My experience with IBS.

I wanted to write about something a little more personal today. With it being irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) awareness month, I thought this was the perfect time to tell you a little bit about my experience with IBS, which you may or may not have known I have suffered with for quite some time.

From a young age, I would always get a tummy ache if I was worried or anxious about something, usually this would be around school time or when my parents were away. These were mild but still quite stressful as a young girl. Fast forward to 2018, I decided to move to Edinburgh to pursue a degree in nutrition in a country where I knew nobody, was living with complete strangers and to top it off I had just begun a new relationship a month before.. hello long distance!

I was experiencing extreme bloating, brain fog, irritability, low mood and severe tummy pains. Luckily, in the UK health care is free so I decided enough was enough, registered with a GP and booked an appointment. I went through all the tests; coeliac, lactose intolerance, IBD, Chron’s etc. Soon after I got a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, was prescribed some anti-spasmodics and a sheet of paper outlining the low FODMAP diet and a list of trigger foods. Even as a first year nutrition student, I felt confused and unsure what to do so I began trialling this diet.

Over the course of about 2 years, I aimed to stick to the low FODMAP diet rigidly. As many of you will have experienced, this is extremely difficult and isolating, especially when you’re faced with nights out and hang over meals which often made matters worse. This was almost always followed by an overwhelming sense of failure and guilt and a ‘f**k it’ mentality and all the chocolate was needed.

Each week, my shopping list would consist of a short list of ‘safe foods’ and I avoided any sweet foods or chocolate like the plague for fear of a flare up. The thing is, none of this helped. Even though I was following the diet rigidly, my bloating and stomach pain persisted (and often worsened) leading me to believe I was a failure and that I would always feel this way. The only thing left to do was to restrict even more. To avoid the nights out, to avoid going for meals with friends for fear of being confronted with a trigger food. Even when my boyfriend visited (the biggest foodie I know!) I would fear where he’d like to go for food and what was on the menu. It was awful.

Restriction during the day lead to extreme hunger which lead to allll the chocolate at night (my flat mates will remember this!) followed by guilt and more bloating. Eventually I had enough. Surely this can’t be my life now? Why me? Where did I go wrong?

 After receiving a new cook book for Christmas, I decided to forget about FODMAPS and try out some new recipes. Now, this book was full of ‘clean’ vegan and veggie recipes which in reflection was not much better, but I gave it ago. The recipes were also relatively cheap and easy to make (happy broke student!) and meant lots of fibre! I slowly became more open to trying new foods and recipes although I was still apprehensive.

As I got further into my degree, I became fascinated with gut health and began researching the gut microbiome and how it affects almost all aspects of our health. I learned that these little microorganisms in our gut have a huge impact on IBS and overall gut function. I discovered that fibre, lots of variety, and sometimes probiotics can help our gut microbiome to grow and thrive. I also realized that IBS is not only affected by our dietary choices but that many lifestyle aspects can affect our symptoms greatly such as sleep, stress and movement. As I was regularly active, I was sure it had to be diet related. Even though my sleeping schedule was irregular, and my stress levels were through the roof.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? When I look back and identify all of the stressful things in my life at that particular time (uni work, being away from home, a long distance relationship, working part time) it’s very clear that my IBS was stress related and less so by diet. And do you know what’s really interesting? The year I graduated and 9 months after my boyfriend moved over to Edinburgh, my symptoms virtually disappeared, with some exceptions.

During this pandemic, my IBS has been up and down. But instead of panicking and worrying, I just accept it.  Now I allow the symptoms to take their course. I’m not saying it’s easy, but after years of panicking and beating myself up, it’s a much better option. Symptoms will come and go. Now I know it’s a sign from my body that something is upsetting it and I need to change.

I’m not saying that the low FODMAP diet doesn’t work. It is successful in 50-70% of IBS cases which is wonderful! All I’m saying is there are other ways. If you’ve tried the low FODMAP diet and it hasn’t been helpful, there are alternative interventions. You are not alone in this.

 If you are struggling with managing IBS symptoms, please reach out. You don’t have to go this alone and there are thousands of people in your situation, even if your friends and family don’t get it.

So why have I told you all of this? Well, I just wanted to let you know that I understand. I truly do. And this is exactly why I do what I do. I want to give you the tools to manage your IBS, reclaim your life and to reconnect you with foods you love without the fear.

If you’d like support with your IBS, please get in touch here or book a call with me here.

Sarah xx

Join The F.I.G (Food is Good) Nutrition Community here!

Exercise and health

Do you exercise regularly? Every new year, we see people joining gyms/exercise programs and starting a new diet after the Christmas period with everyone wanting to detox and shed the extra pounds for the new year. Sure enough by February this craze seems to decline and even more so by March, when the extreme goals we’ve set ourselves haven’t been met. Everyone wants that perfect body with chizzled abs and a thigh gap , but have you ever thought of the other many health benefits of exercise? Chrissy Hawkins (@chrissyhfitness) is an ITEC RQF Level 3 (EQF Level 4) personal trainer based in North County Dublin. She has been working in the industry for several years and has experience training all types of clients. She also just happens to be my sister! Here she discusses the many benefits of exercise to our health, independent of weight loss and aesthetics.

We’ve all heard how important exercise is for your health. It’s on the telly, in the papers, on social media, on the radio (for those of you who still use one) especially this time of year, everyone joins the gym in January with visions of ‘new year, new me’ and around now every year is when people start to come to the conclusion that the old them wasn’t so bad, sound familiar?

Now I know we all want to be “skinny” “toned” or have a “beach bod” for our holidays but what about the rest of the year. There is so many more benefits to keeping fit that you may not realise or had stopped paying attention to in the programme/ post you were looking at. So here’s a few that might keep you from cancelling that membership just yet.

  1. Improved cardiovascular function: You may have heard this before but what does it mean? Basically that your heart and lungs work more efficiently and in the long term this means less risk of heart disease, and all types of diseases associated with the heart and lungs, and in the short term you won’t be out of breath after a flight of stairs!
  2. Reduction of body fat/ increased muscle: This isn’t just to look for the holliers (though it is an added bonus) It will also help reduce those risks again for cardiac (heart) related diseases and also increase your BMR (basal metabolic rate) This put basically is the amount of energy your body needs at rest (for breathing, sleeping, bodily functions) before you factor in activities like walking, eating, speaking. The more muscle you have the more energy it needs, so by having more muscle, you burn more energy at rest!
  3. Bone mineral Density: At the age of 30, peak bone mass has been reached and begins to decline. This is a big one for the ladies especially. As women get older, particularly after menopause, oestrogen levels decline rapidly. This causes reduced bone density (sometimes by up to half!) which can lead to osteoporosis (brittle, weakened bones). The good news is that exercise, particularly resistance based exercise and weight training helps to vastly reduce the risk of osteoporosis by increasing your bone mineral density.
  4. Feel good factor! This is often overlooked but most important, who has ever come out of a workout of any type the were dreading and felt amazing? That’s because exercise releases serotonin into the brain making you feel happier then when you started, I mean who doesn’t want to feel happy?

For those of you reading this and thinking “that’s great but I hate the gym” Fear not! You DON’T have to go to the gym to exercise (yup a PT not promoting the gym there must be something wrong) There is no point forcing yourself into something you hate, if you don’t enjoy it you will simply give up. Any excuse and you’ll stop, simple as. Find something you enjoy and you’ll keep it up. Join a dance fit class, try yoga or pilates, join a sports team. It can be social too and if it keeps you fit in the meantime, it’s a win win situation!

If you found this article interesting or helpful, be sure to share with friends and family. If you’d like to hear more from Chrissy, you can find her on Instagram @chrissyhfitness for more information and tips on your training!

Sarah x

Bloating: causes and management.


We’ve all experienced it. That feeling where your stomach is hard as a rock and your suddenly look six months pregnant. Why me? What have I done wrong? You feel heavy and upset. All you can think about is how long it will continue and how to get rid of it.

Bloating was my enemy for years. My belly was sensitive to everything and the more stressed I got about it , the worse it got. Diagnosed with IBS I was left lost and confused. But with a little research, time and by listening to my body I have identified some strategies to deal with bloating when it does occur, which these days is no longer as common!

Bloating is so common these days. If you ask anyone they’ll likely have experienced it, sometimes for longer periods than normal. But what exactly causes bloating? How can I get rid of it? I did a poll last week on my Instagram (@f.i.g_nutrition_) asking how many people would like me to cover how to get rid of bloating and 100% voted yes. So here goes..

It’s important to remember that bloating is a normal reaction to eating or drinking a large meal however, its when bloating becomes a chronic issue that we may need to explore more deeply. There are a number of causes of bloating, some reasons including:

1. Food intolerances – Some foods are more difficult to digest for some people for various reasons. Some more common ones like lactose, wheat or gluten but there’s also some less commonly know ones such as garlic, onions and sweeteners. These contain certain carbohydrates that for some people, are less easily digested. When these foods are undigested, they get left sitting fermenting in the bowels, which results in a production of gas and pressure leading to that bloated feeling.


2. Eating too quickly: Digestion starts when we see and smell food. When we start chewing, this our stimulates digestive enzymes in anticipation of the meal. If we don’t chew properly, not enough enzymes are produced, resulting in undigested food particles making it to the gut. Its also common to swallow more air while eating fast. The combination of air build up and fermenting food particles may then result in bloating.


3. Stress: This is by far the most common reason behind bloating. Our gut and our brain are constantly in contact. Stress causes the brain to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, similar to when humans lived in the wild and were in danger – the body shuts off digestion to save energy in case it needs to escape quickly. Stress is a normal part of modern society but this can be detrimental to our health in a number of ways. Chronic stress means digestion is constantly ‘switched off’ so over time our food isn’t properly digested again leaving it building up and fermenting in the gut.


4. Fibre: (this can be too much or too little!) too little fibre can cause things to slow down as the gut muscles become lazy, food gets ‘stuck’ essentially and begins to ferment and produce gas. Similarly, if you’re not used to eating fibre, eating too much quickly can produce a lot of gas. Think of it like our gut bacteria having a party. They get excited with all this extra food to eat, resulting in a higher production of their beneficial byproducts and a build up of gas. Its best to start slow and be sure to drink enough water to help bulk out the fibre consumed.


5. Lack of movement: Exercise stimulates peristalsis which just means the movement of gut muscles which push the food along the digestive tract. Lack of movement and sitting still all day can cause peristalsis to slow down leaving food in the gut for longer than necessary.

Ok, so now we know what causes bloating, so how exactly do I get rid of it? Firstly, relax. Getting worked up over your bloated tummy will only make it worse. This puts your body into a state of stress further worsening the problem (see number 3) You won’t be able to get rid of a bloated belly instantly, but some tips to help the process include:

  1. Peppermint tea – This calming tea can help you unwind. It also has a relaxing effect on the gut and can help reduce bloating.
  2. Stress management: This may not always be the easiest, but this is the most common reason for bloating. Is there something in your life that’s causing that stress? Can you address this? If not, try to find some down time and include relaxing practises such as exercise, a bath, yoga or light stretching. Each of these can help us to reduce stress and feel less overwhelmed.
  3. Diet – alcohol, spicy foods, caffeine and refined carbohydrates can induce bloating in some people, do you consume these foods often? Keeping a food diary can help identify this and other problem foods.
  4. Exercise – This one has a double whammy by helping manage stress and inducing gut motility to get things moving.
  5. Eat slowly – So often we are eating n the move or quickly to save time. Stop doing this. Make time for your meals removing any distractions. Sit down and take your time, taking breaks between bites can really help to slow down the speed of eating.

Unfortunately bloating can happen unexpectedly for a long period of time. There’s no magic, instant cure and you do need to allow time for your tummy to relax a little. Please be patient and try some of the above remedies and you should be back to normal in a day or two. If you have suffered from bloating long term or experience severe pain, diarrhoea, vomiting or unexplained weight loss please get in contact with your doctor to rule out anything more serious. Exclusion diets should be carried out with the support of a registered nutritionist or dietitian to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

If you found this article helpful or interesting, please be sure to share with friends, family or anyone you think may benefit. For more information and daily nutrition advice, please see my Instagram @f.i.g_nutriton_. Have a lovely day!

Sarah x

What is sustainability?

The following article was written by one of my best friends from my undergrad, Keri Peters. Keri has always had a love for food and developed an interest for healthier alternatives to some of her favourite dishes. In our third year of study, she decided to go down the route of nutrition and food science and in her final year she began working with Mara Seaweed developing vegan recipes including seaweed. Her final year placement with Mara exposed her true talents and her passion for sustainable lifestyle emerged. Now, a qualified food scientist she works for Borders Biscuits in new product development. Keri is the best person to discuss this topic as she has done extensive research in this area.

You’ve probably heard the term ‘sustainable’ quite a lot recently, mostly in reference to our diets and the planet. But what does the term ‘sustainable diet’ mean? And how can we ensure we’re doing the best for the planet with our food choices?

Well, defining what a sustainable diet is…. is pretty tricky. The literal definition of ‘sustainable’ as defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary is “causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time”. And so sustainable consumption describes how products used or consumed by us at present are done so in a in a way that reduces the environmental impact and in turn allows for generations to follow to meet their needs.


One topical example of this would be the consumption and use of palm oil (which has recently dominated headlines for the destruction of rainforests). We have used palm oil in an array of different applications for many years; chocolate, ice cream, confectionary, cosmetics etc. It’s a popular ingredient to use within the food industry as it’s cheap and adds texture and taste to food. It’s so popular in fact that half of the products available on the UK market contain palm oil – which poses a problem. Where is all this palm oil coming from and how do we have so much of it? Palm oil comes mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia, where there are plentiful oilseed crops. However, due to the high demand for cheap palm oil, farmers have destroyed rainforests and ruined the habitat for many endangered wild animals and indigenous people in order to keep up with demand.
So how do we stop this kind of thing happening? Well, thanks to the media many people are now aware of the issue with palm oil and many companies have chosen to switch to sustainable palm oil or eliminate it from their products. Sustainable palm oil is harvested in a way that ensures the environment along with their workers are protected (along with many other benefits), and therefore production can continue for the many years to follow.

This is just one example of what effect our food choices can have on the environment – scary right? When you scratch the surface into where our food comes from; the environmental, social and economic issues are pretty frightening. We have turned into a culture of fast food, convenience meals and copious amounts of food and packaging waste – we’ve been brought up thinking that’s OK, because we didn’t know any better. But, look how that’s affected our planet even in the last 50 years? Our oceans are polluted with plastic and rubbish that we don’t think about when we pick up a plastic bottle of Fanta and throw it in the bin – once that bottles been chucked away it’s not your issue right? Wrong. That bottle will end up in a landfill site or our oceans. But what if you recycle? Well, at least you’re stepping in the right direction, but recycling isn’t going to fix this issue. Recycling plants still need to run off energy to turn those plastic bottles into something else.

So what can we all do to help? Well, like anything you need to make small lifestyle changes that you’ll stick to in the long term. It’s very easy after Christmas when we’ve had a bit too much food and drink to turn around and go “I’m going on a diet” – and drastically change our diets to lose weight as fast as we can; not eating carbs, limiting our calorie intake, buying into ‘juice cleanses’ etc (I could be here all day listing fad diets). But how long do we ever last on these diets? A week or so at best? Just like these fad diets aren’t sustainable, neither is drastically deciding to become a sustainable lifestyle advocate. Making small changes to our daily routine is the best way to ensure we stick to them.

So what small changes can I make?

  • Buy a reusable coffee cup and water bottle. How many times a week would you buy a coffee to go, or pick up a bottle of water? The great thing is many coffee shops give you a discount if you bring in your own cup. Bonus.
  • Shop locally. Are there any markets or independent businesses around you where you can grab local produce? When we shop in large supermarkets we have access to an almost infinite choice of foods from all over the world (which is great). But do you ever check to see where that box of strawberries has been flown in from in December? Definitely not the UK that’s for sure. I’m not saying you should suddenly axe fruit and veg from your diet, but being aware or what kind of varieties are in season and checking where they’re from will definitely help influence your decision next time you buy! Shopping local usually means you’ll be offered fruit and veg that has been grown locally by farmers or suppliers.
  • Ditch the plastic bags and packaging. I imagine by now with the 5p baggage charge you’re more likely than not bringing your own carrier bags when you go shopping. But this point also refers to plastic packaging. Try and avoid using plastic bags to package up your fruit and veg when shopping and be mindful when choosing certain foods. Many food companies are making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of packaging in their products –watch out for those making the change.
  • Reduce your meat consumption. So this one is a pretty big issue that I could honestly talk all day about. The meat industry has had quite a hard time in the media lately surrounding the topic of sustainability. It hit the headlines last week that “Avoiding meat and dairy is the biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on earth”. This is possibly true. But how sustainable is that for each individual? There will be some of us who can quite easily follow a vegan diet and eliminate meat, fish and dairy from their diets. But what about those who can’t or don’t want to? That’s OK! I personally love food. It’s my absolute passion. I enjoy trying new recipes, ingredients and appreciate beautiful produce. For this reason I would find it extremely hard to completely eliminate fish, meat and dairy from my diet. In fact I don’t think I’d last very long at all. So is that personally sustainable for me and my diet? No. But being aware of the environmental impact of these industries I have been able to make small changes to my diet; such as reducing the amount I consume and opting to buy local produce.
    Making small changes to your diet such as; reducing the amount of red meat you eat in a week, buying locally caught fish instead of farmed or maybe trying to switch to having a plant based milk in your morning coffee can have huge environmental changes in the long term. Imagine we all made small changes to our lifestyle and therefore kept them up long term, how much better off would we all be?
  • Follow a plant based diet. When I say this, trust me, I really don’t mean we all have to completely eliminate meat and dairy from our lives. Ensure your diet features predominantly plant based foods; fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, nuts – this not only reduces our environmental impact it’s also the foundation for a lovely healthy diet! Full of fibre, healthy fats, micronutrients and protein (to name a few), which F.I.G Nutrition has plenty information on.

If you’re genuinely interested in making a few small changes to your diet and lifestyle to benefit not only your life, but for the generations to follow – why don’t you take a few moments to just assess where you could afford to make a change? Could you tweak your diet to incorporate more vegetables? Could you swap those sausages for a vegetarian alternative? Could you try buying your steak from a local butcher, where you know the meat came from a town just across from yours? Not only would you be reducing the environmental impact of transport costs (think of how damaging and expensive it is to ship meat over from Europe), you’d also be supporting local business and I can guarantee that steak will taste a whole lot nicer!
If you’re the type of person who eats meat every day, could you try cutting down from 7 days a week to even 6?

A sustainable diet is not a one size fits all template. You must incorporate what you can into your lifestyle and find what works best for you. Small changes really are the key to sticking to change, why not try amending your routine a little to help the planet and be a little more aware and savvy when making food choices? Slow and steady wins the race… if we’re all a little more mindful, these small changes will have huge benefits.

Hopefully we can all take even one suggestion and do our bit. As always, small changes are much more beneficial than trying to change 100 things at once. Think about the generations to come, wouldn’t you like them to enjoy the beauty we currently take for granted every day?

If you found this article interesting please be sure to share with family and friends. For more on sustainability, you can find Keri on Instagram at @thefoodietech_.

Sarah x

Vegan Lasagne

Following on from last weeks blog on Veganuary, I thought I’d share with you all this delicious vegan lasagne! I don’t know about you, but lasagne is one of my favourite meals. It was one of the only meals I’d eat when I was a child and so my mam made it quite frequently. It’s not a patch on her original recipe, but for those of you who love a good lasagne but want to reduce your meat consumption for whatever the reason may be, this is a great recipe to add to your list!

I must admit, I was really proud when my meat eating boyfriend took a bite and said it was one of the best lasagne recipes he’s ever tasted. Him being a trained chef, its not often vegetarian/vegan food can impress him so you can imagine the shock when I revealed the truth!

The great thing about this recipe is it makes 6-8 servings meaning if your cooking for one, you’ve got lunches sorted for the week, which will save time and effort but make sure you’re eating at least one healthy, filling meal a day. If however you’re not ready to go fully vegan, you can use regular cheddar cheese and cows milk instead of the vegan options. Lets get to the recipe!

What you need:

  • 1 box of lasagne sheets (the amount needed will depend on the size of your dish)
  • 200g vegan cheese, grated
  • 3-4 salad tomatoes, sliced.

For the tomato sauce:

  • 750g mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 3 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • Cracked black pepper

For the white sauce:

  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 tbsp. all purpose flour
  • 960ml soya milk
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • Cracked black pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
  2. For the tomato sauce: Slice mushrooms and add to a pot over medium heat with the soy sauce, sauté and cover leaving on medium heat until the mushrooms begin to release their water.
  3. Remove lid and let some of the water cook off. Add the 3 tins of tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Let the liquid reduce, and add black pepper and a small pinch of salt.
  4. For the white sauce: Add the oil to a pot on medium heat. Let it heat up but do not let it sizzle. While the oil heats, sieve the flour into a bowl then add it all at once, stirring vigorously – it the mixture starts to stick, turn the heat down.
  5. Add the milk all at once, stirring vigorously until the mixture is smooth and slightly thick. Remove from heat and add pepper and mustard and a small pinch of salt.
  6. Keep an eye on the white sauce as it will continue to thicken even when taken off the heat, so stir occasionally.
  7. Begin layering your lasagne dish as follows:
  • Tomato sauce
  • Lasagne sheets
  • Tomato sauce
  • White sauce
  • Lasagne sheets
  • Tomato sauce
  • White sauce
  • (continue this sequence until each sauce runs out.)
  • Grated cheese
  • Sliced tomato
  • Cracked black pepper

8. Oven bake, uncovered for 30-40 mins. Serve with side salad and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did! If you do get around to making it, be sure to tag @f.i.g_nutrition_ in your posts! As always, if you think this recipe would benefit someone else in your life, be sure to share it with family and friends!

Sarah x

Veganuary


Hello! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and wish you all the best for 2019!

January has arrived as have all the diet culture and detox plans that come with the post Christmas bloat. Veganism has dramatically increased in popularity be it for environmental, ethical or health reasons, 2019 has been described as ‘the year of the vegan’. Popularity of veganism is definitely a mixed boat however, if you are giving Veganuary a go, that’s brilliant! A well planned vegan diet is really good for you as well as the environment. From a nutritional standpoint, there are a number of important nutrients to take into consideration when planning a healthy, well balanced vegan diet.

Calcium: Removing dairy from the diet also removes a key source of calcium from the diet. Calcium is needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscle contraction, calcium is essential in the prevention of osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones) in later life. Some vegan sources of calcium include: sesame seeds/tahini, dried fruit (apricots/figs/prunes), fortified dairy alternatives (plant based milks and yogurts) and calcium set tofu.


Vitamin D: This one is particularly vital for those following a vegan diet. Vitamin D is needed for the regulation of calcium and phosphorus in the body which has an effect on bone and muscle health. It has also plays a role in hormonal actions, immunity and mental health. Recent research has also identified that vitamin D may play a role in the prevention of diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Some sources of vitamin D include oily fish and egg yolks in small amounts. It is therefore extremely difficult to meet vitamin D requirements through diet alone, therefore all adults, following a vegan diet or not should take a supplement of 10micrograms daily to meet the daily recommendation.


Iron: Needed for the production of red blood cells and transport of oxygen around the body. There are two types of iron, haem iron found in animal products and non-haem iron found in plant based foods. Plant sources or ‘non-haem’ iron are less well absorbed from the diet so it is important to consume a wide variety of sources to ensure your getting enough from the diet. Some vegan iron sources include: fortified breakfast cereals, dark leafy green veg (kale, broccoli, spinach) nuts, pulses (lentils, peas, beans) and dried fruit. Iron levels can be assessed by a simple blood test carried out by your GP, please consult your GP if you’re worried about your iron levels.


Protein: Vegan protein sources include: beans, soy products (tempeh, tofu, soy milk/yogurt/cheese) quinoa, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, peas, nuts, seeds, and wholegrains. Many plant based protein sources aren’t ‘complete’ sources of protein which means they do not contain all the essential amino acids needed for growth and repair of cells. Combining foods however make up ‘complete’ sources of protein for a vegan diet. For example: beans and rice, hummus and pita bread and beans on toast. There are few ‘complete’ sources of vegan protein (some include soy and quinoa) therefore it is vital vegans consume a wide variety of foods in order to meet their protein requirements.

Vitamin B12:  This one is particularly important for those following a vegan diet. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal sources therefore it s crucial that anyone following a vegetarian or vegan diet takes a daily B12 supplement to prevent deficiency. Vitamin B12 is needed for maintenance of a healthy nervous system as well as production of red blood cells. Our body stores enough to last 3-4 years and on a normal, meat eating diet deficiency is rare. Vitamin B12 stores can become depleted on a vegan diet without proper planning and deficiency can be quite serious leading to nerve damage in severe cases. Some dietary sources include fortified breakfast cereals, some plant milk alternatives, yeast extracts such as nutritional yeast and marmite. It is still strongly advised that a vitamin B12 supplement is taken daily.

Omega 3 fatty acids: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) are the omega three fatty acids needed for normal brain function, decreased inflammation and maintenance of heart heath. DHA and EPA are found in oily fish only. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is however found in plant foods and can be converted into DHA and EPA in the body, although not at the same level as when DHA and EPA are eaten directly through the diet. Some vegan sources include rapeseed oil, soya based foods (tofu) and oil, flaxseed and walnuts. Another option is to take a DHA and EPA supplement made from algae which will ensure adequate intake.

Zinc: Zinc is a trace element, which means we only need small amounts in the body for healthy function. Our bodies use zinc for a number of functions such as immunity, growth and to speed of the breakdown of macronutrients. Some vegan sources of zinc include beans, lentils, chickpeas, wholemeal bread, walnuts and cashew nuts. Ensuring you get a wide variety of these foods into your diet should cover your daily Zinc needs.

Iodine: Another trace element, iodine is needed for the regulation of thyroid hormones which control the function and speed of every cell in the body. There is a fine balance between too little and too much iodine in the diet as too much iodine can also result in thyroid problems such as goitre, which is a swelling of the thyroid gland. The UK recommendation for iodine is 140micrograms daily. Seaweed is a good vegan source of iodine however, iodine levels vary between different types and servings of seaweed so daily consumption may result in too much iodine. A good supplement will help with iodine levels.


A vegan diet is quite restrictive and takes a lot of planning to meet adequate levels of micronutrients as well as energy and macronutrients. Once well planned for, it is very healthy and sustainable. To all of you taking part in Veganuary, best of luck! I personally will not be taking part as I love cheese and eggs too much but I will be experimenting with some new recipes over the coming weeks.

As always if you are finding the transition difficult or need some advice, please don’t hesitate to get in contact and we can work together to plan a sustainable vegan diet, be it for January or forever!

If you found this article in anyway helpful or interesting, please be sure to share with friends and family and follow me across social media for daily nutrition and health tips and advice!

Sarah x

intermittent FASTING

Intermittent fasting is defined as ‘voluntary abstinence from food and drink’.  It has received a lot of attention in recent years, one example being the popular 5:2 diet where people are instructed to eat a certain  number of calories for two days of the week and for the other five days of the week, there is no restriction in caloric intake.  The difference with intermittent fasting is instead of telling you what to eat, it tells you when to eat. 

Research indicates that intermittent fasting has a number of positive metabolic effects such as reduced obesity associated body weight, reduced fasting  insulin and glucose concentrations, reduced plasma cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations. 

There are a few variations on intermittent fasting:

Alternate day IF: Alternate day intermittent  fasting involves alternate fasting days where no calories are consumed and feeding days where foods and drinks are consumed with no restriction. This particular method has shown reduced levels of obesity, fasting insulin and glucose concentrations as well as reduced cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations. However, it has also been shown to be just as effective as simple calorie restriction for weight loss as well as less desirable effects such as extreme hunger and fatigue on fasting days.

Modified fasting regimes: This form of IF is slightly different. It has the similar ‘fasting days’ however, instead of fasting completely, food intake is restricted to 20-25%. This form of IF has shown similar benefits as the above as well as an increased feeling of fullness. Some negative side effects include feeling cold and irritable, hungry and low energy levels. 

Time restricted feeding:  This particular method is slightly different. Instead of having fasting days, it involves restricting food intake to particular times of the day. Take for example an eating window of 8 hours, and a 16 hour fast. Depending of preference, one might make their eating window between 11-7. This way they can skip breakfast but their eating window is slightly more social to allow time with friends.

The main bulk of research has been carried out in animals, which gives a good insight into IF’s benefits, however we cannot compare a human to a mouse. More research in humans is needed to identify the best form of intermittent fasting and its long-term implications for humans.

My opinion – intermittent fasting is another diet. It has its place and may allow people to better stick to a caloric deficit due to time restrictions on food consumption, however it does take quite  lot of planning. I wouldn’t recommend it to the general population.

Yes, there is evidence that this form of eating can help reduce weight and various blood parameters which may benefit some populations such as high level athletes who need to make weight for competition, or obese patients who are working with a qualified professional to reduce weight and weight associated disease. For the general population however, fasting completely for two days and eating with no restriction for the other five is a recipe for binge-restrict cycles of feeding. If someone is unfamiliar with this type of eating, the night before their first fast will cause panic and a need to ‘stock up’ on food for the next day of fasting. Similarly, the day after the fast may cause a feeling of extreme hunger. This can lead to disordered eating patterns leading the person back to stage one, or even worse.

There is very little evidence coming from human studies to identify whether this is a long term option for the general population. I agree that it may suit some people however we are all different and what might suit you may be completely wrong for somebody else. Similarly, any studies available are done in a controlled environment where constant support is available. Time restricted feeding is the most sustainable option in my opinion. Giving a window of eating daily rather than fasting days is more sustainable and suited to our current working environment.  My biggest concern with time restricted feeding is eating enough and meeting nutrient requirements.  This can however negatively affect social life as it can be quite restrictive in regards to when you can consume food and drinks.

 If you’re looking to give intermittent fasting a go, maybe start off with time restricted feeding as it’s the easiest form to fit in to a normal daily routine. The most important thing here is to increase the size of your meals to ensure you are eating enough and getting all the essential nutrients for your long-term health. 

My personal advice would be  to improve your health and reduce weight through a healthy balance diet and regular exercise. Its much more social and sustainable.. life’s too short to be living by strict rules around eating and diet!

If you found this particular subject interesting or beneficial, please be sure to share with friends and family. You can also keep up to date with my daily nutrition posts on my Instagram page @f.i.g_nutrition_.  Have a fab day!

Sarah x

useful resources: 

The gut microbiome

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the gut microbiome, probiotics and an increased interest in fermented foods and beverages.. but what exactly is the gut microbiome?

Did you know that humans harbour around 10-100 trillion microorganisms; most of which are present in the gut? Of these microorganisms, about 99% are bacteria and are collectively known as known as the gut microbiome. They have a number of metabolic roles such as

  • vitamin production
  • production of short chain fatty
  • digestion of food
  • brain function and mood
  • regulation of the immune system and metabolism.

Where do these bacteria come from?

Each and everyone of us have a microbiome which is unique to us, similar to your finger print! Before birth, we are protected in a sterile environment and a result, our gut has not been exposed to any pathogens or microorganisms and too, is sterile. Upon birth, rapid colonisation occurs. Depending on the mode of delivery, early colonization of microbes will resemble which bacteria the infant has been in contact with. Different modes of delivery will provide different microbes. Naturally, vaginal delivery is the most common form and exposure to vaginal and faecal microbes occur, some of which include Lactobacillus and Prevotella species. Caesarean section on the other hand skips this and exposes the infant to microbes in the air and on the skin such as Staphylococcus species. This begins the development of the infants gut microbiome.

This microbial community continues to develop for the first 2-3 years of life with subsequent variations throughout adulthood. Some factors affecting its diversity include genetics, environment, antibiotic use and stress. Gestational age is also a big factor. Premature infants are usually kept in sterile environments and treated with antibiotics to prevent infection. As a result, microbial diversity is reduced and a delayed development occurs. By three years of age, an adult like microbiota has formed. The health of this microbiome is also effected by environmental factors such as antibiotic use, diet, stress and probiotic/prebiotic exposure.

Bacterial diversity is key for a healthy microbiome and it is also associated with better health. An imbalance within the microbiome is known as ‘dysbiosis’. Dysbiosis is liked to weight gain, IBS, poor mental health as well as other gut issues.

The changing microbiome
Over the past number of decades, a change has occurred. The diversity of our microbiome has reduced as well as the number of microorganisms in our gut. This is a result of increased antibiotic use, poor dietary habits and less women are breast feeding. With this change in microorganisms have come new diseases. Research suggests that a reduced number of gut bugs as well as an altered ratio of certain types of bacteria, may be linked to mental health issues, development of autoimmune diseases such as autism, obesity and food intolerances. Notice how often you hear of people having trouble with foods we’ve eaten for centuries such as bread and milk? Or how the levels of obesity are constantly creeping up and up. I could speak for hours about these issues however that subject is for another day.

What is a healthy gut microbiome?

Research in this area is in its infancy and so it is unclear what the exact definition of a ‘healthy’ gut microbiome looks like. There are thousands of different bacterial strains, all of which have different effects and functions and there is a lack of research to identify what exactly is a good or a bad strain. The best way to measure the health of your gut is measuring its performance. Are you digesting food well? Do you get sick easily? How is your day to day mood? Focusing on this patterns and making changes to your habits will benefit your microbiome and your health. Good sleeping habits, healthy eating and reducing stress will all help promote the diversity of healthy bacteria. Some ways to improve gut health include:

    • Eating a variety of food – A varied diet promotes growth and diversity of bacteria in the gut.
    • Probiotic supplements – Probiotics contain various strains of bacteria known to benefit human health. These bacteria compete with disease causing bacteria in the gut for a place to live and may have a beneficial affect on our health.
    • Consumption of fermented foods – Fermented foods contain naturally occurring probiotics. Consumption of these foods exposes the gut to more bacteria thus, diversifying our microbiomes.
    • Limiting intake of artificial sweeteners – Artificial sweeteners have a negative effect on the gut microbiome 
    • Consuming prebiotic fibres – Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in the gut keeping them healthy and active.
    • Limiting antibiotic use – Antibiotics kill disease causing bacteria, however they also kill good bacteria. The more frequent the use of antibiotics the lower the count of bacteria in the gut which can have detrimental effects on our health.

So now we know what exactly the gut microbiome is and how it benefits our health, we need to find out the best way to support these gut bugs. Keep an eye out the next few days for some more in dept. explanation on probiotics, prebiotics and fermented foods and how they can improve our individual microbiome and health.

If you found this interesting or helpful, be sure to share with family and friends. I also cover a range of topics daily on my Instagram page @f.i.g_nutrition_ have a fab day! 

Sarah x

 

Taco night!

Who doesn’t love a taco night? I don’t know about you but I love a good Mexican. There’s so many options and making a home made meal makes it that much better! One of my favourite meals has to be tacos with home made salsa , homemade guacamole, sour cream and cheese.

Heres a simple, quick and easy recipe for homemade quorn tacos. Making your own salsa and guacamole adds two of your five a day!

For the guacamole: 

1 avocado

1 lime, juiced.

1 red onion, diced

1 small red chilli, finely chopped

a handfull of fresh coriander, finely chopped.

1. Cut open the avocado using a knife (be careful!)

2. Stone the avocado and scoop out filling into a bowl. Crush the avocado until mashed.

3. Mix in all ingredients, season to taste.

For the salsa:

4-6 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

½ red onion, very finely chopped

1 small garlic clove, crushed

A splash white wine vinegar

½ lime, juice only

½ bunch coriander, roughly chopped

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the taco mix:

1 pack of taco shells

1 tin of refried beans

300g bag quorn mince

1 large onion

1 garlic clove

1 tsp each of cinnamon, cumin, chilli powder.

2 tblsp tomato purée

1 tin chopped tomatoes

2 tsp oregano

Grated cheese

Sour cream

Chopped mixed peppers

1. Heat the oil in a pan. Saute the onion and garlic for 2 minutes, then add the chilli powder, cumin and cinnamon and cook for minute.

2. Stir in the Quorn Mince, coating it well with the spices, then add peppers, tomatoes, refried beans tomato puree and oregano. Stir in the coriander. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

 

 

For best results, fill the taco shell with the quorn mixture first. Add toppings as you please, top with a sprinkle of cheese and enjoy!

 

If you try this recipe and enjoy it be sure to tag @f.i.g_nutrition_ in any pictures and let me know how you get on!

 

 

Sarah x