November, 2013

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Food Intolerances: A Growing Controversy

One in four people claim to suffer from one but yet the subject of food intolerances still causes a major divide in opinion; there are two major camps – the sceptics who say it’s all in your head, and the believers who get highly defensive when they come across sceptics! Sceptics argue that 10 years ago, no one had even heard of lactose free milk, believers argue that they or their loved one’s wellbeing was transformed when the offending food item was identified and eliminated.

What’s the difference between food allergy & Food Intolerance? A food allergy is an immune system response to a food that the body perceives as harmful. It causes immediate reactions that are often severe and can require medical attention such as swelling of the lips, vomiting or breathing difficulties.

Food intolerances on the other hand cause delayed reactions (2 to 72 hours) with symptoms such as bloating, wind, cramps, headaches and fatigue. Foods which cause the most common intolerances include wheat, dairy, chocolate, eggs, oranges, nuts, alcohol, tea and coffee.

Can a food intolerance be diagnosed? Yes and No, hence the controversy! A medically accepted diagnosis for food intolerance simply does not exist so some health professionals refuse to acknowledge that intolerances exist due to lack of scientific validity.

There are several testing options on the market but none are 100% accurate (you can get a finger prick blood test and a variety of complimentary tests such as kinesiology etc.)

In my professional opinion, the good old fashioned ‘Elimination Diet’ is still the ‘gold standard’ of tests and is the most accurate when done properly. It’s best done under the guidance of a nutritionist or dietician who will be able to address any underlying digestive issues which may be at the root of the problem. This approach can be laborious and requires sacrifice but the effort is well worth the results.

If you suffer from digestive issues such as bloating, excessive wind or bowel trouble, there are lots of things you can do to boost your digestive health and therefore reduce your susceptibility to food sensitivities, below are 5 steps:

5 Steps to boost your digestive health

Eat natural It pretty much goes without saying that the very best food comes out of the ground and not a laboratory. By sticking to whole natural foods that haven’t been genetically altered you’re eating foods which speak the same language as your body and so therefore can be digested and absorbed effectively.

Vary your diet. Many people develop sensitivities to the food they eat most often. In fact, many of us stick to the same type of foods day in day out without even realising it. For example, the average person will have cereal for breakfast, a sandwich at lunch and a bowl of pasta for dinner, that’s a whole lot of wheat in one day. Variety is key to good digestion and health, so make sure to mix things up.

Feed your gut You can easily increase good bacteria in your gut by eating foods rich in probiotics like live natural yogurt, Probiotics is just another word for “good bacteria.” If you suffer with digestive trouble, taking a probiotic supplement is often advisable. You can feed the good bacteria in your gut with prebiotic foods such as onion, oats, bananas, garlic, asparagus, legumes and flaxseed.

Avoid overusing antibiotics Antibiotics are designed to eliminate the bacteria that cause infections. However, in the process, they eliminate all bacteria, including the good bacteria in your gut which can leave you open to developing yeast infections and even make you more prone to tougher, drug-resistant strains of infections. Avoid taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary and always try natural alternatives first particularly when it comes to common viral infections such as cold and flu. Also, Long-term over use of over-the-counter medications like aspirin and ibuprofen can have a detrimental effect on our digestive system.

Know your digestive irritants Certain food and drinks can irritate the lining of the gut, Although different foods may irritate different people, the most common offenders are chillies, onions, peppers, citrus fruits and high fat foods like cream. Alcohol and coffee can also cause irritation and inflammation of the digestive system. In addition, smoking can exacerbate matters as it interferes with stomach acid production.

Stress Management There’s no question that stress plays a big role in digestive problems and I see direct evidence of this everyday with my IBS patients. Hence, effective stress management can be very helpful when it comes to treating gastrointestinal symptoms. Mindfulness meditation, talk therapy, yoga, and even proper belly breathing have all been known to help.

Eat Your Way To Happiness – The Mood Food Connection

Have you ever experienced a day when in the morning you felt fine, but after lunch, you felt down and tired? What if I told you that eating certain foods could improve your mood, provide uplifting energy and make you feel alert and motivated?

Whether you only feel blue from time to time or are prone to low mood or depression eating a diet high in ‘good mood foods’ and low in ‘ mood zapping foods’ can go a long way to balancing how you feel both physically, mentally and emotionally.

The key to understanding the connection between the food we eat and our mood and level of alertness lies in understanding a little about how the brain functions. The brain communicates by chemical substances (neurotransmitters) passed from one nerve cell to the next. Most neurotransmitters are made from the food we eat. One of the neurotransmitters that is most sensitive to diet and influential in affecting mood is serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’. Our bodies produce serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan which comes directly from food.

Serotonin is a calming and relaxing chemical. When produced, feelings of stress and tension decrease, and our sleep cycle is regulated. Women are three times as prone to low moods as men. Research suggests that the cause of this lies in the fact that women are more prone to low levels serotonin. A Serotonin deficiency can be brought on by many factors including hormone imbalances (e.g. PMS), stress, imbalanced blood sugar and nutritional deficiencies.

However, we can fight back! Below are some simple do’s and don’ts to help you banish those blues and take control over your mood:

1) Balance your blood sugar – Balancing your blood sugar is one of the most important steps in regaining control over your mood. A diet high in stimulants such as sugar and caffeine can cause sugar highs and sugar lows which in turn affects our mood. Excess caffeine and sugar can also rev up stress hormones in the body such as adrenaline and cortisol which can lead to feelings of anxiety and irritability.  So, the first step in balancing mood is to reduce caffeine and sugar consumption.

2) Protein with every meal: I recommend that you eat a portion of protein with every meal and snack. Not only does protein help keep blood sugar levels balanced, it also contains the amino acid Tryptophan. As mentioned above, Tryptophan, found in protein rich food is the building block for serotonin production which is known as the ‘happy hormone’ and helps us feel alert and content. Some foods high in tryptophan include turkey, cottage cheese and nuts. However, in order for tryptophan to be converted into serotonin, it requires several other vitamins and minerals to do so which are mentioned below.

3) Increase B Vitamins – B vitamins play a crucial role in the production of serotonin. Studies have shown that a deficiency in B vitamins can lead to depression. Prolonged stress or anxiety can easily deplete our body stores of these vitamins leaving us open to low mood and anxiety so it’s important that we consume foods rich in B vitamins on a daily basis such as oats, brown rice,  eggs and green leafy vegetables.

4) Omega 3Countries with higher rates of fish consumption generally have lower rates of depression. Oily fish are an excellent source of a particularly good fat called omega 3. Omega 3 naturally increases a potent mood lifting, anti-depressant neurotransmitter in our brain, called dopamine. It also slows the breakdown of serotonin. Dopamine makes you feel good, motivates you and helps you to deal with stress.  Adding oily fish to your diet can also increase physical and mental alertness, focus and excitement! Aim to have oily fish about three times weekly or consider taking a good quality fish oil supplement.   

5) Reduce alcohol – Excessive alcohol consumption has a profound effect on our mood for many reasons. It depletes B vitamins from the body, it interferes with our blood sugar balance and it alters the neurotransmitters which dictate our mood, sleep. Regular over consumption of alcohol is heavily associated with incidences of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Avoid consuming more than 14 units of alcohol per week which amounts to about 7 good sized glasses of wine and avoid binge drinking.

6) Vitamin D – very few of us in Ireland achieve enough sunlight for our bodies to make adequate vitamin D (which is made in the skin directly), or eat enough vitamin D in our diets and this is known to be a critical factor in boosting mood. Consider taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months and eat vitamin D rich foods such as eggs, green leafy vegetables and oily fish. Increasing your exposure to daylight also helps, try taking your exercise outdoors as much as possible.

7) Gut health  -  A vital aspect of a well functioning digestive system is its role in the production of serotonin – the body’s natural ‘happy hormone’. 95% of all serotonin is produced in the gut, not in the brain. Therefore, good digestion is crucial to the production and function of serotonin and that, in turn, plays a vital role in everything from our mental health to our ability to get a good night’s sleep. Keep your gut healthy by reducing the amount of sugar and alcohol in your diet, by avoiding the overuse of antibiotics and by eating plenty of gut healthy foods such as natural probiotic yogurt, onions, garlic, oats.

Top 10 Good Mood Foods:

  • Turkey
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Bananas
  • Brown Rice
  • Oily Fish
  • Nuts/Seeds
  • Beans/Lentils
  • Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Dark Chocolate

Sample ‘Good Mood’ menu

Breakfast: Poached eggs on brown soda bread

Snack: Handful of nuts with a banana

Lunch: Tuna and chick pea salad

Snack: Cottage Cheese with blueberries

Dinner: Stir fried turkey and vegetables served with brown rice

Dessert: Couple squares of dark chocolate

Food Dilemmas Solved

Trying to make healthy choices in the supermarket can be quite a challenge, especially when you’re time pressed and/or have small children hanging out of you. However, knowing the nutritional credentials of your favourite foods can at least help you make informed choices, particularly when faced with two similar options. Below is my healthy shopping guide to help you move more swiftly down the aisles:

1) Fresh vs Frozen Vegetables: Many of us think frozen veg must be the poor relation to fresh, when in fact quick freezing locks in water soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C and Folate, nutrients that are easily damaged by sunlight, heat and storage.

Bottom Line: The key is to reach your target of five a day by the most convenient way for you. Both fresh and frozen count, so keep some frozen packs to hand for when your veg basket is empty. The same goes for fruit, for example, frozen berries are a better and much more cost effective choice than fresh berries at this time of year.

2) White Potatoes vs Sweet Potatoes: The protein, fibre, fat and calorie content of the white and sweet potato are similar. However, the vitamin content does vary significantly between the two potatoes. The sweet potato is higher in vitamin C and significantly higher in vitamin A. You will also get a steadier release of energy from sweet potatoes due to their slightly lower GI rating.

Bottom Line: It seems sweet potatoes pip white potatoes to the post when it comes to immune enhancing vitamins and their lower GI rating. However, if you prefer a regular white spud, go for baby new potatoes which have a lower GI rating than regular potatoes.

3) Olive oils vs rapeseed oil: They’re on a par in terms of calories and fat. One tablespoon of either oils contains 100 calories and 11g of fat. The difference is in the type of fat they provide. Olive oil is higher in saturated fat (unhealthy fat) but contains more monounsaturated fat which is a healthy type of fat so it pretty much balances out.

Bottom line: Both are heart healthy oils, so, you should base your decision on how you plan to use them. Rapeseed oil is better if you’re cooking at high temperatures, such as stir frying, whereas olive oil is better for drizzling or making salad dressings.

4) Red onion vs white onion: Both types of onions are powerful super foods with antiviral, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. However, red onions do contain more of the antioxidant quercetin which helps to boost immunity and lower inflammation in the body.

Bottom Line: For most benefit, make sure to include a variety of onions in your diet, but especially make sure to have at least one red onion a week! Most importantly – make sure not to over peel, those outer layers have the most nutrients! According to a recent study, peeling the first two layers of the onion removes 75 % of the antioxidants.

5) Tinned Tuna vs Tinned Salmon: A 100g portion of tinned salmon provides 1.4g omega 3 fats, whereas the same quantity of tuna has just 0.2g omega 3’s, as the canning process removes most of the essential fats. Both are a rich source of protein but because tuna has less fat than salmon, it’s also lower in calories

Bottom Line: If you’re seriously watching your weight, go for tuna, but, if you want to boost your omega 3 intake, a tin of salmon is the better choice.

6) Red Wine Vs White Wine: Red wine is made with the skin of the grape and so contains more of certain antioxidants than white. Red wine also contains a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol which may help prevent against cancer and heart disease.

Bottom Line: Yes, there are more health benefits to be found in drinking red wine. However, consuming any alcohol in moderation can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, so, both wines offer benefits – but only in moderate amounts of course!

7) Regular Eggs vs Organic Eggs: The kind of fat found in eggs depends on the type of feed the chicken has been given. Most eggs come from battery chickens which are fed badly, therefore they lay eggs high in saturated fat. However, eggs that are laid by organic free-range chickens tend to be healthier because they are fed with omega 3 rich feed.

Bottom Line: If they’re within your budget, go for organic eggs. As well as containing less saturated fat, they taste better and being free range, they are the ethical choice.

8) Honey vs Sugar: Both give us calories with very little nutrient content and cause blood sugar to rise about the same (having similar glycemic index rankings). One tablespoon of honey is 64 calories vs. 49 calories from sugar. However, because honey tastes sweeter, you can use smaller amounts for the sweetness you are looking for.

Bottom line: Really it comes down to personal taste and weighing up the cost. Also, bear in mind that certain honey, such as Manuka honey, does offer significant health benefits, but, you’ll pay for it.


Emotional Eating

Why you comfort eat and how to stop

So you arrive home late after a long stressful day at work and decide to treat yourself to a pizza. You’re bored, there’s nothing on the TV, so you eat a packet of crisps. You’re lonely, fed up or annoyed about something but you don’t reach for the apple sitting in the fruit bowl, oh no, you munch your way through a packet of biscuits instead, sound familiar?

This isn’t a problem if it happens just occasionally but what happens when our emotions start to take over our eating?

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe emotions (often negative), such as stress, anger, boredom, sadness or loneliness. However, emotional eating can also be linked to positive feelings too such as romance, reward and celebration.

Why is it a problem?

Emotional eating can seriously sabotage your weight loss efforts because it’s a vicious cycle – your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for pigging out, you feel bad, and you overeat again.

How common is it?

Research suggests that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. As a nutritionist who deals with weight loss clients every day, I’ve come to realise that identifying the psychological and emotional factors behind your eating habits really is vital in order to have lasting success.

For many people who struggle with weight, being given dietary advice is simply not enough, which is why I sought to enhance my skills as a nutritionist by completing a Diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I have found that using simple CBT coaching techniques as part of my consultation process to be extremely effective in helping my clients reach their goals. Below are 5 CBT strategies to help overcome emotional eating.

5 steps to overcome emotional eating

1) Learn how to differentiate between hunger, desire and cravings. Many of us have difficulty distinguishing between true hunger, a desire to eat and a craving. But it’s vital that you now how to differentiate between them, so here’s how:

If you haven’t eaten for hours, your stomach feels empty and is rumbling, that’s hunger.

If you’ve just eaten a full meal but you fancy having seconds, that’s a desire.

If you have a sudden and strong urge to eat something specific that’s a craving.

2) Identify your emotional triggers Keep a food and mood diary. Try writing down everything you eat & drink for a week and jot down what you were feeling before you ate it. This will help you to identify whether particular feelings, circumstances, people or events act as triggers. Try to pinpoint what it is you need and aren’t getting. It may be mental stimulation, companionship, love, or even just a hug.

3) Think before you act The next time you have a strong urge to eat something you shouldnt, take a moment to stop and acknowledge what’s going on before you act. Sometimes it helps to label the feeling i.e. ‘This feeling is just a craving, it’s strong and uncomfortable but it’s not an emergency and it will pass’. In fact, cravings reach their peak after 20 minutes at which point they lose their power and start to pass.

4) Find a distraction Do you remember a time when a natural distraction interrupted your craving and later you were glad you hadn’t eaten? Maybe a friend called or you’re child demanded attention. By the time you had finished with what you had to do, your craving had weakened and passed! Next time you experience a craving, place your focus on a distracting activity – phone a friend, go for a walk, play with your child, do a chore, write an e-mail etc. You’ll be surprised how quickly the craving will subside.

5) Challenge your own excuses We all have a number of ‘permission giving’ thoughts that allow us to justify eating the wrong foods. These thoughts often start with the phrase, ‘I know I shouldn’t eat this, but it’s ok because……’ They end with any number of excuses such as…….. ‘I’m stressed; it’s just a little piece; I’ll make up for it tomorrow, it’d be rude not to, I’m celebrating; it will go to waste; I deserve it…..’

Try coming up with some helpful responses to your own excuses, write them down and refer to them when temptation strikes. Here’s an example

Unhelpful Excuse: ‘’I deserve to have this piece of cake’

Helpful Response: “I may deserve this piece of cake but I deserve to be slim more and I can’t have it both ways.”

The longer you use these new thinking skills, the more automatic they’ll become. Like most things in life, practise makes perfect!

Emotional Eater? Take the quiz

So how do you know if you are you an emotional eater? Take the quiz below to find out!

How often do you eat the wrong foods or overeat when……

1) You’re feeling down or browned off

a) Often                        b) Rarely

2) You’re trying to postpone doing something you don’t feel like doing

a) Often                        b) Rarely

3) You’re tired and need a pick me up

a) Often                        b) Rarely

4) You feel stressed or frustrated

a) Often                        b) Rarely

5) You’re bored and can’t think of anything better to do

a) Often                        b) Rarely

6) To reward yourself

a) Often                        b) Rarely

7) How often to you eat past the point of just feeling mildly full?

a) Often                        b) Rarely

8) How often do you experience a sudden urge for a specific food
a) Often                        b) Rarely

9) How often do you go out of your way to satisfy a particular food craving
a) Often                       b) Rarely

10) How often do you feel secretive or guilty in relation to what and how much you ate

a) Often                        b) Rarely

Mostly a’s
If you answered mostly a’s then emotional eating is an issue for you and it’s probably sabotaging your weight loss efforts. But the good news is that you can take steps to regain control over your eating habits.

Mostly b’s
Your eating patterns have little to do with emotional eating. Even if you experience occasional episodes of overeating, this is quite natural.


© 2018: Elsa Jones Nutritionist | Telephone: 087 66 55 874 | Email:
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