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The Diet Detective™ Casebook

Would you like the Diet Detective™ to analyse YOUR diet and give you detailed personal advice (which won’t appear on this site)? Contact me for private, detailed advice.

Sandwiches, crisps & bisquitsThis month’s guest Case History is Lisa Bird. She is age 30 and lives with her husband and 19 month old daughter.

LisaLisa, who is 5ft 2 ins tall and weighs 10st, wrote in to say:

“I would love some help with nutrition. I am lethargic most of the time, my weight has crept up, and my skin is not fantastic – recently I have found that I am getting spotty.
“My husband, who doesn’t exercise and is overweight, works in catering. We try to eat healthily but tend to end up eating the same things over and over again. I would appreciate any advice you can give.”

It’s important before I give advice that I see exactly what you have been eating. I asked Lisa for a detailed diary of all she ate and drink for at least two days.

Here is Lisa’s two-day Diet Diary:

Day One

Shreddies with tsp sugar, cup of tea
Cheese and sweet pickle white bread sandwich, cup of tea
Shepherd’s pie, mixed carrots, peas and broccoli
Syrup sponge and custard
Pint of juice (Tesco sugar-free cordial)
1 Baileys, 4 chunks chocolate

Day Two

Toast and honey, cup of tea
Cheese on toast with Worcester sauce, salt and vinegar crisps, tea
Tea, 2 chocolate biscuits
Leftover shepherd’s pie with broccoli and peas
1 pint juice (as before)
2 Baileys, handful peanuts, 4 chunks chocolate

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The Diet Detective’s™ report:

Although I’ve seen diets a lot worse than Lisa’s – at least she is eating regularly for example - there is plenty of room for improvement. Let’s have an overview first….

Positives: You eat regularly with adequate calories and protein. You are unlikely to be short of iron or calcium, or vitamins A, D or B. You eat some vegetables every day.
Less good: Your diet is high in total fat, saturated fat and possibly trans fats while being very low in the essential omega fats. It is low in ‘complex’ carbohydrates (the ‘good’ type of carbs) but high in simple carbs such as sugars and refined grains. This means it is low in fibre as well. You are getting on average only 2 portions of fruit and veg a day rather than the 5 – 7 recommended. Lastly, your diet is very low in non-animal sources of protein such as pulses, fresh nuts and seeds. You are likely to be in shortfall on a few vitamins and minerals including vitamins C and E and selenium.
Now let’s see how that translates – is your diet linked to your symptoms?

Lethargy: A diet high in simple carbs (especially those high on the Glycaemic Index), including sugars and sugar drinks, white bread, white toast, mashed potatoes, biscuits, sponge and so on, very often causes lethargy (and frequently, bloating around the stomach as well). Lisa, you need to try to replace some or most of these items with healthier and more body and brain-friendly complex carbs such as whole grain bread, rye bread, brown rice, oats, wholewheat pasta as well as pulses like lentil soup, hummus or even baked beans (handily, pulses are a mix of both protein and complex carbs and are very low G.I.). These will help to keep your blood sugar levels even throughout the day and avoid those energy dips and periods of feeling tired and a little sleepy.

Weight gain: I estimate that you are probably eating just 1-200 calories a day more than you need for your age, height and activity levels and this means that you will, slowly, put on weight. You could cut that amount of calories from your diet just by swopping your afternoon biscuits for an apple or a ready to eat dried fig, and by skipping the handful of peanuts in the evening. Alternatively you could just cut down your main meal portion size by around 25%. It would also help your weight – and your energy levels – if you took your daughter out for a play in the park or a walk for 30 minutes every day.

Skin condition: The three most important dietary things for good skin are plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (for vitamin C and the special compounds that plants contain), plenty of healthy fluids, and adequate essential omega fats in the diet. At the moment you’re not achieving any of these three. So get 2 portions of fresh fruit a day (plus some dried apricots, figs etc), have some fresh salad or veggies at lunch time or a bowl of vegetable soup (chilled counter supermarket veggie soup is fine but get that caterer husband of yours to make some and batch freeze it!) and especially try to get leafy greens into your diet. Drink water or green tea (high in anti-oxidant compounds which are good for the skin) instead of cordial. NOTE Cordial isn’t juice at all – it is another word for Squash. Even if it is sugar-free, it isn’t one of my favourite things at all. If you must, have some diluted fresh fruit juice (e.g. orange, pink grapefruit) at least it will give you some vitamin C, but whole fruit is much better for you than fruit juice. Aim for 2 litres fluid a day. A couple of cups of ordinary tea a day is fine.
Get your omega fats with 3 portions fish a week (1 – 2 should be oily fish like salmon or trout) and some nuts and seeds – breakfast is the ideal time to get these into your diet.
Lastly, for good skin – get out in the air and oxygenate your face – good circulation and sun (not to burning level) will improve most people’s skin.

To sum up: I know if you are busy with a small child it is tempting to resort to the same old foods at mealtimes but even a few small changes will make your diet much healthier. And if it gives you more energy then it will save you time! It won’t cost much more, either. Here’s a sample of how your new-look two-day diet could be…

Lisa’s new-look diet

Day One

Muesli with 1 tb added chopped almonds and sunflower seeds
1 nectarine chopped on top; semi-skimmed milk.
Baked beans on wholemeal toast.
2 pieces ready to eat dried apricot.
Shepherd’s pie, carrots, peas, broccoli; Greek yogurt with honey and strawberries sliced in.
During evening
2 chunks chocolate, 1 Baileys (we all need a treat!).

Day Two

Porridge with 1 level tb sunflower seeds and flaxseeds sprinkled on
1 tsp honey, semi-skimmed milk.
1 kiwifruit.
Tuna sandwich on wholemeal bread with a mixed leaf (including dark and red leaves) and tomato side salad and olive oil dressing.
1 apple.
1 oatcake with 1 level tb hummus.
Large portion sliced mixed peppers, red onion, stir-fried with sliced chicken breast, brown basmati rice
During evening
4 chunks chocolate, 1 Baileys.
To drink throughout both days – water, tea, etc as outlined above.

Contact me for private, detailed advice.

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Got a question for the Diet Detective? Every month I will pick a selection of your diet questions and answer them here.

“Can you tell me how often I should eat nuts, and what is a portion, as I know they are good for you but I also know they are fattening. Thanks.” James Edwards, Sutton, Surrey, UK.

Diet Detective’s™ reply:

“You are right James, nuts are good for you – they can help lower cholesterol, are rich in B vitamins, Vitamin E and magnesium. Brazils are very high in the anti-oxidant selenium, a mineral which is in shortfall in many of our diets.
I try to eat a handful of nuts a day – if you’re being picky that is about 8 almonds, 6 walnuts, 5 Brazils or about 25g of fresh shelled nuts. That would give you about 150 calories, or somewhere between one-fifteenth and one-twentieth of the calories an average man needs every day. Use them in salads, on breakfast muesli, as a snack on their own.”

“I get a lot of headaches, especially in the mornings. Could this be related to my diet – I try to eat well but as I am single, live alone, and often work late, I don’t have a lot to eat in the evenings, just a few drinks and maybe some toast when I get home.” Jimena, Birmingham, UK.

Diet Detective’s™ reply:

“You need to see the doc to get a check up and make sure that your headaches don’t have a medical cause. That said, it is probable that your poor eating habits/lifestyle are causing the headaches. I suspect that you are dehydrated by the time morning comes – alcohol as your main drink of the evening can cause raging de-hydration by about 4am. Try to add 2 glasses of water to your evening routine and have a large glass by your bed to drink during the night or as soon as you wake.
You are also likely to have very low blood sugar by morning as you are eating so little. Low blood sugar can cause awful headaches. A slice of toast on its own isn’t adequate – you need to add protein. Try to have a nutritious snack about an hour before you go to bed – this could be a cheese sandwich (it’s a fallacy that cheese causes nightmares – in recent research only blue-veined hard cheeses like Stilton had this effect), some muesli and yogurt, a baked potato with baked beans, some cold chicken and rice….add some ready prepared salad and a tomato or a piece of fresh fruit for vitamin C. If all else fails, have a milk drink – this contains protein and gives you extra liquid.
Other reasons for your headache – sleeping in a stuffy room (open the window); uncomfortable sleeping position or pillow; worry.”

“How many eggs a week are we allowed to eat?! I haven’t any particular health problems but my Dad died of heart disease at the age of 67 so I try to eat well, but I do love eggs and find them convenient. I’m eating about 6 a week at the moment.” Bryn, S. Wales.

Diet Detective’s™ reply:

“ Believe it or not, the good old Food Standards Agency – the Government’s official spokesorganisation on healthy eating and food safety – declares on its website that there is ‘no recommended limit on how many eggs people should eat. If you are eating a balanced diet you only need to cut down on eggs if you have been told to do so by your GP or dietician.’
The World Health Organisation suggests a limit of 10 eggs a week. The British Heart Foundation says, ‘It is probably wise to limit eggs to three a week’ but it doesn’t make it clear whether that is advice for everybody or just for people with heart disease.
No wonder people get confused about diet and healthy eating eh?
My opinion – as part of a low saturated and low trans fat diet, six eggs a week should be okay. But if you are diagnosed with high cholesterol or have been asked by your GP or dietician to follow a cholesterol-lowering diet then 1 – 2 eggs a week may be a better bet. This advice is based on common sense and not on scientific evidence. However, most experts agree that for people who may be prone to heart disease (which could include you) it is more important to watch your sat and trans fat intake. This makes more difference to your blood cholesterol levels than the amount of high-cholesterol foods that you eat.”

Got a question for the Diet Detective?

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