Author Archives for Catriona's Nutrition Blog

Functional Foods – What are functional foods and how do they benefit us?

Nutrition has moved on from the traditional concept of avoiding nutrient deficiencies to the concept of optimal nutrition. Nutrition research has moved to identifying components in foods which can optimise physical and mental well being and decrease the risk of disease. Functional foods are foods and drinks that are enriched with particular nutrients/substances that can positively influence health beyond their basic nutritional value.

Functional foods include foods generated around a particular functional ingredient i.e. stanols/sterols enriched low fat spread, foods fortified with a nutrient that would not usually be present i.e. folic acid fortified bread/breakfast cereals.

What is NOT a functional food: Functional foods and medicines are different from a legislative perspective. Claims about the ability to treat or prevent disease are not allowed on foods but are permitted on medicines.

Superfoods: there is no specific definition of a superfood and no method of testing whether a food is super or not. The term superfoods is sometimes used by journalists to describe a food that is rich in a particular nutrient or bioactive substance.

Examples of functional foods and their benefits :

Yoghurts/ yoghurt drinks: These contain probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms (mainly bacteria). Many probiotic bacterial strains are the result of fermentation.  Probiotics can also be added to foods to improve intestinal microbial balance i.e. lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Prebiotics are a non digestible component that have beneficial effects by stimulating the growth of bacteria in the colon. Examples of prebiotics include oligofructose and inulin.  Foods containing both probiotics and prebiotics assist in optimal intestinal function and intestinal microbial balance.

Margarines: Many margarines are fortified with plant sterols and stability esters. These margarines assist with decreased LDL cholesterol and reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

Omega 3 fatty acids enriched eggs: The omega 3 fatty acids assist in the control of hypertension and lipids metabolism.

Functional foods may provide health benefits but should not be seen as an alternative to a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. The research opportunities to explore the relationship between a food component and an improved state of health or reduction of disease, present a great challenge to scientific researchers both now and in the future. Communicating the health benefits to consumers is very important so that they have the knowledge to make informed choices about the foods they consume.

Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically Modified Foods is a topic close to my heart. I completed my Masters thesis on consumers attitudes towards GM foods – The effect of social class and area on the attitudes of Irish consumers towards Genetically Modified Foods. It was concluded that the majority of consumers stated that their concerns about GM foods would stop them from buying GM foods for both Dublin and Limerick. This was also the case for all of Dublin and all of Limerick. Social class did have an effect on Irish consumers mean level of knowledge about GM foods, their concerns about chemical sprays and on their moral views regarding GM foods. Area of residence did not have an effect on Irish consumers attitudes towards GM foods.

Genetically Modified Foods are foods where the DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology can be called ‘modern biotechnology’, ‘recombinant DNA technology’, ‘genetic engineering’ or ‘genetic technology’. This results in allowing desirable traits i.e. herbicide resistance, pest protection and improved nutritional qualities. GM foods include foods that have an added or deleted gene sequence, animal products produced from animals that were fed GM feed and products produced by GM organisms.

How safety assessment of GM food is conducted: this focuses on 1. direct health effects 2. allergenicity 3. specific components thought to have toxic/ nutritional properties 4. stability of inserted gene 5.  nutritional effects associated with genetic modification 6. unintended effects which could result from insertion of gene.

The benefits of GM foods: These include increased yield, increased resistance to disease, less likely to be damaged by insects, improved nutritional value, increased shelf life, increased climatic survival, increased crop yields, decreased farm costs and increased farm profits.

Criticism of GM foods: These include environmental hazards – unintended harm to other organisms, decreased effectiveness of pesticides. Human health risks – allergenicity, the introduction of genes may create more allergies, unknown effects on human health. Economic concerns – a costly and lengthy process.

Public concern of GM foods: Many consumers accept more readily biotechnology as benefiting their health i.e. medicines with improved treatment potential/increased safety. European consumers confidence in food safety decreased with BSE and other public food safety scares. Consumers questioned the validity of risk assessments – focusing particularly on the long term effects of GM foods.

Future of GM foods: GM advocates are confident that the next generation of GM foods will be even more promising. The current techniques used to introduce genes into plant cells result in random insertion into genome. New techniques have been devised which allow precise insertion of genes into locations in the genome. This avoids the potential unknown effects of disrupting plants normal genome with random integrations. The political pressure from GM critics will remain a powerful source.

My next blog topic will be about functional foods and their benefits 🍇🍅


Nutrition, Genes and Health!

Hi again. Here is my blog post on nutrition, genes and health!

In the past nutrition research focused on impairment of health and nutrient deficiencies. Nutrigenomics has created the opportunity to deepen the understanding of how nutrients deepen gene expression, protein biosynthesis and metabolism. Nutrigenomics is the study of the genome influence on nutrition. It applies genomics technologies in food technology and nutritional sciences. Nutrigenetics is how an individual is genetically programmed to respond in a certain way to a nutrient. It deals with our genetic variation and how this manages our response to certain nutrition.

Nutrition science needs to understand the mechanism of nutrient dependent interactions at genetic molecular protein production and metabolic profile levels. The main aim of nutrigenetics is to clarify the impact of the variability of genes on the interactions between nutrients and diseases. Nutrigenomics studies the genome broad impact on nutrition.

Examples of nutrigenomics: phenylketonuria patients need to avoid phenylalanine rich food. Deficiency of aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme which metabolizes ethanol.  This results in annoying manifestation of individuals after consuming alcohol – this is seen in many Asian populations.

Examples of nutrigenetics:

MTHFR is involved in the metabolism of folic acid and maintaining normal blood level of homocysteine. A particular MTHFR gene SNP is linked with elevated homocysteine levels in the blood especially if there is a deficiency of folic acid in the diet. This is associated with cardiovascular diseases and raised predisposition of colon cancers (especially if there is a inadequate amount of folic acid in the diet when compared to recommended daily requirement.

Ethics and social issues:

For nutrigenomic developments it is important how the message is communicated and by whom. Consumers fear the consequences of characterisation of genome and identification of mutations of highly penetrant genes i.e. those responsible for forms of cancer. The consequence of this could impact an individual’s ability to gain employment, insurance or finance. The benefit in relation to the prevention of disease – knowledge of a person’s genetic profile could be used to create specific risk reducing actions involving diet which could reduce risk of disease and improve quality of life.

I will discuss genetic modified foods next week, an interesting and controversial topic!





The Vegan Diet – introductory healthy eating and nutritional tips for following the Vegan Diet

Hi again, this is later than promised. I’m catching up after a busy weekend.

The vegan diet contains only plant based foods and is completely free of meat, poultry, fish and any animal products i.e. eggs and dairy. People are on a vegan diet for numerous reasons i.e. weight management, environmental concerns, family influences.

Proper planning is essential when on a vegan diet. Food preparation and food choice are important as all protein, vitamins and minerals come from non animal sources. Food can be prepared at home. There are some ready made vegan meals available in large supermarkets and specialist stores. Vegan options are also available in restaurants.

Things to consider when following a vegan diet include considering alternative sources for the below nutrients:

Vitamin B12 – vegans should include fortified vitamin B12 foods such as soya milk, desserts and yoghurts, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast (always remember to check the food label before buying).

Iron – red meat is the most easily absorbed iron source. Plant foods contain only nonheme iron. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron. Alternative plant sources include beans/lentils, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals.

Calcium – to maintain high calcium levels, include plenty of the following tofu, calcium fortified foods i.e. yoghurts, soya milk, fruit juice, nuts, brown/white bread.

Vitamin D – Spending time in the sun boosts Vitamin D levels. Foods that contain fortified Vitamin D include fortified breakfast cereals, fortified yoghurts and soya milks.

Omega-3 fatty acids – good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include canola oil, tofu, flaxseeds/flaxseed oil, walnuts/walnut oil, soybeans/soybean oil.

Zinc – good sources of zinc include soybeans and other beans, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, some fortified cereals.

Healthy Benefits of the Vegan Diet –

A well planned and nutritional vegan diet can have a very positive impact on health. These include:

Zero animal fats: Animal fats have been linked to conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and various cancers. Plant based oils and fats such as olive oil provide the necessary fatty acids without raising low density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Reduced cancer risk: Meat eaters are at an increased risk of prostrate and colorectal cancers. The Vegan diet contains higher volumes of fruits, vegetables, fibre and legumes which are believed to protect against various cancers.

Heart health: People on a vegan diet take in fewer calories than those on a standard Western diet. This can result in a lower Body Mass Index and a decreased obesity risk. Reduced levels of harmful cholesterol can have a decreased risk of mortality from ischemic heart disease than meat eaters.

Lower mortality rate: Eating red and processed meats are linked to increased risk of premature deaths. This suggests that not eating meat redcues the overall risk of premature deaths.

Protection against chronic disease: Plant based diets can counteract an individual’s genetic likelihood of developing chronic diseases i.e. type 2 diabetes.  Researchers maintain that antioxidants in plant foods can fight free radical cells that cause inflammation and cell damage. Other plant compounds assist in controlling different genes linked to tumour growth, cardiovascular disease and arterial plaque.

Please see below link from Brenda Davis, registered dietician and nutritionist about  The Vegan Plate.

Tomorrow I will blog about nutrition and genetics and the relationship between Nutrition, Genes and Health!

Bananas – Nutritional Information and Healthy Facts

A medium sized banana contains around 105 calories. The average banana offers a portable snack that can be eaten on the go. This is ideal for athletes. Bananas are very versatile. They can used in smoothies, added to wholemeal toast and added also to yoghurts. Bananas can even be used in muffins.

Bananas are a rich source of carbohydrates. The carbohydrate content of bananas changes a lot during ripening. The main carbohydrate component of unripe bananas is starch. On a dry weight basis, green bananas contain up to 70 to 80 percent starch. The starch in bananas is converted into sugars during ripening. The most common types of sugar found in ripening bananas include sucrose, fructose and glucose.

A large proportion of starch found in unripe bananas is resistant starch. This resistant starch is resistant to digestion and is therefore a type of fibre. Bananas are also a good source of pectin which is another type of fibre. Some of the pectin in bananas is water soluble. Both pectin and resistant starch moderate the blood sugar rise after a meal. Bananas therefore have a low glycaemic index. Glycaemic index is a measure of the impact of food on our blood sugar.

Bananas are a very good source of vitamin B6. Bananas are also a good source of manganese, vitamin C, potassium, biotin and copper.  One medium sized banana can provide up to one third of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B6. Potassium is an essential mineral for the maintenance of normal blood pressure and heart function. The inclusion of bananas in your diet protect against atherosclerosis and help in the prevention of high blood pressure. Eating two bananas per day has been proven to lower blood pressure by ten percent.

Bananas contains small amounts of sterols i.e. sitosterol, campesterol, stigmastoral. These sterols block the absorption of dietary cholesterol and therefore help in keeping our blood cholesterol levels in check.

Bananas can help to relieve gastrointestinal illnesses. Bananas are part of the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice Applesauce and Dry Toast). These are foods that assist in relieving diarrhoea and upset stomach. Bananas are easy to digest and non irritating to the gastrointestinal tract.

Bananas should be firm but not too hard. Bananas should have their stems and tips intact. Bananas are actually very fragile. Bananas should be left to ripening at room temperature. Bananas should not be subjected to overly cold or hot temperatures. You should not place unripe bananas in the fridge because this will interrupt the ripening process. Bananas can be frozen for approximately two months. Bananas can be pureed before freezing or placed in a plastic wrap once the peel has been removed.

Tomorrow I will blog about the health benefits of a vegan diet.



Catriona’s Nutrition Blog

Welcome to Catriona’s Nutrition Blog. This is my first time blogging, excited about this! My blog will provide interesting and educational nutrition blogs.

I have an academic background in human nutrition and food science. I completed a BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition with DIS (Diploma in Industrial Studies) and a MSc in Food Science.

New Year and new beginnings. What will 2018 bring in relation to nutrition and healthy eating? Where is nutrition advice heading? How relevant is nutrition in everyday life?

Healthy eating on a budget is especially important in January after all our Christmas spending. Here are some healthy eating tips on a budget to get us through the end of winter and into spring. Time is important too. Most of us do not have the time to spend hours over the cooker or in the kitchen preparing meals. Time is precious!





Mood Enhancing Foods!

Food and mood, eating a poor diet can damage your mood. One of the major factors in mood enhancing foods is serotonin. High levels of serotonin keep a person relaxed and calm, with high concentration levels. Serotonin is responsible for mood, sleep and appetite levels. Unhappy feelings can be caused by low serotonin levels. Foods with high levels of serotonin include turkey, chicken and fish. High fibre cereals, bananas and whole grain products can also boost mood.

Fat is important in good mood food categories. Foods with high fat content release endorphins (which makes the person happy). Remember to stick with healthy fats i.e. fish oils. Other good mood foods include those high in protein. Protein contains tyrosine which increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels – chemicals responsible for alertness and excitement.

Good mood foods also include foods high in essential vitamins and minerals. Lack of folic acid in the diet is a factor in depression. Foods high in folic acid include turkey, leafy vegetables and asparagus. A lack of selenium in diets can contribute to anxious, unhappy feelings. Foods rich in selenium include tuna, eggs and wholegrains.

Click on below Amazon link

A list of mood enhancing foods include:

Salmon: Full of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is important for brain activity, energy production and circulation. Salmon is good for a healthy heart. Wild caught salmon contains double the recommended daily amount of vitamin B12. (Vitamin B12 consumption contributes to good mental health).

Bananas: rich in B vitamins and potassium which provide a more sustained release of energy. The vitamins and minerals in bananas enable you to feel full, slows down digestion and keep blood sugar levels stable.

Coconuts: oils in coconuts provide medium chain triglycerides, a type of fat that is turned into energy quickly and efficiently. Coconuts are used by the body to produce energy (rather than store it as fat). Coconuts prevent you from feeling sluggish.

Lentils: Lentils and other legumes i.e. chickpeas and kidney beans help stabilize blood glucose levels and prevent mid afternoon energy slumps. Having lentils at lunch will stretch your energy levels that bit further.

Eggs: a good source of protein and iron. Eggs are also rich in B vitamins which convert food into energy. With eggs you get sustainable energy which will last throughout the day.

Nuts: hazelnuts, almonds and cashews are high in magnesium which play a major role in the conversion of sugar into energy. Nuts are filled with fibre which keep blood sugar levels even. A handful or two of nuts is good to use as a snack. It is important to remember that nuts are high in calories and fat.

Asparagus: Low energy levels affect your mood. Asparagus is one of the best plant based sources of tryptophan which helps to create serotonin. Serotonin is one of the brain’s main mood regulating neurotransmitters. The high levels of folate in asparagus also contribute to feeling good.

I will write about bananas and interesting nutritional facts about them next week on my blog.Watch this space!

Nutritious Tasty Food on a Budget

Beat any January blues with nutritious tasty food on a budget. Here are some tips about buying, preparing and eating nutritious food on a budget.

Waste nothing: Buy foods that you will eat. Planning meals in advance avoids wastage. Search online for discounts and vouchers before you go shopping.

Buy frozen fruit and vegetables: There is less preparation time involved when using frozen fruit and vegetables. Frozen fruit and vegetables come pre-chopped. Frozen fruit and vegetables are often a cheaper option. Remember to avoid using those with added fat, sugar or salt.

Eat more vegetables: Meat and fish are generally the most expensive ingredients of a meal. Add more vegetables to dishes. Eat a few vegetarian meals per week which helps keep costs down.

Eggs are a good meat substitute, they are cheap,  nutritious and high in protein i.e. vegetable omelette, vegetarian quiche and even scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.

Cook Using Pulses: Peas, beans and lentils are cheap vegetables. Pulses are low in calories and fat. Pulses are full of fibre, minerals and vitamins. Pulses can be used in main meals to replace some of the meat, for example chilli con carne with kidney beans.

Buy Chicken Whole: My husband is always saying this and practices this regularly. From a whole chicken you get two breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks. These portions can be frozen separately. The carcass can also be used when making stock and soups.

Compare pre-packed fruit and vegetables prices with loose: Fruit and vegetables can be more expensive when pre-packed. Check the price per kilo. Pre-packed fruit and vegetables are not always the freshest.

Supermarkets discount fresh items towards the end of the day. Reduced foods to clear can save lots of money. Remember to check the best before and use by dates.

Beat the winter blues with mood enhancing foods – my topic for tomorrow!

Amazon’s Choice for ‘coconut oil’