Bread (sliced), berries, peas, green beans, broad beans, stock, overripe & peeled bananas and chopped herbs, onions, garlic and ginger.

 Fridge: Eggs (I don’t actually keep them in the fridge though), fruit, veg, feta, yoghurt of choice, milk of choice.

Batch cooking

There are two main ways to batch cook. The first is to allocate a few hours on a single day and make multiple big batches of food at once. Or alternatively, make double / triple portions of meals as you go and just store the leftovers to use for the next couple of days.

Recently, I have been using the former. I write a list of recipes, buy the ingredients I need and prioritise a couple of hours of kitchen time when I can (which is not always by any stretch). I do, however, like the feeling of knowing I have a selection of home-made ready meals for days when I am going to be busy, or don’t feel like cooking.  And I love the feeling of pulling out a fully prepared dish and knowing I only have to find the energy to heat it thoroughly before serving.

Check out a selection of free, nourishing batch-cooking recipes here.

Store-bought options

We don’t always have to cook from scratch to eat well. There are plenty of great tasting and nutritious store-bought options now available. Vegetable soups, hummus, rotisserie chickens, prepared salads, prepared vegetables, fish dishes and cooked grain pouches have often made their way into my shopping basket when I’m particularly busy. It’s not about always being perfect. Pragmatism is important too.

Supporting relaxation

The world has felt like a confusing, daunting and often overwhelming place for a long while now. For many of us, this has contributed to an underlying level of worry and stress that feels like it sits deeper than the usual ups and downs of everyday life. And that can lead to anxiety, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating and a general sense of constantly being unsettled, as well as various possible physical symptoms and signs.

While what one person perceives as challenging or stressful may not cause the same worries in another, and we all have our own ways of unwinding, I thought I’d share a few of the self-care strategies that I have been using recently to help support my own rest and relaxation.

Perhaps you might find an idea you resonate with, or perhaps not. But if I do these few things relatively consistently, I find they make a noticeable difference. And after the year that has recently past, I think we all deserve to take the time to prioritise a little relaxation and rejuvenation.

Regular movement

I am not a huge fan of the gym, but I do love yoga and getting out for a walk or gentle jog in nature. In fact, the more worried I feel, the more I need to move and get outside. It’s an association that I have noticed more and more over the last few years and is the thing that seems to make the biggest difference to me.

I aim for at least 20 minutes a day of moderate exercise.  Sometimes I do more, sometimes less, but it is a realistic target to aim for at this moment in time. I particularly like online yoga classes (on Movement for Modern Life or YouTube) if I don’t have time to get out.

Watching caffeine intake

Excessive intake of caffeine can mimic the physical signs and symptoms of anxiety for some people. I am one of those people. I get palpitations, feel clammy and become very restless if I drink too much tea or coffee. So although I love my cup or two in the early morning, I tend not to drink any caffeine after 12-1pm(ish). It also has a noticeable positive effect on my ability to get off to sleep when I follow this guideline.

A word of warning: Don’t dramatically decrease your caffeine intake or go ‘cold turkey’ if you drink more than 2 cups a day, as it can lead to bad headaches and extreme fatigue. I generally suggest, if you wish, to reduce by around one cup every 4-7 days.

Check out this article for more information on the science behind caffeine.

Prioritising sleep

Sleep always feels like a multiplier to me – the less I sleep, the harder everything feels and the more worried and stressed I become. The opposite is also true. If I prioritise sleep and the time it takes me to gently wind-down beforehand, the better I feel all-round. I find that turning off my mobile is an important step in my wind-down routine. This act sends me a message that it is also time to switch-off from the outside world and start to turn inward toward sleep. Click here for 9 more important tips for a great night’s sleep.

Talking to loved ones

There is that age-old saying of a ‘problem shared, a problem halved’. Sometimes, I find that is particularly true for worries. Speaking them out loud to a sympathetic and supportive ear seems to have an interesting effect. Putting it into words helps me to process the worry and see it from new perspectives, as much as it helps to hear another person’s thoughts.

This is something that many of us have missed out on sorely in recent months, so if and when possible, do try to actually speak to loved ones on video call, the phone or even in person (when safe to do so). This sense of connection is a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety.

Trying a meditation app

I am by no means and expert at meditation, but I did learn a few years ago with The School of Meditation  and find that if I do practice consistently, I definitely notice a difference. Perhaps try out the Headspace or Calm apps if you are new to it. I love the sleep stories on Calm, too, if I am struggling to drift off.

Article: Autumn Health by Amelia Freer

Seasonal food

Some of my favourite produce comes into season over spring so I have listed what to look out for below along with a few recipe ideas to help you make the most of them. Of course, there are lots more quick-and-easy spring recipes in Simply Good For You too.

Life as a Nutritional Therapist, Amelia Freer

Asparagus: Try my warm spring medley or simple grilled asparagus with fish.

Broad beans: I am a bit of an addict and eat them with everything when they are in season. Try them lightly steamed with lemon juice and good olive oil or in a dip with crunchy veg, or for little ones, try my fish fingers with broad bean mash

Leeks: I’m not sure you can beat this creamy lemon cod with fennel and leeks , although my comforting veggie bake is a close runner-up.

New potatoes: Simply cooked with good olive oil and fresh herbs is a winner for a spring table. I also love them in the one-tray roasted spring salad from Simply Good For You (pg. 234).

Oranges: I love oranges just as they come, as a citrusy treat after lunch or supper, but for a more decadent option, try this chocolate and orange chia pudding 

Purple Sprouting Broccoli: All broccoli is a bit of a staple in my life but this purple variety always feels pretty special when it is available. I eat it steamed and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice or roasted with garlic and chilli.

Radishes: Try roasting them (trust me!). Otherwise, just enjoy them raw, dipped into a lemony dressing or houmous.

Samphire: I haven’t written any recipes for you yet using samphire so this is a good reminder to do so! I adore this salty marine vegetable steamed, then drizzled with olive oil and served with simple grilled fish and lemon.

Spinach: Baby leaf spinach and smashed smoked mackerel on toast is a bit of an addiction of mine but I also add it to soups, curries, stews and casseroles. This  fish and spinach curry makes a regular appearance on my meal plans.

Spring onions: Chopped onto salads and over soups or Asian dishes. I grow the purple ones, which make everything look so pretty.

Rhubarb: Always remember to remove the leaves as they are poisonous. I mostly just roast it in chunks with grated ginger and orange juice and enjoy with yoghurt. But if you want a more show stopping option, try my rhubarb and custard tart or rhubarb and orange fool.

Watercress: Of course, utterly delicious as a simple salad leaf, you could also try it in this amazing Spring Tart.

spring dish inspiration 

SPRING RECIPES

SHOP THE EDIT

Simply Good For You | Amelia Freer

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Headspace App

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Serving bowl | The White Company

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Cork Yoga Mat | Fresh Thinking Co.

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The Joy of Healthy Eating | Create Academy

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The Sleep Book | Dr Guy Meadows

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Summer Health

Summer Health

Updated June 2022

The following article is for information only and is no substitute for medical advice or your own research. Please be mindful of your needs and seek appropriate professional support as necessary.

Seasonal Food

Summer is peak growing season, with fields, growing spaces, polytunnels, allotments and perhaps even our own gardens or windowsills bursting at the seams with produce. It’s easier to find locally grown fruit and vegetables and as harvests increase, prices tend to fall too. Now is therefore the perfect time to embrace fruits and vegetables in all their technicolour glory.

Remember my positive nutrition philosophy encourages us to aim for up to 6 portions of vegetables and 3 of fruit per day. Some people might do better with more, some less. But wherever you’re starting, just adding in a few extra portions here and there is a wonderful addition and now is the perfect time to take full advantage of the delicious range of sun-ripened produce. ESPECIALLY enjoying UK produce now that we have it rather than buying what has been flown in from overseas.

Here’s a list of what’s in season in the UK, as well as a few tips for ways to enjoy them and some recipes too.

Artichoke – I usually use artichokes in a jar to add to salads but if you can get fresh then enjoy them with a simple vinaigrette or add them to my warm roasted salad.

Aubergine – I love to slow roast it with herbs and spices but my trusted and most popular recipe EVER is my Aubergine and Chickpea Curry.

Beetroot – I love beetroot and it is so versatile. Try it raw in salads, slow roasted, pickled or blended into hummus. My beetroot hummus recipe in Nourish & Glow: The 10-day plan has been a huge hit with readers.

Blueberries – great to top porridge or yoghurt with, add to muffins or blend into smoothies or make into a compote or chia jam and also, you can freeze them.

Broccoli – roasted and dipped into hummus is something I’ll never tire of. Just always keep it crunchy! Mushy broccoli is awful unless you want to mash it with potatoes, olive oil and a little spring onion or bake them in nuggets (the recipe for this is coming soon…!)

Carrots – I like to make thin strips using a vegetable peeler to pile onto salads. But I also love them slow roasted with a sprinkle of cumin. My carrot and turmeric soup has been one of my most popular recipes on Pinterest.

Cherries – There is nothing nicer than a bowl of fresh cherries on the table. I rarely do anything else with them.

Courgettes – This Yellow Courgette, Herb and Feta salad has been my go-to salad for years, or this Ribbon Courgette Salad with Rocket, Feta & Hazlenuts is another beautiful recipe that can be a meal in itself or a great side dish for meat or fish. For something sweeter, try the Gooey Courgette brownies in Simply Good For You.

Cucumber – I like to slice it really thinly using a vegetable peeler or a mandolin. It is delicious on toast with tahini and a little sprinkle of chilli flakes. Or added to water with lemon & mint.

Fresh herbs – I feel that any salad or meal can be enhanced with a few chopped or torn fresh herbs. Add mint leaves to fennel, tarragon to chicken, basil to feta & tomato salads, coriander to curries, dill to potatoes, chives to eggs, rosemary to roasted vegetables… you really can’t go wrong and they are very easy to grow.

Fennel – I love it raw and finely sliced. But it’s also delicious roasted. This creamy cod with fennel and leek recipe is one of my favourite meals to make.

Gooseberries – I wish I had a more creative suggestion for gooseberries other than making a crumble or fool, but I don’t ever seem to do anything else with them. Any suggestions welcome!

Green / runner beans – I simply steam and enjoy with some olive oil, lemon and if I have them, flaked almonds on top. Or baked with a tomato sauce. But I also have a habit of munching on them raw….

Mange tout – Steam fried with olive oil and lemon juice is the only way I ever cook these.

Peas – Willow loves the Chicken & Pea burgers in Simply Good For You and they’re a lovely easy summer dish for grown-ups too, with just a side salad and some ripe, chopped tomatoes. But I love to eat peas fresh from the pod and it reminds me of my childhood when I used to do this a lot.

Plums, greengages & damsons – We grow these and so we have a lot. Any that we can’t eat fresh I tend to make into compotes and freeze in small portions to add to porridges, or make chia jam, or use in baking later in the year. Of course they all work well in crumbles too.

Potatoes – roast them, boil them, mash them… I LOVE them! This potato salad recipe is another favourite with my pinterest followers.

Radishes – If you haven’t tried roasting radishes in olive oil, salt and pepper, do give it a try. Otherwise finely slice or grate them over salads or just eat them whole dipped into hummus.

Raspberries – Although my favourite way to enjoy summer berries is just as they are, these little chocolate raspberry pots are a treat, as are my Lemon & Raspberry muffins. Also, remember that they freeze well.

Salad leaves – add them to almost every meal! I add baby leaves to eggs at breakfast, or shredded into sandwiches, a handful on the side of the plate to go with simple fish or chicken, with a curry or on top of a soup. Heck, you can even stir salad leaves into pasta or make them into a soup. There are lots of salad recipes for you to browse through here.

Spinach – A super-simple summer supper is this Poached Fish with Spinach in a Chilli-Tomato Sauce or blend it into this simple smoothie. Remember that spinach also freezes really well, so no need to ever waste it.

Strawberries – The epitome of summer. I love eating them for breakfast in this Strawberry chia breakfast porridge or the strawberry crumble breakfast bars from Simply Good For You but of course they are wonderful with a glass of champagne!

Tomatoes – I find cherry tomatoes have better flavour in the UK than the larger, harder tomatoes. I throw fresh tomatoes onto most meals but also slow roast them for sauces which can be frozen for the depths of winter when tasty, ripe tomatoes can be harder to find. One of my most summery tomato salad recipes is this one or for a delicious slow baked recipe that can use fresh or tinned, try my tomato & butterbean baked eggs.

I hope these ideas have made you hungry and inspired to enjoy all of the wonderful british produce this summer.

Coping with hay fever and seasonal allergies

For many with hay fever and seasonal allergies, summer can feel a bit like one long cold. Symptoms often include a runny, itchy or blocked nose, sneezing and watery / itchy eyes. Caused by an allergy to pollen (often from grasses), hay fever tends to peak between May and July, although this can vary a lot between people. Tree pollen, for example, can cause symptoms in April.

Now, I am not a doctor, so I am not able to offer advice on the more medical aspects of this condition or suggest any sort of treatment. What I hope I can offer, however, is a little advice, support and encouragement on a few of the lifestyle and nutritional aspects instead. Please see the link at the bottom for additional NHS advice.

Amelia Freer Good Mood Food

1. Remember you are not alone.

Seasonal allergies are very common. Hay fever is thought to affect about 1 in 5 people in the UK and tends to run in families. Alongside your GP or other healthcare provider, local pharmacists are a good point of contact for advice and treatment of hay fever symptoms.  Do reach out to them for help and support if you have any concerns.

2. Try to reduce your exposure to pollen

Completely avoiding pollen is usually impossible, but symptoms can be a little less severe if you reduce your exposure. When the pollen count is high, then the following tips may help:

  • Stay indoors when possible, keeping windows and doors shut (especially mid-morning and early evening, when the pollen count tends to be highest).
  • Keep windows shut when driving. You can buy pollen filters for the air vents in your car (although these need to be changed regularly to maintain their efficiency).
  • Avoid mowing the lawns, or spending long periods of time in large open, grassy places (such as parks /picnics / camping etc.)
  • Shower and wash / rinse your hair and change your clothes after being outdoors.
  • Wear wraparaound sunglasses when you’re out and about.
  • Avoid line-drying clothes and bedding when the pollen count is high.

3. Local honey

Despite common belief, there is no consistent scientific evidence (yet) to support local honey helping with hay fever symptoms. The pollen that causes hay fever tends to come from grasses and trees, which is different to the small amount of pollen in honey (as this comes mainly from flowers). But if you find it helps you and you’re consuming a sensible amount, then there’s likely no harm in carrying on (so long as you have no problems with blood sugar management, diabetes etc.). Remember not to give honey to infants under one. 

4. Nutritional support

While it is important to stress that there is no such thing as a specific, evidence-based diet for hay fever, it’s a good idea to try to eat a nutritious and balanced diet where possible for all sorts of wider health reasons.

Things like consuming a wide variety of colourful fruit and vegetables (which contain a variety of potentially anti-inflammatory polyphenols, as well as fibre and essential nutrients), including some oily fish or plant-based omega-3 fats in your diet, and aiming to eat a mainly whole-foods, minimally processed diet are all a sensible place to start (Hoff et al., 2005, Singh, Holvoet and Mercenier, 2011).

Research is currently ongoing examining the potential role of the microbiome and probiotics, in allergic diseases such as hay fever. While many more good-quality studies are needed to design safe treatments and guidelines based on this work, there are some promising findings under investigation (Yang, Yang and Liu, 2013).

For full information, take a look at this NHS overview.

Safe sun exposure

Sunshine, at safe levels, often feels good for us. It brightens our mood, enables us to enjoy the great outdoors and helps our body produce vitamin D. As a nutrition professional, I am often asked about vitamin D and how much sun we should get to keep our levels topped up. However, as you’ll see below, there is no single answer to this question, as there are a lot of variables that need to be considered to safely enjoy the sunshine.

Over-doing sun exposure is not a good idea as it can lead to skin damage and may increase the risk of skin cancer. Finding where the balance lies between the benefits and risks of sunshine is inevitably a very individual matter. I hope, however, that this summary of my own reading and research of some of the key suggestions for safe sun exposure might help you feel more informed too. Of course, I come at this as a nutrition professional, not a skincare professional, so please be aware that I might not have covered absolutely everything here. However, writing this article has certainly encouraged me to up my own sun care regime, and I thought some of the information I read about was worth sharing. I hope you find it interesting.

As always, please ask for professional advice if you have any concerns about your skin or if you have risk factors that may increase the effects or potential damage of sunlight on your skin. Likewise, if you think you’re at risk of vitamin D deficiency, please seek appropriate support.

Sun exposure

The intensity of the sun’s rays will vary a lot between geographical location, time of year (interesting to note that it is at it’s most intense in the UK in late June), The time of day (strongest from 11am – 3pm), weather conditions and reflection (such as snow, sand, water or bright surfaces). The UV index from the Met Office provides some helpful information on UV levels in the UK.

A quick sun strength test that works anywhere in the world is the ‘shadow rule’. If your shadow is shorter than your height, the sun intensity is strong and you’re more likely to burn. So you’ll need to take extra care to protect your skin.

Skin colour also influences safe sun exposure. People with genetically darker skin are at a relatively lower risk of burning, but potentially at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency in the UK. Those with darker skin tones may therefore need a little more time in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as people with lighter skin, although should still take care to avoid sunburn (NICE, 2016).

For all of these reasons, it’s therefore impossible to give one standard response to how much sun exposure is safe for us each to have. Being informed, however, should help us to make sensible decisions for ourselves on a daily basis.

Understanding UVA & UVB

UVA is associated with skin ageing, as it affects the elastin in our skin and leads to wrinkles, leathery skin and pigmentation. It penetrates more deeply than UVB and can reach through glass. UVA protection in sunscreen is rated by stars, from 0-5. It is recommended that we look for broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen products, ideally with a UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars (alongside a high SPF).

UVB is more responsible for sunburn and has stronger links with skin cancers. A sunscreen with high SPF (sun protection factor) helps to block UVB and prevent sunburn. The British Association of Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ as a satisfactory form of sun protection, alongside protective shade and clothing.

NB., The SPF integrated into other products (primers, moisturisers, foundations etc.) can’t necessarily be relied upon to give us the same level of protection as a standalone sunscreen. We tend to use smaller amounts and they may be less rub-resistant and water resistant. Also, moisturisers containing an SPF may not contain any UVA protection and therefore don’t necessarily protect against UV ageing.  It’s therefore advised to use a standalone sunscreen alongside our skincare routine and make-up.

Mineral vs. chemical sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens tend to contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which reflect UV radiation away from the skin. These can be thought of as ‘mirrors’, bouncing the light away. These sunscreens may also be known as ‘physical’, ‘natural’ or ‘reflective’.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation and give it back out as infrared. These are like sponges, mopping up UV radiation that reaches the skin. They may also be known as ‘absorbers’.

The type of sunscreen you choose is really a personal decision, but do look out for the SPF and UVA star rating on any product you buy. One thing I have noticed is that mineral sunscreens don’t often have the UVA star rating on their label. You might therefore need to do a little more digging to check that they have appropriate broad-spectrum coverage.

I am currently using this sunscreen from Heliocare on my face and I like that it is light and not shiny and doesn’t aggravate my acne-prone skin.

I also use this broad-spectrum, SPF 30 scent-free suncream from Green People for my body.

Finding a broad-rimmed sun hats at a reasonable price is always a mission. I recently bought this one.

I have my eyes on these utterly glorious tents for picnics and beach days, so we all have somewhere to escape from the sun while still being outside. A girl can dream!

How to apply sunscreen

Studies have suggested that many people apply less than half the amount of sunscreen required to reach the level of protection stated on the packaging (British Association of Dermatologists, 2013).

While the exact amount you need will depend on the formulation, a rough ‘rule of thumb’ is that we need around 6-8 tsp (30-40ml) of sunscreen to cover our bodies appropriately (NICE, 2016).  Check the label to see how much is recommended to achieve the stated sun protection. If sunscreen is applied too thinly, the amount of protection it gives can be dramatically reduced (i.e., using too little SPF 15 may only be achieving around SPF 5 or less).

Other sunscreen tips:

  • Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before you go outside. If you’re going out into the sun for a prolonged period of time, it is recommended that you apply again at the time you go outside. This will help reduce the risk of missing patches. More is generally better.
  • Re-apply at least every 2 hours and immediately after swimming, sweating and towel drying, or if it has rubbed off.
  • Water-resistant products are not necessarily towel-resistant! Up to 85% can be removed with towel drying.
  • Check the expiry date – most sunscreens have a shelf life of 2-3 years, and should be replaced after their expiry. And store it in a cool, dark place, as extreme heat can damage the protective properties.
  • Don’t rely on a high SPF to skip re-applying sunscreen frequently, or use less product. High SPF sun creams can sometimes create a false sense of security, so do not rely on them to stay in the sun longer or not take other sensible shade-seeking precautions.

Vitamin D and sun exposure

Sunlight exposure (between April – October) to commonly uncovered areas, such as our forearms, hands and lower legs, that we get incidentally during daily activities if outside, should be enough to boost vitamin D levels, without ever getting a heavy tan or burning.

Remember that skin produces plenty of vitamin D long before it starts to burn, and won’t continue to make more vitamin D after a short period of time in the sun. We don’t need to sunbathe, or spend prolonged periods of time in the sun to boost vitamin D levels. For those at higher risk of skin cancer, however, protecting the skin from the sun is a priority and so vitamin D may need to be obtained from other sources (such as diet or supplements) as necessary. Please discuss this with your doctor if required.

It is difficult to say exactly how long every individual needs to spend in the sun to achieve sufficient vitamin D levels, as it will depend greatly on skin type, risk factors and sunlight intensity (as discussed above). Darker skin tones may need to spend longer in the sun to achieve the same levels of vitamin D, and/or look to alternative sources of vitamin D rather than relying on sunlight alone.

Please read this article on Vitamin D for more information on those alternative sources.

Other precautions

Alongside sunscreen use, there are various other precautions that we should take to reduce our risk of sun damage.

  • Wear a hat with a large brim (at least 3 inches) and sunglasses (with the appropriate CE mark).
  • Wear light-weight, long-sleeved clothing when in the sun. Sunscreen is not an alternative to covering up with suitable clothing and seeking shade, but it does offer additional protection. No sunscreen, no matter how high the factor, can provide 100% protection.
  • Stay in the shade between 11am and 3pm, particularly when it’s sunny.
  • Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight, and cover them with suitable clothing, encourage time in the shade and always use a sunscreen. To ensure they get enough vitamin D, all children under 5 are advised to consider vitamin D supplements.
  • Avoid sunbeds and deliberate sunbathing. Take care to never burn.
  • Remember, even if it is cool or cloudy, it is still possible to burn.
  • There is no safe or healthy way to get a tan from sunlight, or sunbeds. And don’t rely on a tan to offer your skin protection. A tan offers a SPF of around 3 – not nearly enough to protect ourselves from sun damage (Cancer Research UK, 2016)

For more information, take a look at the NHS website on sunscreen and sun safety here.

And this list of 12 sun safety myths debunked from Cancer Research UK is well worth a read. I learnt a lot!

Please tell your doctor immediately about any changes to a mole.

Content kindly reviewed by Dr Eve Sloan-Brittain, GP with a special interest in dermatology.

summer dish inspiration 

SUMMER RECIPES

References & Bibliography

British Association of Dermatologists, 2013. British Association Of Dermatologists – Sunscreen Fact Sheet. [online] Bad.org.uk. Available at: <https://www.bad.org.uk/for-the-public/skin-cancer/sunscreen-fact-sheet> [Accessed 13 May 2020].

Cancer Research UK, 2016. 12 Sun Safety Myths Debunked. [online] Cancer Research UK – Science blog. Available at: <https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2016/06/10/12-sun-safety-myths-debunked/> [Accessed 13 May 2020].

Hoff, S., Seiler, H., Heinrich, J., Kompauer, I., Nieters, A., Becker, N., Nagel, G., Gedrich, K., Karg, G., Wolfram, G. and Linseisen, J., 2005. Allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis are associated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in red blood cell membranes. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 59(9), pp.1071-1080.

NICE, 2016. 2 Supporting Information For Practitioners | Sunlight Exposure: Risks And Benefits | Guidance | NICE. [online] Nice.org.uk. Available at: <https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng34/chapter/2-Supporting-information-for-practitioners> [Accessed 13 May 2020].

Singh, A., Holvoet, S. and Mercenier, A., 2011. Dietary polyphenols in the prevention and treatment of allergic diseases. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 41(10), pp.1346-1359.

Vliagoftis, H., Kouranos, V., Betsi, G. and Falagas, M., 2008. Probiotics for the treatment of allergic rhinitis and asthma: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 101(6), pp.570-579.

Yang, P., Yang, G. and Liu, Z., 2013. Treatment of allergic rhinitis with probiotics: An alternative approach. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 5(8), p.465.


Winter Health

Photo by Maria Shanina on Unsplash

winter health

Updated Nov 2021

As autumn gently slides into winter and the riotous colours of Mother Nature subside into gentle, greyscale hues, the call of the natural world – and often of ourselves – is to withdraw, rest and replenish. A time to wrap up snugly, spend time with loved ones and embrace the cosy concept of ‘hygge’.

Far from being a cause of melancholy, I find winter, with its early evening sunsets and long, stormy nights, a delicious contrast to the sunshine of summer. It’s almost like we need the dark to appreciate the light – and to give ourselves the perfect excuse to run hot baths, light real fires and indulge in delicious slow-cooked feasts. Not to mention the child-like glee that greets a snowy landscape or clear, crisp frosty morning.

There’s joy in winter beyond the shining light that is the festive season, but it’s a quieter, gentler and more introspective version of joy than the ebullience of summer. At least, for me it is. I hope this article offers a few helpful hints and tips to support you and your health through these darker months and on into spring.

Please also see my Autumnal Health article for information on ways to gently support immune function or to relieve fatigue.

A Healthy Home

With more time spent indoors, the dial on the central heating turned up, and the windows and doors firmly shut, I find that I am increasingly conscious of the internal environment in which we spend the vast majority of our time. I want it to be warm, comfortable and inviting, certainly, but I also want it to be supportive of my family’s health, energy and sleep too.

Healthy Winter Home

1. Ventilate more: This is the single best thing to do to improve indoor air quality, even if you live in a city. Try to open your windows twice a day, especially in humid areas (bathrooms and kitchens), bedrooms and your main living space. Just 5-10 minutes can reportedly help improve air quality, without resulting in an enormous loss of heat.

2. Bring a bit of nature inside: Although evidence is mixed, it is thought that houseplants may be able to help to purify the air inside our homes. Whether they make a measurable difference or not, there is certainly a lovely atmosphere that greets us in a room brightened with some natural life. It’s also a more ecologically-friendly option than regularly buying fresh cut flowers (that have often been air-freighted). They are best positioned in places where we spend most of our time, such as the office, sitting room and bedroom.

3. Consider room layouts to maximise daylight: Daylight is essential for regulating our circadian rhythm and the release of the hormone melatonin at appropriate times (helping us to feel awake during the day, and sleepy at night). This can be particularly important during the shorter daylight hours of winter. So if you are working from home, or spend a lot of time indoors, it’s a good idea (if possible) to move the furniture you spend lots of time on or at during daytime hours (your desk, kitchen table, favourite chair etc.) closest to the windows, and push the furniture you spend more time on in the evenings to the back of the room. But getting outside everyday, even if just for a few minutes, is equally as important – even just 5 minutes in the morning can help regulate your body clock and potentially improve sleep.

4. Embrace non-toxic cleaners:

While there is rather little research on the impact of using non-toxic home and personal care products on human health, this is one area where I tend to base my decisions on the precautionary principle. In other words, I choose to err on the side of caution, and therefore buy and use ecologically friendly and natural products as much as possible (with a wary eye to the idea of ‘green-washing’ – the use of ‘natural’ on labelling is not a regulated term, for example). I am also increasingly aware of the impact small day-to-day decisions I make have on our carbon footprint and use of plastics.

As regular readers of mine will know, I am a huge fan of the Bower Collective and regularly use their range of cleaning and laundry products. They use all non-toxic ingredients and all the pouches can be returned for recycling.

I don’t use air fresheners and only use scented candles now and again (although when I do, these are my favourites and they are made from 100% natural vegetable wax), and if we do light a real fire, I am sure to air that room the next day.

SHOP THE EDIT

Lavender Laundry Collection | Bower Collective

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Compostable Scourers | Seep

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Glass Trigger Spray | Bower Collective

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Organic Candle | Neom

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Fern | Bloom & Wild

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Grapefruit Sanitising Spray | Bower Collective

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Eating Well in Winter

It’s easy enough to slip into a familiar pattern of grazing and over-indulgence as a way to pass the time in winter (perhaps also in an effort to boost flagging energy or mood). I have certainly found myself heading back towards the kitchen cupboards many times in those long, dark evenings. Plus, with Christmas in the middle of our darkest months, bringing its merry round of festivities and parties that usually encourage decadence (which I am all for, at least in moderation), it is easy to see why our healthy eating habits and intentions may be harder to stick to over winter.

Chicken Tray Bake by Amelia Freer

But a little indulgence is good for us sometimes (remember that eating can be just as important for our social and emotional health as it is for our physical health). I have a few strategies I’ve learnt over the years that may help us maintain nutritional balance, even when the weather and the light is against us.

1. Keep eating plenty of vegetables: It’s just as important to eat a variety of colourful vegetables every day in winter as it is in summer. If you don’t fancy salads (and I definitely prefer warmer foods in the cooler months), then soups are a brilliant warming way to boost our vegetable intake. Or roast a tray of seasonal vegetables once a week to enjoy as an instant side, make a few slow-cooked vegetable stews (I usually throw in some chickpeas for added protein), or try sneaking an extra portion or two of vegetables into your main dishes (frozen spinach is a great hack for this one). I generally suggest we aim to work towards 6 portions of vegetables per day – although one more than you’re having currently is the best place to start.

2. Try to have a 12 hour overnight fast: Aim to finish eating 12 hours before you have breakfast in the morning. So if you finish your evening meal by 8pm, avoid snacking again before bed and have breakfast some time after 8am the following day. It’s a simple way to give our bodies and digestion a break. Of course, it’s fine to stay hydrated while fasting – clear fluids like water or herbal teas are probably best for this. Don’t worry if you can’t achieve it every day, it’s a good rule-of-thumb for most people to aim for when possible.

3. Watch out for alcohol ‘creep’: As we head through the festive season in particular, there can be a gradual (or massive!) increase in alcohol intake. There’s nothing wrong with a glass or two for most people, but it’s worth keeping a compassionate eye on our overall consumption. If nothing else, it will help make getting out of bed on these cold, dark mornings a little easier. I usually recommend to my clients to have at least 3 days completely alcohol-free per week and to stick below the recommended maximum of 14 units (which is roughly 7 medium – 175ml – glasses of wine). If the ritual of an evening drink is what you enjoy most, rather than the alcohol itself, try to switch to a grown-up soft drink instead. I like Seedlip & tonic, or a spicy tomato juice.

To learn more about this, please do take a look at my article on Alcohol: How much is too much?

4. Embrace the opportunity to be creative: Long evenings in may also mean you’ve got a little more time on your hands to get creative in the kitchen. Bookmark healthy new recipes you’d like to try, as and when you see them, so you’ve got a bank of inspiration at your fingertips for those moments when you fancy whipping up something novel for supper. Check out my Pinterest page as it’s chock full of ideas, or browse through My Bookshelf to see some of my own favourite cook books.

Don’t forget about Vitamin D

Vitamin D intake over the winter months (Oct-March in the UK) is strongly recommended. Take a look at the NHS recommendations NHS choices website for more information, or have a chat to your local pharmacist

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Vitamin D 400IU Daily Spray | BetterYou

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Small Wine Glasses | The White Company

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Non-alcoholic Spirit | Seedlip

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Spicy Tomato Juice | Big Tom

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Simply Good For You

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Slow Cooker | Morphy Richards

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Seasonal Food

The traditionally hearty foods of winter are some of my favourite ingredients, and there is a wonderful alchemy that seems to happen between foods that are in season together.

Here is a list of my favourite British produce in season over winter, plus a few recipe ideas to help you make the most of them. There are lots more quick and easy winter recipes in Simply Good For You, too.

what’s in season

See my Winter Recipes here.

Beetroot Beetroot & Parsnip Fritters & Beetroot, Rosemary & Walnut Soda Bread
Brussels sprouts Fragrant Sprout Slaw 
Celeriac Celeriac Rosti
Celery
Chicory and Radicchio
Jerusalem artichoke Jerusalem Artichoke & Hazelnut Soup 
Kale Kale & Bean Soup with Pistachio & Lemon Pistou
Kohlrabi I like this simply peeled, then grated (raw) into a very simple salad with some olive oil, lemon juice, perhaps with a little natural yoghurt and a pinch of salt.
Leeks Creamy Lemon Cod with Fennel & Leeks 

Parsnips either roasted or in soup
Potatoes
Swede
Squash & Pumpkins Spiced Chickpea, Kale & Squash Salad 
Apples Crisp Apple & Fennel Winter Salad with Turmeric Dressing (this dressing is SO good!)
Citrus fruit One-tray Roasted Winter Salad  or my Clementine, Honey & Olive Oil Cake 
Passion fruit Passion Fruit ‘Crumble’
Pears Try the Coconut & Almond Pear crumble on page 254 of Simply Good For You
PomegranateWild Rice Purple Salad 

winter dish inspiration 

WINTER RECIPES

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Greenfeast [Autumn, Winter] | Nigel Slater

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Vegetable Peeler | OXO

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Sustainable Wooden Chopping Board | Konk

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Large Casserole Dish | The White Company

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Knives | Victorinox

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Soup Bowls | The White Company

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Please note, this article is not sponsored but it does contain affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, we may earn a small affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.

The above content is for general information only and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare or nutrition professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. Please discuss all supplements with a qualified nutrition or healthcare provider prior to commencing.


Portrait of Amelia Freer holding kale

Why Clean Eating Needs a Side Order of Common Sense

This article was written in 2016 following the media backlash around clean eating. Although the situation is rather a lot calmer now, many of my thoughts on this topic still stand.

Portrait of Amelia Freer holding kale

Why Clean Eating Needs a Side Order of Common Sense

Just like fashion, trends in dieting come and go. I’ve been an interested observer of these for well over a decade now, watching each new idea peak in popularity before fading away in readiness for the Next Big Thing. So the enormous rise and subsequent criticism against clean eating comes as no surprise to me.

However, despite the fact I’ve not specifically promoted the clean eating trend, as a fully-qualified nutritional therapist and author in the public eye, I find myself increasingly included in the opinion pieces surrounding its backlash. While this is an inevitable (albeit unwelcome) part of my job, I feel the storm around the topic of clean eating is becoming increasingly unhelpful for both sides of the argument.

This is especially true as we gear up for celebrations and events such as Christmas – what with all the indulgent foods and drinks that go with it, it’s tempting to pour scorn on clean eating and write it off as joyless. However, neither extreme – the indulgences of December nor the January detox – is good for us. So I feel compelled to respond, not to state whether clean eating is right or wrong, but rather to pour a healthy dose of common sense and calm onto the stormy waters.

The clean eating trend was originally born out of a desire to reduce the amount of junk or processed foods we consume, and increase our intake of unprocessed, whole foods. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about that – indeed, it’s the same advice given to us by public health bodies.

However, this simple message has subsequently turned out to be both its blessing and its curse. Rather than being able to reject clean eating as a fad and carry on, nutritional professionals, like myself, have found that this one has rather muddied the waters. Because what may have started out as sensible, healthy advice, also has the potential to morph into a far less beneficial, sometimes even dangerous, message.

If we take clean eating back to basics, strip away the marketing hype, remove the shame-inducing labels and ignore its unrealistically glamorous portrayal, we’re fundamentally left with a diet that matches almost exactly what I’ve been encouraging my clients to follow for years: fresh fruit and vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, plus some complex and unrefined carbohydrates. These ingredients need not be expensive. Nor difficult to find and cook. And they are a big step up, health-wise, from the refined, high-sugar and high-salt foods we have come to consume in abundance.

Perhaps amongst the hype, however, we’ve forgotten that the clean eating ‘trend’ is nothing new. It’s simply the way our grandparents ate. So to my mind, it shouldn’t be about limiting important food groups, nor about a strict adherence to a set of rules and letting nothing else pass your lips. Instead, it should be about flexibility, moderation and enjoyment – with space for an occasional treat when you fancy it.

For those who embrace clean eating in such a balanced way, the results can be transformational after years of perhaps being stuck in a dietary rut, and such achievements shouldn’t be belittled or judged.

The rise of in popularity of clean eating has also resulted in more readily available healthy ingredients, inspirational cooking resources and wonderful grass-roots movements encouraging young people into the kitchen. In restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and even fast food chains, the choice of healthy options is now better than ever.

This simply wasn’t the case when I started out in practice. And having spent the past fifteen years trying to encourage people to eat more healthily, these changes have helped enormously. And frankly, I have to applaud a movement that’s elevated kale (traditionally a cattle feed) to almost cult-like status. Making everyday vegetables sexy is the holy grail of nutritional practice and clean eating has managed it in bucket loads.

 

Salmon Soba Noodle Salad by Amelia Freer

However, the clean eating trend is not without its problems. But I wonder whether these problems lie more in the delivery of the message, rather than in the actual message itself?

Successful trends attract businesses, and people, ready to jump onto a commercial bandwagon with little regard for the core values of the trend. However much marketing dust is sprinkled on it, a cake labeled ‘clean’ is still a cake. The same goes for expensive green juices, and all-singing-all-dancing superfood powders. They may be nice (and I do enjoy them myself occasionally), but they’re not necessary for good health, despite what the marketers tell you.

Most worrying of all though, is the rise of disordered eating as a result of this trend. Warped clean eating messages promoting strict food rules or shame-inducing body images are on the rise, and are now able to reach us 24/7 through social media and the internet.

Although the development of disordered eating is multi-factorial, I never underestimate the power of such messages. The pressure to be ‘picture perfect’ at all times was something I’m grateful I didn’t experience growing up, but I can see how vulnerable this could make anyone feel. And such feelings are certainly not confined only to adolescents.

And of course, many people giving advice on clean eating aren’t necessarily qualified to do so. I’ve read a lot in the press about the lack of regulation in nutrition which is a problem that needs addressing and is certainly adding fuel to the fire. Practicing nutrition absolutely requires appropriate, validated training, so I’m very much in favour of regulation. However, we must also be conscious that many of the articles slamming clean eating aren’t written by nutrition professionals either.

It’s important to remember that no food trend should justify eliminating vital nutrition from our diets. Nor should it become the catalyst to ignore the physical cues to eat. We must eat well to survive and prevent disease. Food, after all, cannot be ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’. It is just food. And good food is not only important for physical health, but also for our emotional and social health too.

So why not start afresh and take clean eating back to being healthy eating again? Remove the restrictive rules, the excessive promises, the inflated prices, the hidden sugars…and even the name. For many, the term ‘clean’ has come to imply a moral high ground or value judgment that is, at best, simplistic, and at worst, manipulative.

Because what started out as a positive move towards a whole-foods based diet now feels like it’s slipping dangerously close to a divisive, commercially-driven fad, encouraging the most vulnerable to feel dangerously inadequate.

One final thought. Even once we’ve brought a little common sense to the clean eating debate, it might be helpful to zoom out to the even bigger picture. In these troubled times we find the world in, I try to remind myself how incredibly lucky I am to be living in a democracy where most people have a choice about what to eat and how to live their lives. There are many millions who do not have this privilege. So although it’s easy to get caught up in the detail, let’s try to stay grateful for simply having food on our table.

latest book
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Should I Be Taking Supplements?

should I take supplements

should I take supplements

This is a question that I am asked almost daily. The idea certainly seems appealing, that by taking these little pills, you can almost ‘insure’ yourself against perhaps a less-than-perfect lifestyle. On the opposite side of the argument, we are told that we don’t need to supplement as long as we eat a well-balanced diet. So what’s going on?

Firstly, it is really important to emphasise that every individual is unique, and therefore the decision whether or not you need a supplement is not something that you can work out from a blog post. The most I can do here is to give you some information to help you decide (alongside your healthcare professional if needed), where you stand on this matter.


Nutritional depletion

Unfortunately, in today’s frantic world where meals are often grabbed on-the-go, it can be pretty challenging to make sure that you are getting enough of all of your nutrients over the course of a day or week. There are lots of reasons for this,

  • You really need to be eating a very well balanced and thoughtfully considered diet to have a good chance of including all the micronutrients you require. This is by no means impossible, but it does mean a diet jam-packed full of high nutrient density foods: things like fresh fruit & vegetables, nuts, seeds, good fats, legumes, oily fish, organic eggs and other high-quality proteins. There really isn’t much space in terms of energy consumption left for less nutrient dense foods (sugar, processed foods, alcohol) (1). See my article on Positive Nutrition for more on this.
  • We no longer eat food fresh from the ground. As hunter-gatherers, or even as farmers, we would be eating food very soon after it was picked. It is thought that the longer fresh food is stored, the more depleted of certain phytonutrients and vitamins it may become. Food picked weeks ago and transported halfway across the world may still look fresh, but may also have a different nutrient profile to something picked and eaten the same day.
  • Food production and animal and plant breeding methods make commercially grown food vastly different to the diet we evolved to eat – which was predominantly wild food. Although I do not sign up to the Paleo ideal as such, the principle that we haven’t ‘caught up’ yet to the environment that we now live in is likely true. Wild plants for example have a tougher life – they are not cosseted with herbicides to fight off competition, pesticides to fight off predators or fertilisers to make growing easy. In essence, they have to work harder to exist, and therefore may akso have a higher phytonutrient profile (natural compounds that protect a plant as it grows). Animals which would originally have eaten a grass-based diet, including many other meadow plants, are now kept in barns and given grains (which potentially changes their fat profile) (3). Even fish haven’t escaped intensive farming practices (causing some farmed ‘oily’ fish to have minimal beneficial omega-3 content) (4). The animals and plants we now eat can therefore have fewer. or at least different, nutrients than were available to our ancestors.
  • Cooking (especially boiling), can leach vitamins and phytonutrients out, depleting their nutritional profile.
  • Intensive food processing can severely deplete nutrients, yet still create foods dense in energy. This energy: nutrition ratio is an important point to make. We want to optimise out body’s access to a wide range of essential nutrients, while at the same time maintaining a healthy energy balance. Therefore, overly relying on heavily processed foods to form the bulk of our diets runs the risk of us inadvertently developing nutrient deficiencies, yet still having a diet high (perhaps even too high) in simple energy. The bottom line? Minimally processed whole foods are a great way of optimising this balance (of course, allowing for the odd treat from time-to-time).

Given all of this, it seems like it might be quite difficult to get enough of the right nutrition into our bodies, so perhaps you’re thinking a multivitamin would be a good idea?

There is a but, however  . . .


More is not always more

Unfortunately, it is not so simple as just adding a couple of multivitamins into your diet and job done. I know the message you’re getting here is a bit confusing then, which reflects the confusion in the media too. For example, one day vitamin D is a panacea for all ill-health, the next it causes some worrying disease. The problem is that nutrition research is very difficult to do reliably, and researchers often look at nutrient supplements individually as if they were drugs. It is hard to measure the effect of nutrients working together as a ‘team’. For example, spinach is a brilliantly health food, but if all you ate was spinach, you would get poorly and die. You need to eat a balanced amount of all the nutrients to maintain optimum health.

A word of warning. Research has also shown that in certain circumstances, nutritional supplements can, in fact, be dangerous. Of course, preventing or treating a serious deficiency is very important, but if someone has a less severe deficiency (a “subclinical” deficiency), there is really not much known about how this should be treated, Taking supplements, particularly at high doses, can cause immediate side effects (such as tummy upsets) (5), but more worrying are the long-term effects. These can range from kidney stones (6) to worsening pre-existing medical problems (5), even potentially increasing the risk of cancer (8), infections (9) or death (10), amongst many more reported effects. So, without wanting to cause alarm, the message is that there needs to be a degree of caution when taking supplements, particularly single supplements at high doses. More is definitely not always better, especially if you are already getting plenty in your diet. Other factors to consider before taking a supplement include;

  • Although we have a pretty good idea about how much of each nutrient we need to prevent a serious deficiency, we do not know enough yet about what ‘optimal’ levels of nutrients are, so therefore how can we know what optimal supplement doses are? Even the recommended nutrient intake values published by the government are often based on educated best guesses.
  • Everybody needs and metabolises different amounts of each nutrient. Therefore a one-size-fits-all multivitamin is unlikely to be optimum for anyone.
  • We are not sure of the ideal ratios of nutrients to take together. For example, taking zinc can make you copper deficient, so should you take them together, and at what doses? There needs to be more research to make this information available.
  • We are now starting to understand the very important role that genetic variation has on how we absorb, use and excrete individual nutrients (11). Whereas current recommendations target the majority of the population to prevent nutritional deficiencies, using a more personalized approach based on an individual’s genome (their unique DNA code) would allow much more targeted recommendations. This is still a pretty novel concept, but we may find that it becomes increasingly more mainstream in the future.


Regulation

When you go to the doctor and get a prescription, you know that the pill you take is what it says it is. This is because medicines are a heavily regulated product, and undergo years of testing before they are released to patients. Unfortunately, supplements do not have the same level of controls applied to them, so it is very difficult to know exactly what you are buying. These are some of the possibilities when you buy supplements over-the-counter;

  • The form that the nutrient is prepared in may mean that it is absorbed poorly by the body.
  • The dose on the label may not match the dose in the pill
  • The raw materials (such as fish oil supplements, or herbs) may not be tested or processed to remove contaminants (such as mercury, PCBs, or lead)
  • The pill may contain other ingredients than those listed on the packaging
  • The manufacturing process may have poor quality control processes, leading to unreliable quality between batches.
  • Be cautious about too-good-to-be-true marketing claims! They most probably are…

So, whilst I do not endorse or condemn any supplement manufacturers, I would urge you to be cautious if you chose to buy and take supplements. As with the food you eat, try to get supplements from a reputable firm that is happy to tell you about its quality control procedures. Guidance from a healthcare practitioner can be useful to help you navigate which product may be best for you.

 


Special circumstances

Sometimes, you will be diagnosed with a specific nutrient deficiency, or be at risk of one, such as anaemia. In this instance, it would be important both to try to understand the root cause of the deficiency (in partnership with a health professional), as well as working towards improving it through careful nutritional changes and/or supplements.

Likewise, if you are trying to have a baby, or are pregnant, it is recommended that you should be regularly taking at least a folate and vitamin D supplement. Take a look at this page for further information;

nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/

 

The bottom line?

  1. Consider seeking assessment from a qualified nutrition or healthcare professional before taking a supplement, to work out whether you really need one. It is almost always better to be targeted, and only take what your body requires. Be wary of single nutrient, high dose supplements, particularly if you are taking them for a prolonged time.
  2. Getting a widely varied, great quality diet should be your primary focus. This is the best way to get all the nutrients your body needs, in forms that it can recognise and use, alongside lots of beneficial phytonutrients too. Sometimes it’s thought that it could be these phytonutrients which give more health benefit than the vitamins themselves! It is also very difficult to ‘overdose’ yourself with nutrients from food.
  3. You could try using a food diary app that calculates your nutrient consumption as well as your total calories, to give you an idea of where you might want to make some tweaks.
  4. Eating your food as fresh, minimally processed and lightly cooked as possible to boost nutrient content without adding any extra calories.
  5. Consider growing your own to make sure that you can cut down the time to consumption as much as possible – this can be a great money saver on organic veggies too.
  6. If you are considering becoming, or already are pregnant, do make sure that you check out the information on antenatal supplements.
  7. When choosing supplements, go for the highest quality you can find. Ask for advice if you are unsure about which brands to trust.

The most important thing to take away is that choosing to take, or not take, supplements is very much an individual, personal choice. I hope that after reading this article you feel armed with a little bit more information to take away, to help you make your own decisions, in collaboration with a healthcare or nutritional practitioner if you want some more support.

References

(1) NDL/FNIC food composition database home page (2011) Available at: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov (Accessed: 2 December 2015).

(2) Davis, D.R. (2009) ‘Declining fruit and vegetable nutrient composition: What is the evidence?’, HortScience, 44(1), pp. 15–19.

(3) Średnicka-Tober, D., Barański, M., Seal, C., Sanderson, R., Benbrook, C. and Steinshamn, H. (2016) ‘Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis’, British Journal of Nutrition, 115(06), pp. 994–1011.

(4) Weaver, K.L., Ivester, P., Chilton, J.A., Wilson, M.D., Pandey, P. and Chilton, F.H. (2008) ‘The content of favorable and unfavorable polyunsaturated fatty acids found in commonly eaten fish’, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(7), pp. 1178–1185.

(5) Pazirandeh, S., Burns, D. and Lo, C. (2014) Overview of water-soluble vitamins, UpToDate. Available at: http://www.uptodate.com.oala-proxy.surrey.ac.uk/contents/overview-of-water-soluble-vitamins?source=machineLearning&search=vitamin+c&selectedTitle=5%7E150&sectionRank=1&anchor=H54#H54 (Accessed: 14 October 2015).

(6) Nasr, S.H., Kashtanova, Y., Levchuk, V. and Markowitz, G.S. (2006) ‘Secondary oxalosis due to excess vitamin C intake’, Kidney International, 70(10), pp. 1672–1672.

(8) Lippman, S.M., Klein, E.A., Goodman, P.J., Lucia, M.S., Thompson, I.M. and Ford, L.G. (2009) ‘Effect of Selenium and vitamin E on risk of prostate cancer and other cancers’, JAMA, 301(1), p. 39.

(9) Graat, J.M., Schouten, E.G. and Kok, F.J. (2002) ‘Effect of Daily Vitamin E and Multivitamin-Mineral Supplementation on Acute Respiratory Tract Infections in Elderly Persons’, JAMA, 288(6), p. 715.

(10) Miller, E.R., Pastor-Barriuso, R., Dalal, D., Riemersma, R., Appel, L. and Guallar, E. (2005) ‘Meta-Analysis: High-Dosage Vitamin E Supplementation May Increase All-Cause Mortality’, Annals of Internal Medicine, 142(1), p. 37. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-142-1-200501040-00110.

 (11) Stover, P. (2006) ‘xInfluence of human genetic variation on nutritional requirements’, Am J Clin Nutr, 83(2), pp. 4365–4425.