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5 ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS FOR PLANT-BASED DIETS

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

 

 

If you are a vegetarian or want to cut back on meats, make sure you get all the nutrients you need through a balanced diet. If a plant-based diet is well planned and nutritionally adequate, it may provide health benefits and lowering the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes. However, if the diet is not planned appropriately, you can fall short on the following nutrients easily:

 

  1. Protein

It is important to get enough dietary protein to keep our muscle, hair, skin and nails healthy. Main plant-based sources of protein include lentils, legumes, seeds, nuts, nut butter, soy milk, firm tofu, and meat substitutes. Eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt are also good sources of protein if you eat these. Grains such as quinoa, millet, oats, wheat, and rice also contain some protein. It is important to eat different kinds of protein food every day to get all the amino acids required.

 

  1. Iron

Iron is essential for making red blood cells and insufficient iron intake can result in iron deficiency anaemia. Signs and symptoms include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, headache, dizziness, cold hands and feet, and brittle nails.

Plant sources of iron include white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals, dark chocolate, firm tofu, raisins, spinach, and cashew nuts. Your body absorbs plant-based iron better when you eat it with foods that contain vitamin C, such as oranges, kiwi fruits, guavas, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli.

 

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain, eye, and heart health. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as chia seed, flaxseed, soybean, walnuts, canola oil, and soybean oil. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood.

Your body can only convert very small amounts of ALA into EPA and then to DHA. If you do not eat fish and seafood, you should get EPA and DHA from fortified foods such as eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, and soymilk. If you think you have trouble getting enough omega-3s from food, consult with a doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist regarding dietary supplements.

 

  1. Calcium

 99% of the body’s calcium supply is stored in the bones and teeth where it supports their structure and function. Dairy foods are rich in calcium but if you are not eating these make sure you obtain calcium from other sources like fortified foods (e.g. breakfast cereals, fruit juices, tofu, soymilk, almond milk), dark green vegetables (e.g. Chinese cabbage, broccoli, kale, broccoli), almonds, and sesame seeds.

In addition to following a calcium-rich diet, you also need to get some vitamin D from the sun and fortified foods to enhance calcium absorption. And don’t forget about weight-bearing exercise which is the best type of exercise for your bones. Examples include weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, and dancing.

 

  1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps keep the nerve and blood cells healthy in the body. It also helps make the genetic material in cells called DNA. Inadequacy can lead to megaloblastic anaemia that makes people feel tired and weak, as well as nerve damage.

Vegetarians can get vitamin B12 from eggs and dairy foods. If you are a vegan, you can get vitamin B12 from a variety of fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts, soy yogurt, and beverages. If you think you have trouble getting enough vitamin B12 from food, consult with a doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist regarding dietary supplements.

 

Does “vegetarian” necessarily mean healthy?

Food products labelled with “vegetarian” or “vegan” do not necessarily mean healthy. Cookies, chips, sweetened cereals, vegetarian burgers and sausages might be vegetarian foods, but they are likely high in fats, added sugar and sodium. Therefore, eat smart by checking the food labels and look for products that carry less saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar and sodium. In addition, fortified foods vary in the formulation, so it is important to check product labels to determine which added nutrients they contain.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/essential-nutrients-plant-based-diet

5 KEY NUTRIENTS FOR HEALTHY PREGNANCY

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

 

Eating a healthy balanced diet is crucial to support the optimal development of your baby during pregnancy. Your body has a greater demand for nutrients which can be met by making wise food choices. Dietitian Sally Shi-po Poon explains the 5 key nutrients for a healthy pregnancy.

 

  1. Folic acid

Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin that is important for pregnant women. Taking folic acid regularly before pregnancy and during pregnancy helps prevent major birth defects of the fetal brain and spine called neural tube defects. The requirement for folic acid increases from 400 micrograms (mcg) daily for non-pregnant women to 600 mcg daily during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends all pregnant women and all women who may become pregnant should take a daily vitamin supplement that contains folic acid.

Major food sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, avocado, oranges, papaya, peanuts, and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.

 

  1. Iodine

The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones which are required for proper growth and brain development of your baby. The World Health Organisation recommends 250 mcg iodine daily during pregnancy. You should consider taking a prenatal supplement containing iodine, as it is difficult to get enough iodine from food alone when you are pregnant.

Seaweed, seafood, egg yolk, dairy products and iodised salt are main sources of iodine. Kelp, in particular, contains a very high level of iodine and eating too much can affect the thyroid function adversely. You should consume kelp in moderation and no more than once a week.

 

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in seafood. Omega-3 fatty acids include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA is important for the visual and cognitive development of your baby. Pregnant women should aim to attain an average daily intake of at least 200 mg DHA, which can be achieved by eating 8 to 12 ounces of fish or shellfish per week.

From the food safety point of view, avoid all raw and undercooked seafood including sushi made with raw fish.

People who do not eat seafood can eat foods rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil. Our body can produce DHA out of ALA, but the conversion rate seems to be very low. You can consider taking a DHA supplement if you do not eat seafood.

 

  1. Iron

Iron ensures optimal growth and brain development and prevents anaemia. Your body needs more iron during pregnancy and the daily recommended intake of iron is 27 mg.

Iron is found in most prenatal supplements. You should also eat a variety of iron-rich foods including red meat, poultry, fish, egg yolk, lentils, kidney beans, nuts, raisins, and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Iron can be absorbed better if foods are eaten with vitamin C-rich foods, such as guava, oranges, kiwi fruits, sweet peppers, and tomatoes.

 

  1. Calcium

Calcium is required to build your baby’s bones and teeth. Pregnant women require 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Inadequate calcium intake during pregnancy may increase the risk of preterm labour and gestational hypertension.

Milk, cheese and yogurt, are the best sources of calcium. Pregnant women are advised to consume two glasses of milk or calcium-fortified soy milk daily and choose calcium-rich foods such as Chinese cabbage (bok choi), kale, broccoli, sardines, and tofu made with calcium sulfate.

Vitamin D improves calcium absorption and is essential for bone health and development. Pregnant women need 600 International Units (IU) or 15 mcg of vitamin D a day. Expose to sunlight regularly and consume vitamin D-rich foods such as salmon and fortified food products can help you get enough vitamin D.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/5-key-nutrients-healthy-pregnancy

5 FAD DIETS: A DIETITIAN LAYS DOWN THE FACTS

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

 

It’s summertime again! Many people would like to shed a few pounds and get tempted by a range of ‘quick fix’ diets offering the promise of rapid weight loss. Sadly, there is no magic solution for sustainable weight loss. Our dietitian Sally Shi-Po Poon reviews the top 5 fad diets as follows:

 

  1. Ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat eating plan that has been used to control seizures in some people with epilepsy. The diet excludes carbohydrate foods such as grains, dairy, legumes, most fruits and starchy vegetables.

Supporters claim ketogenic diet can help burn fat and lose weight efficiently but evidence on its long-term effects is lacking currently. It may be challenging to follow this diet as it can cause side effects such as brain fog, fatigue, irritability, headaches, and constipation.

 

  1. Gluten-free diet

A gluten-free diet eliminates all foods containing gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, malt, and cross-contaminated oats. You may lose weight when cutting out energy-dense gluten-containing products such as cakes, cookies, batter-fried foods, and beer.

However, gluten-free does not necessarily mean low-calorie because some gluten-free products actually contain more sugar and fat than their gluten counterparts.

 

  1. Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting involves short periods of fasting with either no food or very small amounts of food, and periods of unrestricted eating. A very popular intermittent fasting regime is called the “5:2 diet” – two days a week you eat less than 500 to 600 kcal, the remaining five days you eat as usual. People can achieve some weight loss if they don’t overeat on “feed” days.

However, fasting can make you feel dizzy, irritable, and tired, make it difficult to concentrate at work, and lack of energy to carry out physical activity. It is definitely not suitable for people with diabetes due to the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level).

 

  1. Raw Vegan diet

Raw vegan diet has been claimed for weight loss as well as disease prevention. From the nutrition point of view, it can be healthy if you have a nutritionally balanced vegan diet with the necessary supplements like vitamin B12, however, it is not a guarantee of weight loss as vegan foods often contain similar amounts of calories as non-vegan foods.

While some foods are good to have raw, others are more nutritious cooked – like tomatoes and asparagus – as the availability of lycopene and lutein are found to be higher. Some foods cannot be eaten raw at all such as potatoes, legumes and lentils. In addition, raw foods are not suitable for children, pregnant women, elderly people and cancer patients with weakened immunity.

 

  1. Juice Cleanse

Juice cleanse involves consuming vegetable and fruit juice for a short period of time, typically one to five days. Supporters claim it can detox our body, boost immunity, and shed some pounds quickly. However, evidence to support its recommendation is lacking. Basically, our liver and kidneys can remove waste from our body every day.

It is not recommended to do juice cleanse too often or for a long period of time because some key nutrients are lacking, for examples: protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and calcium. Potential side effects include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and headaches. Inadequate protein intake can make you lose muscle mass and affect the metabolic rate. Once you resume normal eating, your weight can rebound easily.

 

 

When a diet plan sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always seek a qualified nutritionist or dietitian for proper advice – make small changes in eating habits and lifestyle that you will be able to sustain in the long term is key to success!

 

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/ask-the-expert-diet-trends-in-2018

 

5 FOODS TO EAT FOR HEALTHY HAIR AND NAILS

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

 

Shiny hair and strong nails are hallmarks of beauty. The solution could be in your kitchen! Here are 5 beauty foods that dietitian Sally Poon recommends to eat for healthy hair and nails.

 

  1. Eggs

Eggs deliver all the amino acids our body needs to build protein. Protein is found throughout the body; and both hair and nails are made from a protein called keratin. Therefore, eating adequate amounts of protein daily plays a crucial role in healthy hair and nails. An extra-large egg contains 7 grams of protein, which can be considered as 1 ounce-equivalent from meat, fish and poultry. In general, adults are advised to consume 5 to 8 ounces of meat, poultry, fish, egg and alternatives daily.

Eggs also contain biotin – a key nutrient for maintaining healthy hair and nails. Eggs should be eaten cooked as avidin found in raw egg whites can interfere with biotin absorption. Cooking denatures avidin, making biotin absorbs efficiently in the gut. Other foods that contain the most biotin include beef liver, salmon, tuna, pork, sunflower seeds, almonds, and sweet potatoes.

 

  1. Pine nuts

Pine nuts are a good source of copper – one of the key nutrients involved in collagen formation. Collagen is found in our skin, hair and nails. Copper also works with iron to help the body produce red blood cells. Other dietary sources of copper include oysters, organ meats, whole grains, beans, and yeast.

 

  1. Oysters

Oysters are an excellent source of protein and zinc.  Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It plays a role in immune function, protein synthesis, cell growth, and wound healing. Zinc deficiencies have been linked with hair loss and Beau’s lines (indentations that run across the nails). Other dietary sources of zinc include beef, lamb, pork, poultry, crab, lobster, beans, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products.

 

  1. Seaweed

Seaweed is the best food source of iodine. Iodine helps maintain normal thyroid function and its deficiency can lead to thyroid disorders as a cause of hair loss. Other food sources of iodine include fish, seafood, dairy products, eggs and iodized salt.

 

  1. Beef

Beef is an excellent source of iron – one of the key nutrients involved in blood formation in our body. Iron deficiency anaemia has been linked with hair loss and appearance of spoon nails (soft nails that look scooped out). Other food sources of iron include lean meat, poultry, liver, oysters, salmon, tuna, dried beans, dried fruits, egg yolks, fortified cereals, wholegrains, and spinach.

Our body absorbs plant-based iron better when you eat it with meat, fish, or poultry. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as guavas, kiwifruits, oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, and tomatoes, also increase iron absorption.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/5-foods-to-eat-for-healthy-hair-and-nails