Health and wellbeing have become a greater priority since the 2020 global pandemic woke most of us up in one way or another. As our vulnerabilities have had a spotlight shone on them, a desire to remain strong & healthy has been created.
What does it cost to be healthy when there are so many advertorials, social media influencers and all kinds of marketing in our faces every day feeding into the cultural Fear of Missing Out? It seems that if we don’t buy into a certain marketed lifestyle mould then, we aren’t considered healthy. It’s this kind of trap that creates an anxiety throughout communities facing financial hardships. Families are seriously struggling with money and getting a food shop is not always easy. No wonder many parents worry that they may not be suppling their children with appropriate nutrition, especially when on a tight budget.
Due to all of the above, Xpress Lifestyle reached out to Nutrition Therapist and Health Writer Ian Marber and put a few questions his way that may be helpful to some readers.
Who is Ian Marber?
Ian Marber gave up a successful career in investment to study nutrition at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, graduating in 1999. From then, Ian has appeared on such shows like Richard and Judy as the Food Doctor & many more TV shows encouraging healthier eating habits rather than dieting. Ian is also a published author with many books under his belt as well as writing for press such as, Times 2, Telegraph and Spectator. You will also see or hear Ian appear on the podcast or YouTube sphere having insightful discussions on all things nutritional.
Ian Marber was actively involved in creating The Food Doctor Food Range amongst others until 2012. After that, while still working on private consultations with clients, now in the 9000s, he was largely involved in formulating a new range of Super Smoothies for Innocent Drinks.
Ian, thank you for taking part in this Q&A for Xpress Lifestyle. It was difficult not to ask you every question under the sun as there is so much confusion around healthy eating these days. Hopefully these questions will suit readers and maybe steer them on the correct path when seeking out correct nutritional information.
Jonny - From your experience as a qualified Nutrition Therapist, what is the biggest mistake you see people make at the beginning of a new healthy eating plan and what would you suggest they do helping ensure they don’t fall off track within the first 6 weeks?
Ian - I have found that many people start with the assumption that they are wrong, flawed even, and that their previous eating habits were so bad that they need to atone for imagined sins. This can result in them embarking on plans that are overly restrictive or even extreme by way of punishment. Whilst one might be able to follow something punitive for a week or two, if it’s too far removed from one’s real life it will fail which once more promotes the idea that we are at fault. The answer is to accept that no-one was at fault, put aside any thoughts of blame, and to be realistic in making small changes. And understand that changing habits is as much part of a healthy eating plan as much as the food itself.
Jonny – Low fat products, should we be looking to purchase or avoid when aiming for a balanced diet? It can feel like a bit of a mind bend to continue eating full fat.
Ian - It can be odd eating something that has more fat, and thus more calories on purpose when trying to manage calorie intake (fat contains 9 calories per gram whilst protein and carbs contain 4 per gram). The reasoning is that fat takes longer to break down and thus satisfies appetite more readily so that less goes further. Some low-fat products have higher levels of sugars, either naturally so, or added, to compensate for the reduced fat. It's not black and white, so perhaps a way to consider this would be go for the full fat version and eat less of it. Easier said than done but being mindful of portion size is often beneficial and can be part of healthy eating, so to speak, and one of the habits to adopt.
One last point – low-fat products encourage fear of fat, yet fat is an important part of the diet, and we should embrace enjoying fats such as those found in olive oil, oily fish, and avocado. Bear in mind that few foods contain just one type of fat, and thus there may be some beneficial as well as less favourable ones in the same food.
Jonny – 2020 was a challenging year for everyone for obvious reasons. Now with further restricted budgets and less income, it can be easy for whoever is responsible for the family food shop to buy cheaper food options. However, these choices may be well meaning but not always be the healthiest which we are usually led to believe. What affordable shopping changes do you feel people could consider while ensuring their families are receiving proper nutrition?
Ian - I think we have to be careful in assuming that all cheap food is nutritionally void. Even a low-cost burger contains protein, iron, B12, zinc etc, a white bun has some fibre and B vitamins, whilst ketchup contains lycopene plus vitamins A and C. I think families with tight budgets have enough to contend with without middle class food angst, and so rather than worry about topics such as organic food or superfoods, pay more attention to the basics. Get some protein into meals, lower cost option includes eggs and beans (kidney and butter beans for example), the latter contain fibre too. Try herbs to add flavour, and squeeze in vegetables as the family will eat.
But the best resource for this is the kind-hearted and generous Jack Monroe, who can be found at cookingonabootstrap.com where you can find advice and recipes for managing family food on a budget. Her expertise in this area is invaluable.
Jonny – Do canned or frozen fruit & vegetables hold their vitamin content? This is something I hear being discussed a lot.
Ian - Yes, absolutely. If choosing canned then go for whatever it is in plain water, not with salt or sugar in the water.
Jonny – Is it true that microwaving vegetables kill the nutrients? If so, then why do supermarkets sell microwaveable veg?
Ian - It's not true, and it could even be argued that fast cooking helps retain nutrients. The trick is not to overcook, and, to remember that a lot of misinformation about microwaves comes from leftover snobbery about ready meals that were associated with low quality, fast cooked food for the lazy, none of which is true.
Jonny – There are so many supplements on the market these days which are heavily advertised on social media via influencers who seem to be using a new one every other week. How do we know when we really need a supplements and where would you recommend a reader shop for safeguarding?
Ian - Unless one has compromised digestion, or a specific medical condition then the supplements we need are limited. We should all be taking 400iu of vitamin D of course, but others depend on one’s individual health issues, chosen diet and preferences. For example, women of menstruating age may consider taking iron, as might someone who is vegan or vegetarian. The latter groups may also want to consider omega 3 and B12 too.
The rule of thumb is that deficiencies are thankfully rare, and people who talk about how you may not need more but could benefit from more of said nutrient are usually selling it.
If you go into a health food store and ask their opinion, they will of course tell you that you need X or Y, of course they will.
Rather than go it alone, consider a one-off appointment with a professional to review what you take. The fee will be saved many times over in the coming years as you won’t be wasting money on taking costly supplements that are not contributing much to your long-term health.
Jonny – Scare Tactics: There are a lot of them these days, specifically within MLM (multi-level marketing) groups that claim certain health food stores contain high amounts of unnecessary fillers in their vitamins and supplements which can be toxic. Can this legally be the case within the UK?
Ian - Fillers are common, but for the most part they are used to shape the tablets into something familiar and of standard size and texture. Some of the fillers are not ideal if you were to ingest them in large amounts, but we don’t, the amounts really are minimal.
To believe that the fillers are truly toxic you’d have to believe that the health authorities in the EU were looking the other way, and that supplement manufacturers couldn’t give a stuff about whether their product contains toxins. You would also have to believe that this is a mass plot to quietly pad out supplements with toxic fillers that thousands of people who work in the industry have all signed up to and no-one has spoken out in all these years. How likely is that?
Jonny - You create a Poll each Friday on twitter to highlight the latest nonsense you have seen being advertised or circulated on media platforms. Have you ever received any backlash from any brands or advertisers that spread such nonsense?
Ian - I must stress that people nominate candidates for inclusion in the poll. I simply vet them and exclude any that shouldn’t be included or are potentially damaging. I am careful to cover brand names, the identity of any accounts if the nomination is a post, and to redact anything identifiable. It's not personal and although it can be amusing, the poll isn’t meant to send anyone up. Instead, it's there to highlight the misinformation and claims, and for a bit of fun.
I have had backlash only twice in 2 ½ years, neither of which was anything more than people having their inaccurate claims given a platform that they didn’t like. I am not hard-hearted and really don’t set out to upset anyone, but I think that only 2 incidences out of 120 polls is a pretty good record.
Jonny – To date you have written 13 books, the most recent is Man Food. What keeps you inspired to keep updating and sharing your knowledge?
Ian - It's part of what I see is my job. I work with clients one to one on all manner of issues ranging from helping with digestive problems to skin issues, weight management and general advice about supplements etc.
I also work with brands to help develop recipes, guide them through health and nutrition claims, as well as restaurants creating new menus.
I am lucky to have had such a wide range of experience, but of course the time that passes shows me how much more there is to know. Writing is part of discovery and sharing it is the sugar free icing on the gluten free cake.
Jonny – Do you offer online consultations with clients who may wish for some additional support?
Ian - I do, yes, and for now consultations are all online. I have been in practice for 21 years now and have worked with over 9000 individual clients, and so can claim more experience than many of my peers. People can get in touch via the website for information on consultations.
Thank you, Ian, for taking the time to answer my questions and being so clear!
Hopefully readers will feel a bit more relaxed about their food shopping and know they can refer to you for some expert guidance.
You can engage with me on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jonnymcdbelfast/
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