Fish is the dish for heart health

As an island nation the UK’s fishing stocks are one of nature’s privileges. Yet despite the numerous health benefits, fish seems to be falling out of favour, particularly with the UK’s younger consumers. While 97 per cent of households buy fish each year, evidence suggests that this is not enough with the majority of people consuming way below the recommended weekly intake.

Fish dollar photo

Everyone should try to eat two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily. That’s 140g of fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, anchovies and fresh tuna. UK adults consume less than half of this amount, averaging just 54g each week, meaning that many of us are missing out on fish’s natural heart-health benefits.

Fish, in particular oily fish, is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, known to protect the heart and blood vessels through their anti-inflammatory, cholesterol lowering and blood pressure reducing properties.

Heart Research UK is supporting Seafish’s ‘Fish is the Dish’ campaign with their healthy tips to put fish firmly back on the menu.

Frozen, tinned or fresh, it’s all good

Freezer trawlers mean fish can go from sea to frozen in no time, allowing them to retain a high quality and nutritional content. Fresh fish prices vary seasonally so the freezer aisles could prove more cost effective from time to time.

There’s a huge variety of canned fish available which make for delicious sandwich fillers and are a store cupboard essential. Most fish retain their nutrients during canning but in some cases the omega-3 in tuna can be destroyed, so always check the label.

Make fish part of your meal plan

Planning meals ahead is a great way to ensure you’re getting a good balanced diet throughout the week and have everything you need to hand, making food preparation quick, simple and stress free – it may help you save money too.

Tips for buying fresh

Include fish on your shopping list but don’t be too prescriptive. If you can’t see what you want or it’s out of your budget ask the fishmonger to recommend alternatives. To really keep down the costs ask if they have any broken fillets which are perfect for making fish pies.

If you’re a bit of a fish-phobic take the fussiness out of preparation by asking your fishmonger to bone, fillet and skin the fish, they’ll even give you some advice on how to cook it too.

Entry-level fish for fussy kids

Get children involved in the cooking. Allowing them to get hands-on and messy whilst making fish cakes with salmon, crab or whatever you can get hold of makes trying new foods fun. If your family are only up for white fish, try mixing smoked or stronger flavoured fish in with it to ramp up the taste factor.

Try introducing fish into pasta bakes or as a pizza topping to make it part of the foods they love.

Fish Friday

Capitalise on this British tradition to make fish a firm feature of your weekly routine. But remember, ‘Fish Friday’ doesn’t have to mean fish and chips. Get a little more adventurous and try a fish pie, tuna steak or even a shellfish paella.

With over 100 types of fish available in the UK there are bound to be some that float your boat.

Tackle your sense of adventure, give your taste buds a treat and help to look after your heart and arteries too as you explore what the sea has to offer.

Visit http://www.fishisthedish.co.uk/ or www.heartresearch.org.uk to find out more.

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What’s really in your healthy breakfast?

what's-really-in-your-healthy-breakfast

MyVoucherCodes has published a handy infographic that examines our breakfast choices, with one serving of orange juice reportedly containing approximately 54% of our recommended daily allowance of sugar.

A healthy breakfast can super-charge your day, boost metabolism and brain function, and help to fight food cravings. However, not all breakfasts are created equal: many purportedly ‘healthy’ breakfast options may not be quite as good for you as they claim.

Click here to see what’s in your breakfast

Image: Dollar Photo Club

School gardens limited in improving children’s fruit and veg intake

Little evidence exists to suggest that school gardening initiatives alone improve children’s fruit and vegetable intake, research led by an academic at Leeds Metropolitan University has concluded.

Dr Meaghan Christian, a researcher in the Institute for Health & Wellbeing at Leeds Met – which will become Leeds Beckett University on 22 September -undertook two randomised controlled trials of primary school children aged 8-11 from eight London boroughs using the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Campaign for School Gardening, to discover whether school gardening initiatives had any effect on a change in fruit and vegetable intake amongst the participating pupils. 

The study, published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Public Health Research concludes that school gardening alone cannot improve fruit and vegetable intake and highlights the need for more sophisticated and accurate tools to evaluate diet in children. 

Speaking about the findings, Dr Christian said: “Children’s fruit and vegetable intake in the UK is low and changing that intake can prove challenging. There is a suggestion that gardening in schools might be a vehicle for facilitating additional fruit and vegetable intake.

“For school gardening to improve children’s fruit and vegetable intake however, it needs to be successfully integrated into the school curriculum and environment. The results from this study suggest using a holistic approach and incorporating nutrition education or cooking along with parental involvement would be more likely to achieve higher consumption levels and increase children’s knowledge.”

Findings from the study also showed that eating a family meal together, cutting up fruit and vegetables, and parental modelling of fruit and vegetable intakes were all associated with higher intakes of fruit and vegetables in children. 

The research study is the first to use clustered randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of a gardening intervention to evaluate the impact of school gardening.  A 24-hour food diary [the Child and Diet Evaluation Tool (CADET)] collected information about dietary intake, whilst questionnaires measured children’s knowledge and attitudes towards fruit and vegetables. Changes in fruit and vegetable intake were analysed using a random effects model, based on intention to treat.

Previous research by Dr Christian demonstrated that eating meals together as a family, even if only twice a week, boosts children’s daily fruit and vegetable intake to near the recommended five a day.

The study of primary school-aged children, funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme, also suggested parental consumption of fruit and vegetables and cutting up portions of these foods boosted children’s intake.

Dr Meaghan Christian’s research interest is in dietary assessment and the development of nutrition promoting interventions in primary school-aged children and adolescents.  

Image: Dollar Photo Club

Healthy salads stuffed with secret salt, revealed in new survey by CASH

Huge amounts of salt continue to be added to many restaurant, café and supermarket salads, according to a new survey by Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH). This is despite calls in 2010 to lower salt in salads, as certain restaurateurs and food manufacturers continue to sneak in large amounts of unnecessary salt when it comes to serving up their ‘healthier’ dishes and raising the nation’s blood pressure [Ref 1].

CASH surveyed 650 ready-to-eat salads available for purchase from supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and fast food restaurants and found nearly three quarters (77% – 511 products) to contain more salt than a packet of crisps (0.5g/portion) [Ref 2].

Of the out of home salads:

  • A McDonald’s ‘Crispy Chicken & Bacon Salad’ has MORE salt (1.3g vs 1.2g), fat (19g vs 8g) and calories (380kcal vs 250kcal) per portion than a McDonald’s Hamburger [Ref 3].
  • Pizza Express’ ‘Grand Chicken Caesar Salad’ contains an astonishing 5.3g salt/serving, the equivalent of two and a half Big Macs [Ref 4], and almost your whole days’ worth of salt (6g) in just one meal.
  • Pizza Express’ ‘Warm Vegetable & Goats Cheese Salad’ containing 5g salt/serving – four fifths (83%) of your maximum recommended intake.
  • Wagamama’s ‘Lobster Super Salad’ contains 4.5g salt/serving – three quarters (75%) of your salt limit for the day in just one meal.
  • Nando’s ‘Mediterranean Salad with Chicken Breast’ which sounds like the healthy option contains a whopping 4.00g salt/serving, that’s two thirds (67%) our maximum recommended intake.

Of the supermarket salads, examples of those with the largest amount of salt/serving include:

  • Morrisons ‘Chicken & Bacon Pasta Salad’ 2.8g salt/290g serving
  • Marks & Spencer ‘Chicken, Bacon & Sweetcorn Pasta Salad’ 2.58g salt/380g serving
  • Boots ‘Delicious Simply Tuna & Sweetcorn Pasta Salad’ 2.25g salt/300g serving
  • John West ‘Light Lunch Moroccan Style Salmon Salad’ 2.2g salt/220g serving

What’s interesting is that even the specially created foods which target the health conscious shopper e.g. superfood and detox salads, can also contain a high salt content. For example:

  • Pod ‘Chicken Detox Box’ contains 4.0g salt/serving (two thirds (67%) of our maximum recommended intake)
  • Pizza Express under 500 calories ‘Leggera Salmon Salad’ contains 2.4g salt/serving (over one third (40%) of our maximum recommended intake)

If you read the label, you can find lower salt options, however over one in ten (15%) salads would get a red (high) colour for salt, and two thirds (69%) would receive an amber (medium) colour [Ref 5]. The survey found some salads surveyed with much less salt added included a mixture from both restaurants and supermarkets, for example:

  • Boots Shapers ‘Moroccan Style Roasted Vegetable Salad’ 0.5g/225g serving
  • Caffè Nero ‘Chicken Salad with Caesar Dressing’ 0.5g/178g serving
  • Waitrose ‘Refreshing & Delicate Quinoa & Sugar Snap Pea Salad’ 0.51g/170g serving

NB. These are examples of salads where portion sizes are the whole packet and dressing is included

FoodSwitch, a free health app available on smartphones and can easily help you choose healthier and lower salt salads [Ref 6]. Simply scan a products barcode and the app will instantly tell you whether the product is high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in fat, saturates, sugar and salt per 100g.

Sonia Pombo, a nutritionist at CASH explains, “Say the word ‘salad’ and you tend to imagine a bowl of healthy stuff nestled amongst some leaves, but that’s not accurate. Whilst salad itself is both healthy and tasty, food manufacturers and restaurants continue to add unnecessary salt to the dish, which not only alters the taste and makes you feel bloated, but more seriously, can lead to high blood pressure – the main cause of strokes and heart attacks.”

In 2010, CASH conducted a similar salad survey [Ref 7] and thankfully the average salt content in supermarkets salads has reduced significantly by 35% since 2005, from 1.64g/portion to 1.26g/portion in 2010 and to 1.05g/portion in 2014. Congratulations to manufacturers that have made reductions.

Graham MacGregor, CASH Chairman and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University of London says “It is nonsensical that something as seemingly healthy as a salad should contain an ingredient that is proven to be harmful to your health. Whilst we congratulate the responsible manufacturers that have gradually reduced the salt in their products, we urge ALL manufacturers to sign up to the Department of Health’s 2017 salt pledge [Ref 8] and to cut the salt in their dishes now. Many salads are deceptively high in salt, and the very large variation of salt content shows that the highest ones can easily be reduced. The food industry needs to show much greater responsibility for its customers’ health.”

Top tips for making healthier salad choices;

  • Keep an eye out for salty ingredients e.g. cheese, capers, anchovies etc. These will easily up your salt intake
  • Beware misleading portion sizes on front of pack e.g. a third of a packet, or 1 tablespoon. This gives favourable values for front of pack labelling, when realistically you would eat the whole packet
  • Many salad dressings are packed with salt and calories. Choose one with less salt, add less to your salad, or leave it out completely
  • Make your own salad! Opt for healthy low salt ingredients, and make your own dressing e.g. olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Pack your salad with herbs for extra flavour
  • Check the label! Use FoodSwitch to make switching easier
  • For a more flavoursome salad, add unsalted beans, pulses, nuts and seeds

Image: Dollar Photo Club

The top five excuses for not eating healthily – and how to overcome them

As a health and wellness coach Joanne Henson spends a lot of time listening to people talk about their health, fitness and weight loss goals, and about why they are struggling to achieve them. Joanne has found that the same excuses come up over and over again, and as a result her focus as a coach is generally on analysing what’s behind the excuses, gently challenging them, and then helping clients to overcome them with some creative thinking and an open mind.

Joanne is author of ‘What’s your excuse for not eating healthily’ and here are the top five most common excuses for not eating healthily, plus some suggestions on how to start thinking differently and put the excuses behind you:

1. Healthy food is boring 

Most people think cottage cheese (particularly the low fat version), rice cakes and low calorie ready meals are healthy foods. But they aren’t. They are more processed than the normal versions, have less flavour and have more sugar, artificial flavourings and sometimes salt – none of which is heathy. 

If you find a food boring, don’t eat it. Look around your supermarket and try something new and natural – fruits, vegetables, nuts, pulses and lean proteins. Buy a healthy cookbook. Healthy food can be tasty, varied and satisfying if you look beyond the usual (not healthy) suspects. 

2. I don’t have time to prepare healthy food 

Food is advertised as “Ready in a few minutes”, “For snacking on the go”. The implication is that we are all too busy to prepare and sit down to eat real food. 

Stop believing this and write down how you spend a typical day – getting up, showering, working, drinks after work, watching TV, checking Facebook and Twitter, chatting, painting your nails, gaming…..? What activity could you remove or reduce to make time to prepare real food? 

And healthy food can be quick; you could do a stir fry, make an omelette, assemble a salad, grill or pan fry some meat or scramble some eggs – and it won’t take you any longer watching a ready meal rotating in a microwave or fetching a takeaway. 

3. I can’t stick to diets 

Being on a diet will always be hard. You’re following a set of rules devised by someone who doesn’t understand your lifestyle, you’re restricting your food intake and you’re going without foods you love. That’s never going to feel great. 

Diets are not the same as healthy eating. Diets are restrictive, and when something is declared off limits, guess what? You can’t stop thinking about it. 

In contrast, healthy eating is about improving the quality of your food, rather than reducing the quantity. It’s about nurturing your body not punishing it. Eating well improves the way your body functions and changes the way it stores or burns fat, so if you do have excess weight to lose, you will lose it. 

4. I’m eating out 

Do you see eating out as a break from “normal” eating? It’s not. Your body doesn’t process the food eaten in restaurants any differently to the food you eat at home. 

So whilst you might not want to abstain totally, you don’t have to have everything you like. You don’t have to have several pieces of bread from the bread basket, you don’t have to choose three unhealthy courses, you don’t have to order a side dish of fries to accompany your main course, you don’t have to steal fries off your partner’s plate, you don’t have to eat everything on your plate(s) despite being full. 

Instead, try reaching a compromise with yourself. If you want a burger, have it without the bun, ask for salad instead of fries, or share a portion of fries. If you want a dessert, don’t have a starter. If you want a stodgy main course have a salad for starter. Make some healthy choices to give yourself permission to enjoy an unhealthy one. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

5. I just can’t resist… 

Many salty and sugary foods are purposely formulated to be moreish. The problem isn’t you, it’s the food. Don’t be duped into feeling you’re powerless to resist! 

Remember you only need to resist something if it’s there to be resisted. So whilst you shouldn’t attempt to give up your favourite food totally, neither should you keep it around at all times. Make it an occasional treat rather than a constant temptation. And when you do have it, really savour it, without a side order of guilt. It’s amazing how many of my clients lose what they thought were uncontrollable cravings when they know they are “allowed” something they love. 

If you find yourself using the same excuses over and over again, whilst kicking yourself for not being as healthy, slim, energetic and happy as you want to be, ask yourself if you are accepting your own excuses as insurmountable truths, when really they are just one view of a situation which you can change if you open your mind and get creative with your thinking. Overcoming your excuses is the key to your success.

Image: iStockphoto