I'm a nutritionist – here's the best diet for fat loss PLUS better hair, skin, sleep and nails | The SunApril 30, 2023
THE food we eat plays a massive impact on health – it’s pretty true that ‘you are what you eat’.
Which means if you consistently eat foods that lack nutrients, your health will likely suffer.
And certain foods can really affect certain elements of our health, from mental wellbeing, through to skin, sleep and gut health.
These experts share their knowledge on the role that certain diet habits can play…
FOR MENTAL HEALTH
Dr Claire Shortt, Nutritionist and Lead Scientist at FoodMarble, recommends omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel as well as seeds and nuts, like flax seeds, and chia seeds.
She says: “Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is excellent for our brain health.
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“Approximately 20 per cent of the brain itself is made up of these kinds of fats, therefore they are essential for maintaining normal brain function, including memory and mood regulation.”
Plus, they’ve also been shown to be protective against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, and mental health conditions such as depression and ADHD.
Other good foods include dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale.
Dr Shortt says: “Leafy greens are particularly high in a B vitamin known as folate, which is effective in preventing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.”
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FOR HEART HEALTH
The best foods for heart health include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats – like ones containing omega-3 fatty acids.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are great sources of fibre and are extremely nutrient-dense.
Fibre-rich foods can help regulate blood pressure and promote a healthy cardiovascular system.
Claire Barnes, Bio-Kult’s Technical Advisor, says diets such as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), the Mediterranean diet, vegan and vegetarian diets and the Japanese diet have all shown to have positive effects on reducing heart disease.
She says: “Common themes from these dietary patterns include increasing plant foods such as vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruit.
“Ensure you are eating a rainbow of different coloured plant foods to obtain more phytonutrients, add herbs and spices to your cooking and choose pulses including lentils and beans as a healthy protein source and as an alternative to meat.”
Also, increasing wholegrains (such as oats, rye, spelt, barley, buckwheat, quinoa and rice), consuming fish, reducing sugar and refined carbohydrates, reduced trans fatty acid foods such as margarine, vegetable cooking oils and bakery foods and improving your sodium to potassium ratio, can also help with heart health.
“High sodium levels have been linked to increased blood pressure, whereas potassium can help relax blood vessels and increase sodium excretion, therefore decreasing blood pressure.
“Rich sources of potassium include fruits, leafy greens, beans, nuts, dairy foods and starchy vegetables like winter squash.”
As for alcohol, Dr Shortt says: “It is true that there are components of red wine that have been attributed to improved cardiac health.
“If a glass of red wine is something you enjoy, a glass a day is considered safe!”
Opt for a darker wine, with a higher level of antioxidants.
FOR GOOD SLEEP
Dr Shortt says certain foods contain the sleep hormone, melatonin.
We need this hormone to help regulate our sleep-wake cycle.
She says: “Foods such as milk, nuts, oily fish, eggs, and tart cherries are all high in melatonin.
“This is why a warm glass of milk is often recommended to help with sleep.
“In general, foods high in lean protein can be sleep-inducing.
“This is because protein-rich foods contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which acts as a precursor for serotonin, the melatonin-producing hormone.”
Claire says foods high in fibre may be particularly good at supporting our sleep, especially those known as prebiotics, which promote good gut bacteria.
For example, onions, leeks, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, slightly green bananas and oats.
Claire says: “These may aid restful sleep as they selectively promote the beneficial bacteria within our gut, which supply us with many helpful compounds that form and support our sleep hormones.
“A study in 2019 found that those with higher sleep quality were found to consume higher levels of vitamin B and magnesium.”
Enjoy nuts, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and cabbage and wholegrain bread, pasta and rice.
Dr Shortt also recommends we stop eating around three hours before going to sleep.
FOR FAT LOSS
Dr Shortt says: “For fat loss, you must be in a calorie deficit, meaning you are burning more calories than you are consuming.
“High-protein and fibre-rich foods can help balance blood sugar and keep us feeling fuller for longer, which in turn may help with weight loss and managing our hunger levels.”
As for so-called negative calorie foods such as celery – where the chewing and digestion process actually burns more calories than the food contains – Dr Shortt says there’s no such thing.
She says: “Most foods dubbed ‘calorie-negative’ are fruits and vegetables, which are nutrient and fibre-rich and contain a high water content.”
For weight loss, Claire suggests removing or restricting added sugar foods, refined grains and processed foods, and increasing diversity in the diet with a range of vegetables, wholegrains, fruits, high-quality proteins and healthy fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds.
She says: “Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has received quite a bit of attention in recent years as a natural weight loss aid.
“ACV may contribute to weight loss by promoting satiety (feeling full), lowering blood sugar and reducing insulin levels, which in turn, may have an effect on weight loss by reducing sugar cravings.”
FOR HELPING EXERCISE
It’s important to fuel both before and after working out.
This gives your body the best chance to perform to its best during the workout, and also recover adequately post-workout.
Dr Shortt says: “Pre-workout, eating a well-balanced meal containing protein and complex carbs, three to four hours before is ideal to help fuel your training.”
Claire suggests a fruit smoothie with oats and organic whey powder, or a couple of slices of toasted rye bread with banana, nut butter and honey.
Love to workout first thing? You might not have time for a meal. Instead opt for a lighter snack 30 to 60 minutes pre-workout.
Claire says: “Simple, fast-acting carbohydrates are best to give your body some fast fuel.”
Try a banana, apple or even a protein bar.
“Having a pre-workout snack may even help improve your mood while exercising,” she adds.
Dr Shortt says: “Post-workout, it’s important to replenish your depleted carbohydrate stores and repair muscle with protein.
“The amount of protein we need is very individualised, depending on your weight, activity level, and goals.
“The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, and this represents the minimum amount we should be getting on a daily basis.
“Active people are usually looking at 1.2g – 1.7g per kg body weight.”
“By adding a high GI carbohydrate to a protein supplement, protein synthesis has been shown to increase by 35 per cent,” says Claire.
FOR GOOD SKIN, HAIR AND NAILS
Skin, which is our largest organ, relies on certain nutrients to look and feel its best.
Dr Shortt says: “Again, healthy omega-3 fats are essential, and antioxidants such as vitamin C found in strawberries, citrus fruits, and bell peppers help to reduce oxidative stress, keeping our skin healthy.”
Protein is also vital as the amino acids in protein help to make keratin, a building block for healthy skin, hair and nails.
FOR GUT HEALTH
A happy gut is linked to a number of body benefits, from a stronger immune system to improved productivity.
To improve the number of beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiome – the collection of microbes that support detoxification and reduce inflammation – a varied diet of whole foods is vital.
“Eating fermented foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut and live yoghurt could help increase beneficial microbes in the gut.
“Alternatively, taking a multi-strain live bacteria supplement, such as Bio-Kult Everyday (£10.48) which contains 14 different strains, was also shown in a recent study to improve low mood,” explains Claire.
FOR URINARY HEALTH
Claire says: “Cranberry is well established as a food to help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
“Cranberry contains proanthocyanidins (PAC) which have been shown in studies to envelop E.coli and prevent it from binding to the lining of the bladder.
“To reduce or eliminate sugar, a cranberry supplement could be more effective than the juice which is often sweetened with sugar.”
Claire adds that one specific study actually showed 36mg of PAC was as effective as an antibiotic at preventing recurring UTIs.
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