Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

Food for Julia – Breast is best

October 8, 2010

Baby Julia was born 2 weeks ago on September 23rd. In honour of my beautiful new niece I have decided to write a blog about breastfeeding.

We have often heard the phrase ‘breast is best’. It’s been around as a promotional message for quite a while now. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the infant’s life, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

The list of benefits of breastfeeding is constantly growing.

Well-known benefits for the infant include that breast milk:

  • Comes at the right temperature and consistency for the child
  • Provides the right balance of nutrients to help an infant grow into a strong and healthy toddler
  • Has disease-fighting antibodies that can help protect infants from several types of illnesses, such as ear infections, diarrhea and certain lung infections
  • Reduces the risk that the child becomes overweight as it grows older
  • Reduces the risk that the child suffers from type 2 diabetes, eczema, and leukemia as it grows older.

Some recent research also suggests that breast milk contains two amino acids (protein building blocks) which help an infant’s brain develop and also increase the infant’s cognitive skills. These amino acids are not normally added to formula milk available commercially.

But the benefits of breastfeeding do not pertain to the infant only. The mum stands to gain a lot too. Benefits we are all familiar with include:

  • The emotional bonding with the infant
  • The cost savings
  • The convenience
  • The mother regaining her pre-pregnancy weight and figure more quickly
  • A natural method of birth control.

Interestingly, a number of recent scientific research studies are suggesting that there are even more health benefits for mothers if they breastfeed. For example:

  • Women who breastfeed for at least 24 months over the course of their reproductive lifespan have a lower risk of developing heart disease. Researchers suggest that this could be due to the beneficial effects that breastfeeding has on the body’s metabolism of sugar and fats, and on decreasing visceral fat—the dangerous kind that collects around the abdominal organs.
  • Mothers who breastfeed also have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Research has found that women who breast-fed for less than a month had nearly twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decades later in life compared to those who breast-fed for longer, or those who never had children. A possible explanation is that lactation makes cells more sensitive to the hormone insulin. (Notably, diabetic mothers who breast-feed usually require less insulin whilst they are nursing.) It could also be due to breastfeeding’s effect on where fat is stored: on the hips and thighs rather than on the abdomen. Excess visceral fat, frequently accumulated during pregnancy, is a key risk factor in adult diabetes.
  • Breastfeeding for 6 months or more helps protect against breast cancer in women who have their first baby after age 25, or who have fewer than four children (two risk factors for breast cancer). Prolonged breastfeeding also lowers a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. This could be because breastfeeding suppresses ovulation—and the ovulatory hormones that play a role in these cancers—during those first few months that the mother is breastfeeding exclusively.
  • A number of studies have linked breastfeeding to protection against rheumatoid arthritis, possibly due to breast milk’s impact on the levels of female sex hormones, like oestrogen and certain androgens, which are thought to play a role in this debilitating condition.

The WHO has a very simple yet interesting slideshow called ‘10 facts on breastfeeding’ which summarises the above.  Click to access.

So calling all new mums! Remember…You are a very special person because you can make the food that is uniquely perfect for your baby. Do your best to breastfeed for at least the first 6 months of your baby’s life. Invest the time in yourself and your baby – for both your sakes!

Bring back Home Economics Education

May 21, 2010

On May 11, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA) published an article recommending that Home Economics (HE) Education should be brought back as a compulsory subject in US schools. 

The rationale given by the authors (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig) was that the younger generations are growing up with no healthy and thrifty food and meal preparation  skills and that HE education could help overcome this deficiency and thus  help curb rising obesity figures.

The article lays emphasis on the need to teach students about the
scientific and practical aspects of food – basic cooking techniques;
caloric requirements; sources of food (from farm to fork); food shopping and budgeting principles; food safety; sourcing and using nutrient information and labels; and effects of food on well-being and risk for chronic disease.

I feel that this list of topics is typical of a classic Home Economics curriculum, though the article does say that these topics may be  taught in a cross curricular manner.

Below are the introductory and concluding sentences of the article.

“Home Economics, otherwise known as domestic education, was a fixture in secondary schools through the 1960s, at least for girls. The underlying concept was that future homemakers should be educated in the care and feeding of their families. This idea now seems quaint, but in the midst of a pediatric obesity epidemic and concerns about the poor diet quality of adolescents in  the United States, instruction in basic food preparation and meal planning skills needs to be part of any long-term solution.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1857)

“Obesity presently costs society almost $150 billion annually in increased health care expenditures. The personal and economic toll of this epidemic will only increase as this  generation of adolescents develops weight-related complications such as type 2 diabetes earlier in life than ever  before. From this perspective, providing a mandatory food preparation curriculum to students throughout the country may be among the best investments society could make.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1858)

This article serves as further evidence of the need for a period of compulsory HE education, for both male and female students, during the formal years of schooling.

Access article here:

Nutritional supplements

May 15, 2010

This morning the Times (Malta) published an article about where and who should be allowed to sell nutritional supplements. The current law states that “food supplements may only be dispensed by a pharmacist, doctor or a person with other suitable qualifications as may be laid down by the Food Safety Commission.”


The local Food Safety Commission is organising a training course for retailers in Health Food and similar stores to better understand the products they sell. Those who successfully attend for this course may then be approved by the Food Safety Commission to also be allowed to sell  food supplements. (For further details on this course call:  23952000.)

In Home Economics we teach that if a person is in good health and eats a  variety of foods from the different food groups they should be meeting their nutritional needs. However, we also teach that there are times during the lifecycle when a person may need to boost their nutritional intake for a while, or they may need to make up for deficiencies.

It is key that consumers make informed choices when seeking to use nutritional supplements. It is advisable not to buy supplements over the counter without knowing a little bit about the science of nutrition and how nutritional  supplements can interact with nutrients and healthy substances found naturally in food, or even with medication.

Here is the link to the Times article where I was also quoted.

Unfortunately, there is a slight imprecision in the last sentence. I had said that fat-soluble vitamins, such as A and D, are stored in the body and that excess can be harmful. They misquoted me slightly here.

Am I drinking enough?

April 18, 2010

Question:  Am I drinking enough?

Answer:   Have 2 litres of fluid daily.  Drink 8 glasses of water every 24 hours. Drink when you’re thirsty…

We hear many answers to this common question.  But is there one correct answer?

Based on the explanations of different health authorities and health organisations we can calculate how much fluid to drink daily as follows:


– Replacement approach. The average urine output for adults is about 1.5 litres daily. We lose about another litre of water daily through breathing, sweating and bowel movements.  So if we consume 2 litres of water or other beverages a day, along with a normal diet which automatically contributes some water through different foods, we will typically replace our lost fluids.

– Eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Another approach to fluid intake is the “8 x 8 rule” — drink eight 8-ounce (approx. 250 ml) glasses of fluid a day. Many people use this rule of thumb as a guideline for how much water and other fluids to drink daily.

– Dietary recommendations. The US Institute of Medicine advises that men consume about 3 litres of total beverages a day and women consume about 2.2 litres of total beverages a day.

Another way of approaching this is by drinking enough fluid so that you rarely feel thirsty. But this is not a reliable method, as one may start feeling thirsty when dehydration has already set in.

Also, it is said that if you produce colourless or slightly yellow urine, your fluid intake is probably adequate.  But again, this is a very general indication.

All the above applies to healthy adults in normal conditions. People who are involved in intensive exercise and sports training, or in working environments where a lot of perspiration is produced, as well as people suffering from illness or chronic health conditions, or females who are pregnant or breastfeeding have different requirements.

Anybody who is concerned about their fluid intake should check with their doctor or a registered dietitian. 

Though water is recommended as one of the best sources of fluid, 100% pure fruit juices and low-fat milk are also healthy options, both being sources of  water and of different nutrients.  

Remember that many fruits and vegetables are also high in water content: for example, watermelon and tomatoes are 90% or more water by weight.

The British Nutrition Foundation has just produced this handy sheet about a healthy daily fluid intake. It also refers to caffeinated drinks and soft-drinks and the need to curtail their intake.

BNF Healthy Hydration guide

Winning Video on Childhood Obesity

April 3, 2010

‘Childhood Obesity: A Challenge Facing America’ is a video produced by a Home Economics student in Hawaii. It just won first prize in a national US competition.

See the video here:

Though the environment and context are slightly different from Malta, I feel this video could be a useful tool to use in our Home Economics classrooms (or in any educational setting with teenagers) when talking about being healthy, factors which influence our health status, food choices, level of physical activity and diet-related diseases.

I also feel, however, that when we are ‘teaching’ we should  not dwell too much on ‘body weight’;  but rather our focus should be on giving practical tips, offering encouragement and facilitating making the right choices to eat healthily and to be physically fit, as individuals and as family members.

Weight Watchers©’ endorsement of McDonald’s© in New Zealand

March 7, 2010

Last week several items on the fast food giant’s menu – the Filet-O-Fish, Chicken McNuggets and Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap – were approved for the Weight Watchers diet in McDonald’s 150 New Zealand restaurants. Each meal is worth 6.5 points on the programme, which assigns points to food items and allows dieters to consume 18 to 40 points each day to achieve their target weight.

McDonald’s New Zealand managing director reported that they were able to include some of the most popular items in the Weight Watchers diet because of the many changes they had made over the years. For instance, the switch to a healthier canola blend cooking oil meant items such as the Filet-O-Fish and Chicken McNuggets now contained 60% less saturated fat than six years ago.

The Weight Watchers’ director of business in Australia and New Zealand said the partnership between the companies reflected “part of our philosophy that you can enjoy life … while still achieving your weight loss goals”.

However, around the world many nutrition and obesity experts were not so sure of this collaboration…

What are your views?