Food and Behaviour Research

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17 March 2012 - The Times - New diet rules - eat red meat, don't eat grapes

Joanna Blythman has been an investigative food journalist for 25 years, and has seen many health scares come and go. In the wake of another health scare, she takes a look at the dos and don'ts of nutrition. Dr Alex Richardson of Food and Behaviour Research, follows with 'What children should eat'.


A look at the 'new diet rules' suggsted by Joanna Blythman:

  • Yes, you can eat red meat – as long as it’s from grass-fed animals that are not intensively reared.  Meat from grass-fed animals is much higher in omega-3 fatty acids.  Eat two or three times a week and choose from lamb (it’s all free range), venison and beef.  Red meat is a good sources of minerals, iron, B vitamins and protein, and will keep you satisfied for longer.  White meat does not have the same range of vitamins and minerals.
  • Eat sardines, not tuna – try to eat fish twice a week and make sure at least one portion is oily. Salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. A tin of sardines is cheap and healthy, whilst a can of tuna is less so because most of its omega-3 is squeezed out in the canning process.  Mussels are also cheap and healthy and contain zinc, iron, long-chain fatty acids, B vitamins and selenium.
  • Avoid breakfast cereal – some cereals are nearly 40% sugar, so you could actually liken them to  sweets.  Most of the breakfast cereals aimed at children have been fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals to make up for the natural vitamins and minerals that have been removed during processing. The body’s ability to absorb them is limited so an alternative would be to eat eggs, fish or meat for breakfast where you’ll find much greater quantities of minerals and vitamins.
  • Sugar is bad, but sweeteners are worse – sugar may have no redeeming nutritional features, but artificial sweeteners are worse. Research suggests they actually encourage weight gain.  Our bodies expect calories along with a sweet taste, so you might drink a diet cola and still want to eat something else.
  • Eat potatoes only once a week – potatoes contain vitamin C and for a lot of British people, are an important source of this vitamin.  When eaten, sugar is very quickly released into the blood stream which can encourage a surge in the hormone insulin, which encourages the body to store fat.  New potatoes raise your blood-sugar levels less than older crops, because they contain less starch (which is essentially, sugar).
  • Don’t eat pasta (as a main meal) regular pasta consumption fits in with government advice that encourages us to base our meals on starchy foods because they are low in fat.  Yet many doctors and nutritionists see pasta and other refined carbohydrates, as a food that can cause weight gain and which offers few beneficial nutrients.  The main objection to pasta made from refined wheat flour is that it disrupts blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn encourages the production and storage of fat in the body.
  • Drink full-fat milk, not skimmed – milk is a regarded as a great all-round food package because it provides a good source of protein, minerals and vitamins, including vitamin D.  Many people have been put off whole milk because it contains saturated fat and cholesterol, but there is no evidence to support the idea that saturated fat is harmful.  Skimmed milk is less nutritious because the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K in milk are in the cream, and are removed when this is skimmed off.
  • Eat full-fat cheese – cheese is essentially a concentrated form of milk consisting mainly of fat and protein, which means that quite a small portion can satisfy the appetite, and is a very healthy food in moderate quantities.  You will find many reduced-fat cheeses on offer in supermarkets, but such cheeses will always taste inferior to those made from full-fat milk, and won’t be as nutritious because the fat soluble vitamins that contribute to flavour have been skimmed off.
  • Tofu can be toxic – Eating large quantities of soya is a very recent thing, and in many ways is an experiment in human health.  Soya beans contain naturally occurring toxins or antinutrients, such as high levels of phytic acid, which can reduce the body’s ability to assimilate essential minerals – calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.  Soya also contains trypsin inhibitors, which impair the body’s ability to digest protein and have been linked to pancreatic disorders and stunted growth.  Traditional forms of soya, such as soy sauce, are likely to be much healthier than modern types of soya because they undergo a long fermentation process that neutralises toxins.
  • Eat two eggs a day – eggs are brilliant.  The cheapest and easiest way to improve the nutrition of the British population would be to eat more eggs.  Two a day is perfectly acceptable.  Although they naturally contain cholesterol (only in the yolk) eggs are relatively low in saturated fat and therefore may have far less effect on our blood cholesterol than high fat foods.  Cholesterol is important – it’s a vital component of cell membranes, it helps the body to heal and it supports brain function and the production of various hormones.  Eggs are also a good source of protein, essential amino acids and a range of vitamins and minerals. 
  • Buy butter, not margarine – Several major scientific studies have failed to find evidence that reducing saturated fat intake significantly reduces your risk of heart disease or cancer, or showed that saturated-fat consumption causes weight gain.  Increasingly it is thought that natural saturated fats, such as butter, are useful in the diet because they satisfy appetite and help to stave off feelings of hunger.
  • Not all vegetables help weight loss – vegetables that are leafy, green and grow above the ground are the best vegetables for your health.  Those that grow beneath the earth are more starchy, and therefore more sugary.  Try to eat as many green vegetables as you can such as broccoli, kale, spinach, asparagus, since these are packed with micronutrients that help avert changes in the body that might lead to disease.  Green vegetables are the best choice if you want to lose weight too.
  • Eat berries (not bananas) – people who are a normal weight needn’t worry about eating fruit, but if you are trying to lose a few extra pounds then it might be a good idea to avoid the sweeter fruits such as apples, pears, mangoes, watermelons and bananas, and instead concentrate on berries, which are slightly less sugary.  Raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are excellent sources of vitamin C, soluble fibre and antioxidant phytochemicals.
  • Don’t eat grapes – unless they are organic!  The government’s pesticide testing results to 2006 revealed that some fruit and vegetables are surprisingly high in pesticides.  There could be a strong case for buying organic spinach, red peppers and courgettes.  Grapes are the worst for pesticide residues – almost all non-organic grapes are contaminated, with up to 11 different pesticides.
  • Eat full-fat yoghurt – best eaten full fat, yoghurt is really good for you.  It’s fermented so that the milk is easily digested, and contains lots of good bacteria that help to protect against disease.  Unless it’s long-life, any yoghurt sold in Britain is live yoghurt with good bacteria, so there is no need to pay more for yoghurt that promotes itself as containing special bacteria.
  • Drink tap water – no need to buy bottled water.  Tap water is perfectly adequate.  If you live in an area where your local tap water tastes of chlorine, you can always invest in a jug filter plumbed into your kitchen tap, that will repay you very quickly.
  • Use coconut oil – extra-virgin coconut oil is a very healthy fat, which is being used increasingly for cooking – not only for Asian dishes, but for soups and stews too.  It is stable at room temperature so won’t go rancid.  It is one of the richest sources of medium-chain fatty acids, which some research suggests might help prevent fat accumulation in the body.  These include lauric acid which is also thought to aid the immune system.
  • Eat sourdough bread – keep away from industrially made slices bread if you can.  They contain a lot of yeast, which many people find hard to digest, and there has been a rise in the number of people with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and gluten allergies.  Why not try a traditionally made sourdough bread, as the natural bacteria in the dough produce lactic and acetic acids that make it easier to digest.

Joanna Blythman is the author of What to Eat (Fourth Estate - 1 March 2012) which you can purchase from via our affiliate link here:

What to Eat: Food that's good for your health, pocket and plate

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Bad Food Britain:  How a nation ruined it's appetite also by Joanna Blythman

Food Rules by Michael Pollan

Dr Alex Richardson is the author of They Are What You Feed Them (Harper Collins) which you can purchase direct from FAB Research here:

They are what you feed them - how food can improve your child's behaviour, learning and mood

Earlier this week, another food scare hit the headlines. Overnight, lamb, beef, venison — meats that have sustained us down the ages — have become life threatening. A study from Harvard School of Public Health reported that regularly eating red meat, especially the processed variety, increased the risk of death from heart disease and cancer, making it the latest in a list of natural unprocessed foods we are told to avoid, or eat only in moderation, such as butter and whole milk.