THE DEBATE OVER THE POWER OF PLANT-BASED DRINKS: PUTTING THE MISCONCEPTIONS TO BED

THE DEBATE OVER THE POWER OF PLANT-BASED DRINKS: PUTTING THE MISCONCEPTIONS TO BED

Below is a Press Release from the Alpro Science & Nutrition Team this week which we felt was worth sharing as it highlights a new and extensive review on the nutrition of plant-based drinks addressing a number of nutritional misconceptions.

PRESS RELEASE: 7TH March 2018
THE DEBATE OVER THE POWER OF PLANT-BASED DRINKS:
PUTTING THE MISCONCEPTIONS TO BED

7th March 2018: The debate on the benefits of plant-based eating, including plant-based drinks, is a hot topic with opposing messages from supporters and sceptics on the quality and quantity of protein, vitamins and minerals, and their role within the government’s Eatwell Guide. Hardly surprising then that the subject of plant power and placing plant foods first get regular column inches focusing on everything from the environment to health and, of course, the government guidance perspective.

So what is the truth and how confident can you be in championing plant foods to consumers?

Well, the good news is that consumers have already come to the smart conclusion and are considering plant power more and more in their diets. In fact, a plant based white paper, authored to celebrate this week’s Plant Power Day on 7th March, shows that more than half of UK shoppers say they are planning or considering adding more plant-based food and drink into their diets over the next year, with, health, weight loss and the environment being the biggest motivators for buying plant-based.1

One of the most accessible ways of doing this, is through the consumption of plant-based drinks, the production of which makes more efficient use of the earth’s resources using less land, water and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than dairy. They are, in the main, low in saturated fats, which is good news for heart health (heart disease remains UK’s no.1 killer) and the fortified drinks provide important nutrients for bone health: calcium and vitamin D.*

But, never one to sit smugly on our laurels, to resolve any continuing misconceptions around plant-based drinks and plant-based eating, Vanessa Clarkson, independent expert, registered dietitian and nutritionist, was invited to take a deep dive into the scientific evidence and provide a balanced critique of the role of plant-based drinks in the UK diet.

The evidence was vast (over 60 of the most up to date publications were reviewed) resulting in the production of an 8-page review fact sheet. The conclusion clearly indicates that plant-powered drinks should be on everyone’s shopping list alongside an array of other healthful plant-based foods.2

To read the fully referenced 8-page scientific review please click here.

Key findings:
• Soya and other plant-based drinks provide many nutrients and can thus contribute positively to overall nutritional intakes.
• In the main, plant-based drinks have low levels of total fats that are predominantly unsaturated.
• Cow’s milk is not a crucial provider of protein in the UK or Irish diets (with the exception of toddlers) – therefore switching to a non-soya plant-based drink will impact little on total protein intake.
o Cows’s milk contributes just 7-8% of protein intakes in UK 11-65+ years and just 10% of Irish adult population intakes.
• Sugars: consumers have a choice to opt for sweetened or unsweetened plant-based drinks. Even sweetened plain plant-based drinks provide just 2.8g sugars per 100ml (range 1.2g–3.8g).
• Vitamins and minerals.
o With the exception of organic variants, all leading brands of plant-based drinks are fortified with calcium to a level comparable to that found in cow’s milk and with a similar bioavailability. Moreover, many are also fortified with vitamin D, which further supports calcium absorption.
o With the exception of organic variants, most soya and other plant-based drinks are fortified with vitamin B12.
o Iodine, not normally found in plant-based drinks, can be found a balanced diet which includes other sources such as dairy products, sea food and eggs.
• Plant-based diets support population health outcomes for cardiovascular health, body weight and blood glucose control. Furthermore, nutrients needed for optimal bone health are also readily available in plant foods.
• Plant foods in general, make more efficient use of the earth’s resources – a key point which should not be overlooked in light of global population growth and climate change.

So, in short, you should confidently recommend plant-based drinks and eating as a healthy source of nutrition and finally put the ongoing debate to rest.

– – END – –

1. Alpro Censuswide survey of 1,568 consumers, conducted between 21-23 February 2018.
2. Vanessa Clarkson RD, RNutr. Fact sheet March 2018: The Role of Plant-based Drinks in the British and Irish Diet. Alpro Health Professional website/resources. Available by clicking here.

The fact sheet was sponsored by an education grant from Alpro UK Science and Nutrition department.

* Calcium & vitamin D, as part of a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle, contribute to the maintenance of normal bones. In children, calcium and vitamin, as part of a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle, are needed for normal growth and development of bone in children.

Plant Power Day – 7th March 2018: We’re asking you to put plants first on 7th March 2018.
This means, just for one day, thinking about plant-based foods first when it comes to your food and drink choices… And making every meal a PLANQUET.

A planquet can be big or small, from a plant-based feast with friends or family, to a plant-based breakfast al desko. It just needs to make plants the star of the show. You can do it all day, or just the once. For example:
• Making your porridge with almond drink and topping with berries, nuts and seeds
• Whizzing an oat drink into your morning smoothie
• Picking up a soya, coconut or almond latte on your way to work
• Sprinkling almonds, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds onto your favourite salads, then adding other protein sources, if you fancy
• Packing out tomato-based sauces with lentils, split peas and grated veg first. Then, trying your chilli or bolognese veggie – or adding meat, if you like
• Adding beans, lentils, chickpeas and spices to soups, stews, curries and casseroles

Press contact: Tanya Haffner – Nutrilicious – tanya@nutrilicious.co.uk – 020 8455 2126

 

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Showing restaurant menu’s calorie content can help lower intake: Nutrilicious News Digest

Showing restaurant menu’s calorie content can help lower intake: Nutrilicious News Digest

This week, the Daily Mail and the Independent reported that showing the calorie content of meals in restaurants can help lower people’s calorie intake.

This is based on a systematic review of 28 studies, which concluded that nutritional labelling on restaurant menus can reduce the amount of energy (i.e. calories) purchased.

Overall, it was found that nutritional labelling could reduce calorific intake by up to 12% – around 72 calories for a typical 600kcal meal. That’s equivalent to three boiled new potatoes or around 150ml of juice.


Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view

This study is very relevant, considering that on average we eat out for around a quarter of our meals. These meals can often be served as large portions and can be high in sugar and salt.

More and more restaurants in the UK are now providing the nutritional values of meals, which are often available online. They include Nandos, Starbucks, Prezzo, Wagamama, Zizzis, Giraffe and many more. However, previous research has only shown mixed results as to the effects of having the nutritional values available.

There are some limitations to the review – many of the individual studies it’s based on were graded as poor quality. Nevertheless, it provides evidence that displaying nutritional values to restaurant menus may help to lower calorie intake in individuals.

Another weapon in the battle against obesity
Just this week, Cancer Research UK released a report showing that on current trends 70 per cent of millennials – those born between the early 1980s to mid-1990s – will be overweight or obese by the age 35 to 45.That’s more than any other generation since records began. The UK is already the most overweight nation in Western Europe, with obesity rates rising even faster than in the US. We know definitively from the McKinsey Global Institute Report on Overcoming Obesity: an initial economic analysis that we need as many nudge strategies as possible to help overcome this very serious obesity issue.

Professor Theresa Marteau, the review’s lead author and head of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at Cambridge University, summed it up: “This evidence suggests that using nutritional labelling could help reduce calorie intake and make a useful impact as part of a wider set of measures aimed at tackling obesity. There is no magic bullet to solve the obesity problem, so while calorie labelling may help, other measures to reduce calorie intake are needed.”

Her thoughts are echoed by many experts. Professor Ian Caterson, president of the World Obesity Federation, stated: “Energy labelling has been shown to be effective – people see it and read it and there is a resulting decrease in calories purchased. Combined with a suite of other interventions, such changes will help slow and eventually turn around the continuing rise in body weight.”

Sue Davies, Which? food policy expert, says it’s not just the experts who believe access to more information is important: “This research highlights the value of calorie information and why it is so important that it is provided more widely for people when eating out. In a recent Which? survey, 63% of people agreed that calorie information should be provided on the food in cafes and restaurants for transparency.”

The United States is leading the way on this front: the Food and Drug Administration recently implemented a policy whereby restaurants with 20 or more locations must show calorie counts on their menus from May 2018. It will be interesting to monitor the impact.

Takeaway message
There are many measures that are needed to help reduce obesity, and the serious health issues that it causes. Ensuring nutritional values are available to consumers may be a simple strategy amongst many that are needed to help individuals take steps to make wiser meal choices.

There are other steps we can take to help us make healthier choices when eating out. The NHS provides some useful advice and tips

At Nutrilicious, we enjoy helping all organisations to implement, measure and communicate nudge strategies to help the nation overcome the urgent problem of obesity. If you would like to discuss how your organisation could contribute, please get in touch – we would be more than happy to discuss and help.

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Vegetarian and vegan diets more popular than ever: Nutrilicious News Digest

Vegetarian and vegan diets more popular than ever: Nutrilicious News Digest

The rise in popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets is in the news, including stories in the Daily Mail INews. This comes following a release by Kantar Worldpanel of supermarket sales figures and analysis of consumer behaviour. It revealed:

  • Over January 2018, one in ten shoppers purchased a meat-free ready meal. This has increased by 15% compared with the same time last year.
  • During January 2018, 29% of evening meals were now free of meat and fish.
  • Britons consumed 3.9 billion meat free evening meals in the 12 months to October 2015. This rose to 4.3 billion in the 12 months to October 2017.
  • As a nation, we consumed 87 million more entirely vegan-friendly meals in 2017 than in 2015.

Announcements of product sales and ranges underscore these figures. In just two examples, it was also reported in the news this week that sales of Quorn (a meat substitute product) have increased globally by 16%. Last month also saw Tesco bring out their own vegan range, Wicked Kitchen, highlighting the increasing demand for more plant-based options.

Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view

There are many reasons why we could be seeing an increase in the popularity of meat free meals.

The trend of ‘Veganuary’ (where individuals adopt a vegan diet for the month of January) is likely to have contributed to the findings which related to the month of January 2018.

Richard Allen, a spokesman for Kantar Worldpanel, emphasised increasing access to meat-free foods: “The surge in vegetarian evening meals over the past year is down to the wider availability of products which make eating meat-free more attractive and practical.”

He continued: “Our ideas about what’s healthy are also changing – we’re more focussed on foods that are natural and less processed and eating a varied diet.”

What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

The evidence for plant-based diets is growing and can offer many benefits. Indeed, the updated ‘Eatwell Guide’ saw that plant sources of protein were listed ahead of animal food sources of protein. The protein group now has the title ‘Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins’, highlighting the increased role plant-based diets can play.

Benefits of adopting a more plant-based diet include:

Health

  • Research has shown that vegetarian and vegan populations tend to have lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and rates of cardiovascular disease compared to their omnivorous counterparts. This could be due to less saturated fat in the diet and more polyunsaturated fats, in addition to other cardio-protective components in the diet such as soya and nuts.
  • Plant-based diets tend to have a more balanced macronutrient profile. For example, the higher fibre content of plant-based diets is often accompanied by lower fat intakes. This can help reduce the energy density of the diet and thus help reduce the total energy (calorie) intake. This could help prevent people being overweight/obese, and therefore any related negative effects and co-morbidities (e.g. type 2 diabetes, increased cancer risk etc).

Environment/sustainability

  • Animal foods are resource intensive (energy, land and water) and thus tend to have higher greenhouse gas emissions compared to plant foods per unit weight.
  • Modelling work has shown that reducing the amount of animal foods in the diet will make a critical contribution to climate change mitigation.

Economic

  • Recent research has suggested that the British government could reduce its healthcare and societal costs by £5.21 billion if just 10 per cent of the UK population emphasised plant-based foods in their diet.

References: Clarkson V, Plant Food Sources of Protein for Optimum Health, Muscle Status and Sustainability – The Evidence and Practice and Schepers J & Annemans L., The potential health and economic impact of plant-based food patterns in Belgium and the United Kingdom. Nutrition 15th December 2017 (in press)

Does this mean meat is off the menu?

Gaining the benefits of a plant-based diet does not have to mean a diet no with meat at all. A ‘flexitarian‘ diet is predominantly plant-based without completely eliminating meat and can be extremely beneficial for health and reducing carbon footprints.

Indeed, meat, poultry and fish are nutritious foods and can provide a range of nutrients beneficial for health. We are advised by the NHS to have two portions of fish per week, one of which is oily. They also advise how meat can fit into the diet.

Takeaway points

We welcome findings that plant-based meals are being explored and becoming more popular. We encourage everyone to enjoy a varied diet featuring a wide variety of plant-based whole foods.

Overall, plant-based eating isn’t new. It’s not radical. And it’s definitely not about cutting things out. A plant-based diet shouldn’t be defined by what it excludes, but by what it includes. The core message is ‘put plants first’. Instead of planning meals around meat, bring veggies, fruits, whole grains, pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds from the side of the plate to front and centre.

It doesn’t have to be wholesale change: many benefits can be achieved by simply reducing intake of meat rather than following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. We recommend making small steps to include more plant-based foods and meals in your diet, to benefit your health and the planet.

If you do decide to go further, the NHS gives advice on ensuring a vegetarian or vegan diet is balanced. The British Dietetic Association are part of an important alliance with the Vegan Society to share the message that all well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages.

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Is soya milk the healthiest alternative to cow’s milk?: Nutrilicious News Digest

Is soya milk the healthiest alternative to cow’s milk?: Nutrilicious News Digest

Each week we investigate the nutrition and diet topics making the headlines. This week, the Daily Mail discussed the health profiles of non-dairy milk alternatives.

The article was based on a study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology titled ‘How well do plant-based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow’s milk’?

The four most consumed non-dairy milk drinks were studied: almond, soy, rice and coconut milk (all unsweetened varieties). Nutritional values were obtained from the food packaging and the USDA database.

The review discussed the pros and cons of each milks, with the aim to help make consumers be able to make a more informed decision. Their main findings were as follows:

Coconut milk Almond milk Rice milk Soya milk

Pros
Low calories
Taste

Cons
No proteins
Rich in saturated fats
Pros
Balanced diet
Low calories
Taste

Cons
Almond allergy
Pros
Comparable caloriesCons
Rich in sugar
Unbalanced diet
Pros
Rich in protein
Balanced dietCons
Taste
Soy allergy

The headlines point to soya is the best alternative to cow’s milk, with researchers concluding that, ‘among alternative milks only soy milk contains comparable amounts of nutrients’.

More detailed findings and rationale for each of the points above are all discussed in the original study, alongside nutritional values for each of the milks.


Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view

The study is especially relevant because of the increasing popularity of non-dairy alternatives to milk and the increasing recognition of the health benefits of plant-based diets, and plant foods being more environmentally sustainable. Indeed, the latest ‘Eatwell Guide’ from Public Health England updated the name of one of the food groups from ‘Milk and Dairy Foods‘ to ‘Dairy and Alternatives’, highlighting the growing role of such foods in our diets. Plant food sources of protein were listed ahead of animal food sources of protein for the first time: the protein food group is now called ‘beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins’.
See our blog on the new Eatwell Guide

There are many reasons why people are choosing such products, including health, environment, allergies and intolerances, and veganism.

Our assessment of the study

  • A good amount of data was analysed. For a non-dairy milk to be included within this study, at least four examples had to be available for each type of milk.
  • The study uses American data. We cannot be sure findings will be the same for the UK and Irish products, although they are likely to bear many similarities. Opinions were also gathered regarding taste of the different milks and the UK population may react differently.
  • Due to missing data, the research did not cover all the vitamins as intended.

One of the main conclusions from the study was that soya milk contained more protein than other alternatives. We did our own analysis of the four unsweetened* milks, alongside two other unsweetened milks available for reference. Here are our findings:

Cow’s milk (Semi skimmed) Coconut milk Almond milk Rice milk Soya milk Oat Milk Cashew milk
Per 100ml (mean values)    
Energy, kcal 47 36 13 47 29 40 26
Fat g 1.8 1.5 1.1 1.0 1.5 1.0 1.0
Sat fat g 1.1 1.4 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.1 0.2
Sugars g 4.8 3.3 0.1 6.2 0.5 3.7 1.7

 

Protein g 3.6 0.2 0.5 0.1 2.7 0.7 0.5
Calcium mg 123 120 120 120 120 120 120
Vitamin D2 ug 0.00 0.75 0.89 0.89 0.75 0.75 0.75
B12 ug 0.91 0.38 0.38 0.38 0.38 0.38 0.38

Values from Forestfield Dietplan 7, National Dairy Council – the nutritional composition of dairy and plant-based drinks nutritional information: a range of current products on the market. *There are also sweetened versions of these products on the market.

Is soya milk the best non-dairy alternative?

  1. Protein The most notable similarity between cow’s milk and soya milk compared to the other non-dairy milks is the higher protein levels, as highlighted in the original study. While this has grabbed the headlines as being highly beneficial, for the majority of the UK population protein intakes are in fact in excess of requirements. The UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that only 7–8% of protein for those aged 11–65+ comes from cow’s milk. Calling one milk ‘healthier’ than the other based on this alone is generally not useful or appropriate. Single food measures of protein content or indeed quality do not reflect the scale of impact across the total diet and not enough attention is given to this key consideration.
  2. Calcium Cow’s milk is known to be a great provider of the UK’s calcium intake, providing from 26% in 4–10 year olds to 18% in 11–18 year olds and in 19% in adults aged 19–64. We can see that all of the non-dairy alternatives to cow’s milk closely match this. They are also fortified with vitamin D, which aids in calcium absorption and is beneficial for bone health. Cow’s milk in the UK does not have vitamin D.
  3. Saturated fat One benefit of all the non-dairy milks is that they are generally lower in saturated fat than cow’s milk, providing 0.1–0.6%. Coconut milk is the exception, with levels higher at 0.9–1.9%. One 200ml glass of coconut milk provides 2.8g saturated fat on average, whereas the other non-diary milks average at 0.4g saturated fat. The coconut milk ranks ‘medium’ for saturated fat under the drinks traffic light labelling system, the others are ‘low’.
  4. Cholesterol Looking more specifically into soya and the advantages it can have for health, one point not discussed in this study is that soya can also help reduce cholesterol levels. This forms part of the Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan from HEART UK.
  5. Iodine This essential trace element is an important component of the thyroid hormones. A recent study from the University of Surrey investigated 14 non-diary milks in the UK and found that iodine levels were only 2% that of in cow’s milk. Women of childbearing age and pregnant women are most at risk of deficiency. Information on alternative sources of iodine are discussed on a British Dietetic Association (BDA) iodine factsheet.
  6. Is soya ok? Soya products such as soya milk alternatives often hit the news, with suggestions they can be bad for our health. However, many of these claims are untrue, as discussed on the BDA Fact Sheet for Soya. Soya forms part of a healthy balanced diet. The British Heart Foundation also discusses the role of soya milk as a replacement for cow’s milk. A very recent review of plant food sources of protein for optimum health by Dietitian Vanessa Clarkson can be found on this plant protein fact sheet

Conclusions

A healthy alternative for adults
For those looking to replace cow’s milk in the diet with a plant-based milk, fortified soya milk bears the most nutritional similarities to cow’s milk. However, the other plant-based drinks analysed also provide many of the nutrients. Its crucial to consider them in the context of the whole diet and we feel confident that these products can contribute to a healthy balanced more plant-based diet for adults.

Which non-dairy milk is considered the ‘best’ will depend on individual needs, with personal taste playing an important role. Faced with so much choice, here are some points to consider when buying a non-dairy alternative to milk:

  • Choose non-dairy milks that have been fortified with calcium and vitamin D for bone health. Organic varieties and homemade milks may not contain high enough levels – read the label.
  • For vegans in particular, choose a milk that has been fortified with vitamin B12 – often found to be low in the vegan diet. Other groups at risk of low vitamin B12 including vegetarians, the elderly and individuals with gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Choose unsweetened varieties where possible to minimise intake of free sugars.
  • Soya milk is higher in protein than other non-dairy alternatives, although lower protein milks should not pose an issue for the general adult population.
  • Soya milk can help as part of a cholesterol-lowering diet.
  • Coconut milks will be higher in saturated fats, which can raise ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Swapping cow’s milk for non-dairy alternatives could result in a lower iodine intake unless the milk has been fortified with iodine. Some may be fortified – read the label if there is a concern.
  • As with any food or drink product, don’t just treat it in isolation: it’s the total dietary intake that’s important. Whether having dairy milk or a substitute, we need to make sure that our overall food intake is healthy and nutritionally balanced.

Non-dairy milks for children
Parents of children wishing or needing to avoid cow’s milk should seek dietetic advice to ensure their diet is balanced at every age. See the British Dietetic Association factsheet for more information

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Gluten free foods are less healthy: Nutrilicious News Digest

Gluten free foods are less healthy: Nutrilicious News Digest

This week we explore the headline ‘Gluten free foods are more expensive and less healthy’. The story was picked up in The Independent and The Sun, amongst others.

It is based on a study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, which compared the nutritional information and cost of gluten free foods available in the UK (679 products) and comparable regular foods (1045 products).

Findings from the study include:

  • More gluten free foods were classified as containing high and medium fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) compared to the regular foods, using the traffic light labelling system.
  • More gluten free bread and flour products contained high fat and sugar.
  • Fewer gluten free crackers contained high fat and sugar.
  • Gluten free products were more likely to be lower in fibre and protein than regular foods.
  • Gluten free foods had higher salt content than regular products.
  • Gluten free products were 159% more expensive than the regular ones (working out as £1.14/100g vs £0.44/100g).


Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view

We should note there were some limitations to the study:

  • It’s a comparison of products and did not look at actual overall dietary nutrient intake of people who eat gluten free food. So we don’t know the context of these findings: one person may have an overall more healthy diet than someone else.
  • Composition of foods is based on food labels and not the chemical analysis (the gold standard method).

Nevertheless, it analysed a significant number of products and is very relevant and important to consider. Although the traffic light labelling system is only one way to look at whether a food is healthy, it is still a useful guide. Gluten free foods were typically higher in HFSS.

Let’s look at just one of the nutritional differences found: fibre. Overall it was found that gluten free foods are often lower in fibre. The latest report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) on Carbohydrates and Health recommended that adults aim for 30g fibre per day. The current average falls below this at 18g per day. In the analysis, regular wholegrain pasta averaged at 8.0g fibre per 100g (a large single portion), whereas the gluten free comparison averaged at just 3.2g.

A number of foods included within the study are processed; the gluten free varieties will often have ingredients added to replace the gluten, which can cause problems in terms of nutrition.

Following a gluten free diet

A gluten free diet is necessary for medically diagnosed conditions, for example coeliac disease.

Following a Department of Health consultation, some UK National Health Service Trusts have compromised and/or withdrawn gluten free prescriptions. There is a concern that not all individuals with coeliac disease will be willing to spend the extra money on gluten free foods and suffer health problems as a result. Coeliac UK are currently campaigning to try and protect gluten free prescriptions. See details here

Sarah Sleet from Coeliac UK responded to the study: “It’s really important that the quality of gluten free foods is as good as that available for all consumers. We’re not surprised to see the research shows the high cost of gluten free food, which will make it difficult for patients with coeliac disease, particularly the most vulnerable, to stick to the gluten free diet should the Department of Health remove gluten free food on prescription.”

The trend

In recent years, following a gluten free diet has become a wider trend, with many celebrities following it. This study of a significant number of products highlights that following such a diet without a medical need for it may not have any nutritional advantages over a regular diet. Not to mention it costs a whole lot more.

Takeaway points

  • Many whole foods are naturally gluten free e.g. quinoa, brown rice, pulses. Opting for these, rather than the foods trying to mimic/replace gluten, could be of benefit to those following a gluten free diet.
  • In reality, many will continue to choose ready-prepared options and rely on such foods such as shop-bought bread. So people who medically require a gluten free diet need access healthier foods at a lower cost, especially in light of prescription cuts.
  • If you’re someone who chooses gluten free because you think it’s healthier, check the nutritional values of products carefully.
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Fry ups in pregnancy, coconut oil and sleep: Nutrilicious News Digest

Fry ups in pregnancy, coconut oil and sleep: Nutrilicious News Digest

Each week we analyse some of the hot headlines in health and nutrition news. This week we look at the role of choline in pregnancy, the health aspects of coconut oil and whether sleep can help us cut down on sugar.

 

HEADLINE 1: EATING FRY UPS DURING PREGNANCY CAN BOOST BABIES’ INTELLIGENCE  

The effect of choline during pregnancy has been in the news this week, reported by the IndependentThe Times, the Daily Mail and the Mirror.

This is based on a small study of 26 women entering their third trimester of pregnancy, who were randomised to consume either 480mg or 930mg choline supplement in addition to a controlled diet.

Babies were tested at 4,7,10 and 13 months of age and it was found that reaction time was significantly faster in babies of mothers who consumed 930mg choline supplement daily.

Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view
We don’t hear of choline, which is a vitamin-like nutrient needed for the normal function of all cells, especially those in the liver and the central nervous system, including the brain.

Although choline is an essential nutrient, this study is a long way off proving that pregnant women need to focus on choline supplements to improve their children’s cognition, much less that fry ups result in intelligent babies:

  • This was only a small study. It looked at a nutrient that does not register in UK dietary reference values as no incidence of choline deficiency has been reported.
  • The women were given supplements rather than food in order to boost their levels – the headlines suggesting fry ups could be beneficial are misleading and could put mother and baby’s long-term health at risk.
  • The reaction time results are of limited value for assessing the impact on cognitive development in the babies beyond 12 months.

Eating a healthy balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight gain, keeping active and avoidance of alcohol and smoking during pregnancy will help ensure the best outcomes for the mother and the baby. Specific supplements of vitamin D and folic acid are also recommended by UK government. For tips on a healthy diet see the NHS

 

HEADLINE 2: IS COCONUT OIL A SUPERFOOD?

This week Dr Michael Mosley has been promoting the use of coconut oil as a health product, as picked up by the BBC, The Times and the Daily Mail. The suggestion is that despite high levels of saturated fat, coconut oil might still be good for you.

This report comes from the ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor’ team, a new BBC series featuring Dr Mosley. 94 volunteers were involved, aged between 50 and 75 years, with no history of diabetes or heart disease. They were split into three research groups and for four weeks added to their diet as follows:

  • Group 1: 50g of extra virgin coconut oil (about 4 tbsp) consumed daily
  • Group 2: 50g of extra virgin olive oil (about 4 tbsp) consumed daily
  • Group 3: 50g of unsalted butter (about 3 tbsp) consumed daily

Baseline measurements were taken for blood lipids, including LDL (‘bad’) and HDL (‘good’) cholesterol. The findings, averaged out, were as follows:

  • Group 1 (coconut oil) – no rise in LDL levels; 15% rise in HDL levels
  • Group 2 (olive oil) – small reduction in LDL (although deemed as non-significant); 5% rise in HDL
  • Group 3 (butter) – 10% rise in LDL levels; 5% rise in HDL levels.

The participants’ weight and body fat remained unchanged.

Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view
This is a disappointing well-publicised study that will only serve to fuel consumers’ confusion about how they can reduce the incidence of UK’s number 1 killer, heart disease.

On the surface, the findings paint the picture that coconut oil could be good for the heart, through raising levels of HDL cholesterol.

However, conducted over only a short period of time, overall diet quality of the participants was not assessed – including overall saturated fat, free sugars and refined carbohydrate intakes from other food sources. Based on this, it is unclear what brought about the changes in lipid profiles and no conclusions can safely be made on the benefits or harmful effects of coconut oil.

Contradicting studies
While this study fuels the growing trend for coconut oil, it cannot compare to the extensive scientific literature reviews of good-quality studies by leading heart health and academic experts. These have shown consistently that saturated fats have an overall negative effect of increasing LDL cholesterol.

We discuss the different types of saturated fats found in coconut oil amongst other key points in our blog, Is Coconut Oil Really Good for You?

What are the current recommendations for use of coconut oil?
Here are what some of the major health organisations have to say about coconut oil:

  • Heart UK – published a statement on coconut oil that for people wanting to lower their cholesterol, coconut oil should be avoided.
  • British Heart Foundation – state there is not enough good-quality research to provide us with a definitive answer as to whether the types of saturated fats in coconut oil are any better for us than other saturated fats.
  • UK Department of Health – Advises to consume only small amounts of coconut oil

We need to promote good quality science, which is the basis for international and national guidelines with regard to saturated fat. These included reductions in saturated fat (a maximum of 20g and 30g daily for women and men, respectively), inclusion of unsaturated fats, replacement of refined carbohydrates with whole grains, minimising intakes of free sugars and increasing our fruit and vegetable intakes.

Two level tablespoons of coconut oil provides 19g of saturated fat and is therefore not considered a healthy choice for regular consumption. As part of a balanced diet, coconut oil is fine to have in small quantities.

We look forward to seeing the latest extensive review of research undertaken by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, due to be published by March this year.

 

HEADLINE 3: A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP HELPS YOU CUT SUGAR

The Telegraph (Sleep yourself slim: how an extra 90 mins in bed can stop sugar cravings), The Times, the Sun and the Daily Mail (How 20 minutes’ extra sleep could help you say no to cake) have reported on the impact sleep could have on sugar intake.

A study involved 42 participants with poor sleeping habits (deemed as having typically between five and seven hours sleep per night), who were encouraged to follow a personalised sleep extension protocol. The body mass index (BMI) of each participant was between 18.5kg/ m2 to less than 30kg/m2. They each kept food diaries.

The four-week randomised control trial involved:

  • Group 1 (intervention group): 21 participants received a behavioural consultation session targeting ‘sleep hygiene’ – this involved avoiding screens late at night, keeping work out of the bedroom and reducing caffeine.
  • Group 2 (control group): 21 participants maintained habitual short sleep patterns

Over the four weeks, the intervention group extended their time in bed by 55 minutes on average and their sleep duration by 21 minutes compared with the control group.

On average, there was a reported 10g reduction in intake of free sugars compared to the control group. BMI did not change in the four-week period.

Free sugars are all the different types of sugar we have in our diet, excluding the sugars found naturally in intact fruit and vegetables, milk and milk products. 10g of free sugars is equivalent to 2.5 tsp of sugar, 1.5 tsp of honey, 90ml of cola or 110ml of fruit juice.

Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view
Once again, this study was only of a small number of people and for a short period of time. It was not designed in a way to accurately assess dietary intake, so we cannot be confident that improved sleep patterns will cause a reduction in sugar intake. Food diaries rely on the honesty of the patient and are not necessarily accurate.

Is there a link between sleep and body weight?
Some of the news outlets gave the impression that extra sleep will cause weight loss, but this was not found.

However, the NHS does recognise that sleeping less may contribute to weight gain, highlighting previous studies showing that people who sleep less than seven hours per day are 30% more likely to be obese than those who sleep for nine hours or more.

Sleep is important for mental and physical health and evidence for its role in weight loss/obesity is growing. The NHS recommends seven to nine hours a night. Find out more about ways to get a good night’s sleep.

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