My next guest interview for the blog is registered dietitian Samantha Blamires.
Sam is one of my sister's best friends and I've known her for many years, since she was in my sister's class at secondary school! Since finishing school she's gone on to graduate as a dietitian and work in the NHS and private companies using her knowledge of food and nutrition.
Last year I wrote about How to write a health blog when you have no qualifications. Writing that blog post and my experiences around that time made me commit to 'stick to what I know' and only share advice on nutrition where I have an expert to back me up and proper evidence, not just anecdotes.
Cue Sam! Having had her gorgeous son Sebastian last year I've been hoping to get Sam onto the blog sooner but the New Year is the perfect time as it turns out. Rejecting fad diets and kicking it to 'detoxes' this is the perfect interview to start off 2018 in the Pantry.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hello my name is Sam Blamires and I'm a registered dietitian and busy mum to a very active 10 month old little boy.
I’m currently still enjoying my maternity leave but I try to find time to stay up-to-date with all things nutrition, as well as find 5 minutes each day for a bit of ‘me time’ – it’s harder than you might think with a little one!
I love being outdoors and keeping fit so at the weekend you’ll often find me walking through the fields near my house with the baby in the carrier and my husband in tow. He’s not always quite as enthusiastic about a walk as I am so I usually plan a route which has the promise of a pub stop somewhere along the way to keep us going.
If I’m lucky enough to get a rare hour to myself then you’ll probably find me in a spin studio or Body Attack class. Having said that, if that hour comes along in the evening then you’re more likely to find me tucked up in bed for an early night!
What is a healthy diet to you?
Personally, I’m not a fan of the word ‘diet’. I had a quick look in the Oxford dictionary and there are two definitions given for the word ‘diet’:
- The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.
- A special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.
Whilst the first definition is what we are referring to here, I think the second definition is the one that people instantly associate with when using the word diet. This can be seen when you type ‘diet’ into Google and the majority of results all relate to weight loss programmes.
Healthy eating for me is a lifestyle choice and is not something that involves restriction, rules or labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
I believe that food should be enjoyed and that everything can be eaten in moderation so I adopt a principle of 80:20 where I eat healthily for 80% of the time and allow myself to make less healthy choices for the other 20% of the time.
I know that carbs are demonised by so many people but starchy carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and potatoes are a vital part of a healthy balanced ‘diet’ (there’s that word again!). Carbohydrates are the major energy source for our body so I always strive to include a portion of carbohydrates, vegetables and protein at every meal.
When I first wrote to you for an interview I was still doing a yeast free diet. I’ve since realised this doesn’t have good scientific grounding which I’ve written about on the blog.
What are your thoughts on yeast free and anti-candida diets and how the message has spread online?
Anti-candida diets typically promote the restriction or exclusion of simple sugars, dairy products, yeast, fermented foods, fungi, fruit, gluten-containing grains, and starchy vegetables from the diet.
There are some conditions where a gluten free diet is the only treatment available, e.g. coeliac disease. However, as you have identified, the evidence for restrictive diets to control the growth of Candida Albicans is lacking.
There is only one human clinical trial looking at the effect of simple sugars on the growth of C. Albicans in the GI tract and it did not find any effect. Therefore, at this time there is not enough evidence to advocate a diet low in simple sugars as a means of preventing or treating C. Albicans infections.
Unsubstantiated nutrition claims and fad diets are nothing new, however the power of social media has changed the way in which this information is disseminated to the public and how accessible it has become.
Anecdotal evidence (i.e. based on personal accounts rather than facts or research) from ‘health gurus’ and celebrity endorsements all add to the attractiveness of these diets.
However many of the diets are lacking any sort of evidence base and can actually do more harm than good. This is especially the case when they exclude major food groups such as carbohydrates, dairy products and/or a large number of fruit and vegetables.
[Read more about my own discoveries around yeast free and anti-candida diets with lots more articles and resources on my Yeast Free page]
What are your other bug-bear fad diets that you see people following?
There are so many fad diets out there that I could probably write an entire book on this question, so instead I will summarise by saying that my biggest bug-bear fad diets are those that exclude entire food groups and/or label foods as ‘good/clean’ and ‘bad/dirty’.
Not only could this way of eating lead to nutrient deficiencies and the health problems associated with these, it could also encourage an unhealthy obsession with food and ultimately disordered eating.
Given that we have just had the festive season there is one diet that I do want to call out here, and that’s detox diets!
Over Christmas and New Year (okay, okay, probably the whole of December!) some of us may have overindulged a little more than we planned to. However with the New Year here many people will begin to think of the resolutions that they intend to set. These might include something along the lines of eating more healthily / losing weight / getting fit and the dreaded word ‘detox’ appears in our vocabulary.
Detox diets are my pet hate in the world of fad diets for the simple reason that our bodies are naturally very good at ‘detoxing’. Our liver and kidneys are constantly filtering out waste products and no detox pill, juice cleanse, potion or lotion will be able to do these clever processes for you.
In fact, detoxes can be particularly dangerous, especially when they recommend excluding entire food groups or eating/drinking huge amounts of any single food. I recommend that you save your money and instead focus on keeping fit and well with a healthy, balanced diet and at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
Katie Price started a nutrition line last year as part of her empire! What are your thoughts around celebrity messaging on diet?
Every year there’s a new influx of celebrity endorsed diets, meal plans, and weight loss products. I think it’s great that there has been a noticeable increase in people’s interest in health and wellbeing, with particular emphasis on food and exercise.
However it’s important to consider where you look for your nutrition advice before embarking on the latest fad diet. It’s easy to get swept up in the social media frenzy surrounding new diets, especially when they’re accompanied by shiny pictures of celebrities who claim that the diet has revolutionised the way that they approach food and has contributed to their clear skin and amazing figure.
We also have to remember that many celebrities are fortunate enough to have the support of personal trainers, nutritionists and personal chefs so following a diet and exercise plan is very different to the way that you and I would have to approach it in the real world.
In general, many of these diets are backed by limited science and promise quick weight loss which is unsustainable in the long run. The fact of the matter is that 95% of diets fail - depressing I know! So before you spend your hard earned cash on the latest diet book, DVD or over-priced supplement ask yourself if the science stacks up or whether the promises seem too good to be true.
The British Dietetic Association offers some advice on spotting fad diets which can be found here.
Let's talk stools - I know it's your favourite topic! I recently did an online course and learnt about the benefits of fibre.
What's normal? I once heard it should be the consistency of porridge!
I guess this depends on how you like your porridge but I think I’d be quite concerned if mine resembled the porridge that I eat!
In general, it doesn’t matter how often you open your bowels as long as your stools are soft, pain-free to pass and they follow your usual pattern. If your stools are hard, difficult to pass or you get the feeling that you have not completely emptied your bowels then it is possible that you may be suffering from constipation.
The key is to be aware of any changes in your bowel habits. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing diarrhoea, constipation or have noticed a change in your bowel habits then I would recommend that you seek advice from a healthcare professional.
Fibre is important for the normal functioning of our gut, and in particular insoluble fibre helps to keep us regular. On average, in the UK we consume 18g of fibre per day. This is 12g less than the recommended 30g per day.
Given that fibre has also been shown to lower our risk of heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer, as well as help to lower cholesterol we should all be aiming to increase our fibre intake through the consumption of a healthy balanced diet.
Foods high in fibre include starchy carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. For more information on fibre take a look at the British Dietetic Association food fact sheet which can be found here.