Nutrition tips I’d share with my 14 year old self!

Nutrition tips I’d share with my 14 year old self!

If I had a magic time machine I’d go back to the early 90s and have a quiet word with myself about food. 

I’d also have a quiet word about hairstyles and picking at spots, but food would be first.

At age 14 I was a terrible pescetarian.  I lived on tuna pasta bake, Linda McCartney Country Pies (*instant bloating*) Findus cheese pancakes, baked beans, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Black, two sugars.

I carried on eating like this into my late teens and early twenties.  My repertoire expanded a little when I moved out of home and lived with people who introduced me to houmous and feta cheese.

As you might expect, my health wasn’t exactly dazzling.  Every month I had 10-14 days of pre-menstrual tension symptoms of anger, depression, forgetfulness, brain fuzz, bloating and spots.  This was followed by heavy painful periods lasting 7-8 days.  I ping-ponged through the day on sugar-caffeine highs followed by exhausting slumps, and my bowels could tick off every type of poo on the Bristol Stool Scale.

If I’d known then what I know now, I would have abso-flippin’-lutely eaten differently.  The cheese pancakes would have been accompanied by broccoli for a start.


Nutritional gems I’d share with my Pearl Jam fan-girl, rubbish-pescatarian 14yr old self:

Drink some water.  I lived on coffee & tea, both of which were playing havoc with my digestion and blocking iron absorption (not a great combo with heavy periods).  Drinking at least 1l of water a day would have done my digestion, energy, and skin a whole lot of good.

Eat greens, everyday.  Mum always included at least 1 green veggie with our evening meal, however I could have been a lot more pro-active myself.  Brassica veggies in particular (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, rocket) are packed with nutrients that support oestrogen processing in the liver – essential for hormone balance and managing PMT.

Ease up on sugar.  Adding 2 sugars to every black coffee really racked up my sugar intake and contributed to the bloating and teen spots.  Add in white bread, white pasta, and other refined carbs and the sugar total was HUGE!  Swapping to herbal teas and complex carbs would have made a significant difference to energy, digestion, skin health, and hormone balance.

Eat Real Food.  Back then, as a pescetarian I really needed to be eating a lot more fish, eggs, beans, pulses, and colourful fruits & veggies and none of that processed fake food marketed to vegetarians.

Protein, protein, protein!  Again, the fish, beans, pulses and eggs would have helped with this, alongside nuts and seeds.  I was in dire need of protein building blocks for healthy skin, zingy energy levels, and stable moods, and my diet wasn’t supplying them!

Prep a proper packed lunch.  A typical lunch consisted of cheese sandwiches with white bread, cake, and maybe a piece of fruit (maybe).  Then I’d come home at 4pm and feast on chocolate spread sandwiches.  Blimey, my pancreas was working overtime!  Better options would have been wholemeal pittas with salad & fish / eggs / fruit salad with nuts & seeds / houmous / guacamole / and a lot less chocolate spread!

What nutritional gems would you share with your teenage self?

We’ve had some fun discussions about our teen diets over in the Facebook group: come and join us! 


How can I reduce my sugar intake?

New sugar limits for sweet foods and snacks have been published today, in a bid to get food manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of products by 20% over the next 3 years.

Public Health England (PHE) announced new targets for the food industry in face of rising levels of childhood obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.  NHS figures reported last week show a 24% increase in toddler tooth extractions over the past decade, largely due to children eating more and more sugar.

The new sugar reduction proposals suggest 3 ways for manufacturers to meet the targets;

  • Cut sugar levels by 20% across all productsbrooke-lark-203839

  • Promote ‘no added’ or ‘low sugar’ alternatives

  • Cut overall calories or reduce the portion size

These proposals are entirely voluntary and whilst some manufacturers are embracing the changes, well aware of the fact that this cannot be avoided and voluntary measures are likely to be more lenient than legislation will be, others are stalling for time and protesting the moves.

Will the proposals work?

Cutting sugar levels across all products is undoubtedly a strong step in the right direction for improving public health.  But, when you take something away you have to offer a viable alternative: cue the ‘low sugar’ alternative foods.  A potential problem here may be the inclusion of more salt or more processed fats to maintain the texture and satiety of the product.

Sugar, salt and fat are the magic triage of ingredients used in processed foods to achieve maximum levels of taste and ‘feel’ – the ‘bliss effect’ – when eating.  Remove one of the triple and you have to add more of the others to maintain the status quo.

What about artificial sweeteners?

Cutting sugar levels almost certainly means an increased reliance on artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and aesculfame.  These compounds are 200 times sweeter than regular sugar and are currently widely used in many sugar free products like chewing gums and sugar-free soft drinks.

The safety of these chemicals remains highly controversial.  Much of the evidence promoting their safe use is industry funded and frequently conducted on animals – the human digestive process and nervous system differ in many ways to that of animals!

Newer research has shown the negative effect artificial sweeteners have on our beneficial gut bacteria.  Our microbiome comes into direct contact with the breakdown products of sweeteners in the digestive tract, and in the case of aspartame, the main breakdown product is formaldehyde – a recognised carcinogen to humans, and most commonly known as embalming fluid!

A healthy, nourished microbiome plays a major role in regulating immunity and inflammation, as well as influencing nutrient absorption and the production of certain vitamins, namely vitamin K and certain B-vitamins.  Imbalances in gut bacteria are, ironically, linked to disturbed metabolism and obesity – the very health issues we are trying to combat.

Artificial sweeteners also account for a significant amount of food sensitivity reactions in both adults and children.  Pushing more of these chemicals into our food chain puts us at risk of myriad side effects and is certainly not the answer to the obesity problem.

So how do we reduce sugar?

Rather than relying on food manufacturers who have only profits in mind, take your own steps to sugar reduction.  Start slowly, and gradually phase out sugar and artificial sweeteners to allow your taste buds to adjust.

Simple swaps include;

 – Replace standard breakfast cereals with Overnight Oats or homemade granola sweetened with maple syrup.  No time to make your own granola?  Marks & Spencer offer a granola base sweetened with a small amount of apple juice and honey.

 – Replace fruit juice and fizzy drinks with fruit water: add fruit slices (lemon, pomegranate, lime, orange) to filtered water.

 – Replace white bread with wholegrain, or look for bread alternatives such as oatcakes, buckwheat crackers, or nori sheets to make wraps with.

 – Dried fruits are a concentrated source of sugar but their high fibre content helps slow down its absorption into your bloodstream.  Snack on a palmful of dried fruits and mixed nuts, or keep Nak’d bars in your bag / glove box / desk drawer.

 – For an after dinner sweet hit try Pukka Herbs Liquorice & Cinnamon tea: liquorice is up to 50 times sweeter in taste than sugar and the cinnamon supports healthy blood sugar balance.

 – Make sure to combine good quality protein with healthy fats and slow releasing carbohydrates at each meal to support steady, sustained energy levels and reduce sweet cravings.

Struggling to break the sugar habit?  Take a look at the 4 Week Flourish and 8 Week Positive Change Plans to see how we can work together to turn your health around! 

Call 07910 705272 or email at to book in!

Your 5 Step Christmas Survival Guide!

The Christmas ‘to-do’ list is a mile long, presents are waiting to be wrapped and you’ve just found out a gluten-free vegan is coming for lunch.  All feelings of peace and joy have rapidly evaporated – what can you do to cope with festive stresses?

Let’s look at 5 top tips for coping with Christmas:

  1. Stress: This is a particularly tough time of year for anyone suffering with depression or bereavement.  The pressures of work and managing big family gatherings also ramp up the stress levels. Magnesium and B-vitamins are fantastic for soothing your nervous system; green leafy vegetables, cashew nuts, mushrooms and brown rice are all good sources.  Bathing in Epsom salts is a traditional remedy and a great way to absorb magnesium through your skin!  Add in a few drops of lavender oil too, then lie back and soak for a good 20 minutes.
  2. Overindulgence: indigestion can be incredibly painful – even mistaken for a heart attack in severe cases!  Chamomile and fennel teas are wonderfully soothing for sore or upset stomachs and can relieve painful trapped wind.  Milk thistle offers herbal support for liver function and easing hangovers – do check with your healthcare practitioner before taking any herbal remedies alongside prescription medications though.
  3. Special diets: you’re hosting a Christmas party and suddenly realise several guests are gluten and dairy free – what can they eat?  Panic not, healthfood stores like Tullivers in York and Goodness Direct online now offer a full range of festive treats designed to meet specific dietary needs including gluten-free gravy granules, oat cream, soya cream, rice flour for making pastry, dairy free chocolate advent calendars and gluten-free Christmas puddings.
  4. Colds and flu: ‘tis the season to be jolly unless you’re struck down with a virus!  Homemade chicken and vegetable soup is a fantastic immune booster.  Broccoli, peppers, kiwi fruit, mushrooms and sweet potatoes are all packed with antioxidant nutrients that help us fight off bugs.  Top up your vitamin D with an oral spray supplement and keep some manuka honey to hand for making honey and lemon drinks to soothe croaky throats and coughs.
  5. Headaches; stuffy atmospheres, stress, alcohol, sugary foods and dehydration can all trigger headaches.  Drink plenty of water throughout the day, pace yourself with sweet treats and make time for a relaxing Epsom salt bath to ease tense neck and shoulder muscles.
  6. One extra tip from personal experience….I once had bad flu over Christmas, it was rotten but made me realise that the world doesn’t end if you don’t send cards or presents or make it to parties. Friends and family still love you and thats all that matters!

Wishing you a Happy & Healthy Christmas 🙂


(This article is adapted from a column I wrote for York Press 1/12/2014)

Keep Sugar Cravings at Bay!

Removing refined sugary foods from your meals and snacks can revolutionise your energy levels, mood balance, concentration and sleep patterns.  Quitting the white stuff can be tough though.  It is important to look at why you are craving sugar in the first place:

Let’s focus on the top 3 reasons…

1. Skipping breakfast and not eating regularly; this means your body has to produce extra stress hormones in order to mobilise stored sugars and keep your energy up.  Long term, this puts strain on your adrenal glands, pancreas and liver.  Eating a balanced healthy breakfast including good quality protein and natural slow releasing sugars provides a steady supply of fuel to last you till lunchtime.

Good options include:

  • poached eggs, spinach and oatcakes
  • porridge with added seeds, nuts and fresh berries
  • or if you’re pushed for time, a homemade smoothie packed with fruit, ground seeds nut butter and milk.

2. Relying on caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks; sharp spikes in sugar intake give a rush of energy which is always followed by a deep slump where you feel even worse than before! Gradually cut down on caffeinated drinks and replace these with water, herb teas and green tea.  Green tea does still contain caffeine but this stimulative effect is counterbalanced by an amino acid called theanine which has a calming effect on the brain, boosting mental clarity and concentration.  Snack options include fruit and nut mixes, crudités with houmous or bean dips and brown rice cakes with nut butter.  These ideas combine protein with carbohydrates which provides a steady release of sugar into your bloodstream thereby avoiding spikes and slumps.


3. Anxiety, depression, PMT; these types of cravings are associated with low levels of mood hormones such as serotonin.  To make serotonin your brain needs particular proteins which can only get into the brain with the help of insulin. The fastest way to get insulin released is to eat sugary foods so your body craves sugar!  To avoid this effect, include foods rich in the proteins needed for mood hormone formation so your brain has a steady supply; chicken, turkey, lentils, spirulina, cottage cheese, almonds, pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

Once you have established the cause of our cravings plan meals and snacks accordingly so you know in advance what to eat and don’t risk desperately grabbing the nearest sugar fix.

If you need friendly support and guidance with kicking the sugar habit drop me a line at or call on 07910 705272 today!

Pop over to the Facebook page for more discussions and ideas or follow me on Twitter @nutritioninyork 🙂