Vitamins – How to eat them and what they do

Vitamins are classed as micronutrients. This is because we require smaller amounts of them than any of the macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, protein). However, they are no less essential! Ignoring any one of them would eventually lead to very serious health issues.

Vitamins are divided into two main categories according to how the body absorbs them; fat soluble, and water soluble.


Water Soluble Vitamins

Water soluble vitamins are absorbed using water, with excess amounts being passed out when you pee. Water soluble vitamins are not stored, you must consume them every day.

The water soluble vitamins are:

Vitamin C – Ascorbic acid/Ascorbate

  • Essential for: Immune system, absorption of iron, antioxidant defences.
  • Good sources: Chilli peppers, bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, parsley, broccoli.
  • Deficiencies: Low immune system, scurvy (yes, like a pirate).

B Vitamins – Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic acid, Pyridoxine, Biotin, folate/folic acid, B12

  • Essential for: Normal cell metabolism, huge number of essential processes.
  • Good sources: Wholegrains, lentils, beans, potatoes (skin on), chilli peppers, bananas.
  • Deficiencies: Metabolic disorders and, Beriberi (B1), ariboflavinosis (B2), pellagra (B3), acne (B5), microcytic anaemia (B6, B9, B12) and depression (B6), impaired growth in infants (B7), neural tube defects in babies, brain ageing (B9), peripheral neuropathy, memory loss, brain decline (B12)

Fat Soluble Vitamins

As you’d expect, Fat soluble vitamins need fat in the diet in order to be absorbed. So it’s worth taking them into account before removing too much fat from your diet.

The fat soluble vitamins are:

Vitamin A – Retinol

  • Essential for: Eye health/vision and a healthy immune system.
  • Good sources: cod liver oil, meats (especially turkey and liver), sweet potato, carrots, butter, kale, spinach.
  • Deficiencies: Poor vision, low immune response, blindness.

Vitamin D Cholecalciferol/ergocalciferol

  • Essential for: Absorption of minerals (especially calcium), and bone formation.
  • Good sources: Sunlight, mushrooms, fish, fortified cereals.
  • Deficiencies: Rickets, Osteoporosis.

Vitamin E Tocopherol/tocotrienol

  • Essential for: antioxidant defences, cell signalling
  • Good sources: Seed oils, avocado, broccoli, seeds, nuts, nut oils.
  • Deficiencies: Neurological problems

Vitamin K – Phylloquinone

  • Essential for: Blood coagulation.
  • Good sources: Kale, broccoli, cavolo nero, spinach, chard greens, brussel Sprouts.
  • Deficiencies: Anaemia, bleeding gums, linked to Heart Disease and Osteoporosis


Blood sugar – How to manage your energy levels

The glucose in your blood is generally referred to as your ‘blood sugar’ level. Diabetics have to pay close attention to it, but understanding how it works will help anyone to regulate their energy levels better.

So how do you get sugar into your blood?

Glucose is a form of sugar that your body can rapidly turn into energy when it needs to. Carbohydrates from your food are all broken down into glucose during digestion before being used immediately, or stored away for later.

Glucose is generally stored as a complex carbohydrate called ‘glycogen’ in either the liver, or the muscle. For instance, if you start running, the glycogen is converted into glucose in your leg muscles. This in turn converts into energy, powering your legs.


The body keeps an emergency level of glucose in the blood at all times, just in case it is needed in a hurry. Generally this is for your brain, which needs energy from glucose to work effectively (most people who start starving, make worse decisions due to the drop in blood sugar).

Managing your blood sugar to be healthy

Blood glucose goes up when we eat, and down again as it is stored or used. It is regulated by two hormones called insulin and glucagon.

Insulin helps to take glucose out of the blood, glucagon helps to put it back in again. It’s this regulation of blood-sugar that diabetics struggle with. They have a problem with their production or use of insulin and have inject it should their blood sugar rise too much.

Stored glycogen can only fuel your body for approx. 12 hours (or less if you’re very active). After it runs out, the body will start searching for other stored energies, i.e. fat. So if you’re looking to lose body fat, it’s important that you maintain enough blood sugar for your brain to work, but not so much that you don’t ever get to burn off your body fat.

Three good tactics to do this are:

  • Don’t binge on sugary snacks, swap to fruit, spread your consumption out to flatten the energy curve.
  • Pick slow release energy sources. Complex carbs like wholemeal bread have a lower Glycemic Index.
  • Don’t starve yourself. You’ll find you make worse decisions, that leave your brain craving fast release energy.


Blood sugar can have a major impact on how you feel ‘in the moment’ as well as being a good way to manage your body fat for the whole of your life. Pay attention to the tips above and you won’t go far wrong.

Unsaturated – The better kind of fat!

Unsaturated fats are the healthiest type of fat you can consume and should form part of ANY balanced diet. Whether you’re looking to lose weight or not.


The science of Unsaturated Fat

Fats are made up of fatty acids. They chain together to form different types of fats. Within the chain, there are different arrangements called bonds.

  • If a chain contains a double-bond then it is a mono-unsaturated fat.
  • If it contains more than one double bond it is a poly-unsaturated fat.
  • If it contains no double bonds at all then it is a saturated fat.

So what does Unsaturated Fat mean to me?

On packaging labels fats are divided into their different types. Unsaturated fats are divided into monounsaturates and polyunsaturates. The more saturated a fat is, the harder it is for the body to chop up and use. Saturated fats promote the formation of LDL (or bad) cholesterol. Whilst Unsaturated fats HDL (good) cholesterol.

“The more saturated a fat is, the harder it is for the body to chop up and use…”

Most vegetable oils are mono-unsaturated, whilst most seeds, seed oils and fruits (like avocado) contain poly-unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats also contain the essential fatty acids, which are essential (it’s in the name!) for your health.


The bottom line – Pick poly-unsaturated fats and reduce you saturated fat intake, if you can. This will help keep you healthy and reduce your risks of Heart Disease and other related conditions.

Why high fat food is not a bad thing

Fats have acquired a bad reputation over the last few decades. But they are an essential part of any healthy balanced diet.

Fat contains 9 calories per gram, which is more than carbs (4), protein (4) and alcohol (7). This has contributed to their reputation as a ‘bad’ component of food. Which is not entirely true…

The Benefits of Fat

All fats provide insulation, help us absorb vitamins (A,D,E & K) and store energy. But some also provide essential fatty acids.

“Even saturated fat has more nutritional benefit than simple carbs.”

Though cutting fat out of your diet can reduce the number of calories you’re digesting, swapping out simple carbohydrates (like white bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and any refined sugars) could be a better option. Sugar and other simple carbohydrates, provide none of the. Even saturated fat has more nutritional benefit than simple carbs.

So why has Fat got a bad reputation?

The main reason that fats have had a bad reputation has nothing to do with the fat itself, but more our choice of where that fat comes from.

Since the invention of modern agriculture, we have started to eat more and more animals based foods. Animal products contain more saturated fats (because they are stored in the animal) and less unsaturated fats than our diet before this.

Limit Your Saturated Fat

Saturated fats are created in animals for long term storage. Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase the LDL (not so good) cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.


Plants on the other hand, don’t need to store fats. When we eat plants we get the benefit of their unsaturated fats which are more useful to us. The same goes for fish, who also provide us with healthy fats.

The bottom line – pay attention to where your fat comes from. For a simple way to reduce saturated fat intake… Swap meat and dairy products for fish, olive oil, seeds, nuts and avocado and get all the benefits of fat, without the down side.

4 Simple ways to get more vitamins in your diet (without spending a fortune)

Vitamins are essential to your body working properly. If you go without a particular vitamin for too long, you’ll eventually end up with some pretty serious health issues.


Here’s 4 simple ways to make sure you get the maximum amount, without spending a fortune.

Eat unprocessed foods

Vitamins are found in all foods (to varying degrees), but the highest concentrations are to be found in unprocessed (or ‘whole’) foods, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

Use less water for cooking

Boiling veg can reduce the amount of vitamins. Have you ever taken broccoli out of a pan and noticed the green colour of the water? That colour is the water soluble vitamins. Try using just use enough water to create steam and stop the veg from burning. Put 1/2 inch water in the bottom of the pan, put the lid on, and add a splash more if the water runs out – that will be enough to cook almost all veg.

Eat them raw

Eating vegetables raw is the best way to maximise their nutrition, however, steaming, roasting and grilling are also good ways to keep those vitamins from spilling out.

Leave the skin on

A lot of the vitamins are contained in the skin or peel of a vegetable or fruit. Leaving the skin intact gives you more nutrition for no extra cost.

Fats – there’s more than one kind

Fats are an energy dense macronutrient and a source of the essential fatty acids. They can come from animals or plants and are used by your body as fuel for low intensity activities and storage.

Fats are made out of fatty acids, in the same way that carbs are chains of sugars, and proteins are chains of amino acids. You should probably include about 70g (for women) and 90g (for men) of fat in your diet. Ideally, you should get it from a range of sources. Fats are also important for insulation, absorbing some vitamins (A,D,E & K) and for healthy hair and skin.


There are several types of fats, and not all are created equal:

  • Saturated fat – Usually from animals, limit your intake of this.
  • Mono-unsaturated fat – Usually from nuts, olives, avocado, some dairy, eat more of this
  • Poly-unsaturated fat – Usually from fish, particularly mackerel, herring, salmon, trout, and seeds, eat more of this
  • Trans-fat – A fat produced during processing that often turns up in fried foods and ready meals, avoid like the plague

The science behind fats

Fats are organised in groups of three fatty acids and one glycerol, called triglycerides. A triglyceride is made up of any three fatty acids in any order. The order determines what sort of fat it is. Each fatty acid looks different, and has different properties. Such as how many essential fatty acids it provides, and how saturated it is.

The bottom line on fats

To understand the fat content of foods you have to read the label. The traffic light system on the front of most packaging will tell you if a food is high in fat, but it’s worth checking the level of saturates and trans-fats present too. As they will impact upon your health.

Essential fats

Essential fats are ‘essential’ because your body cannot make them. These we need to get from our diet.

There are two essential fats, they are:

ALA or Omega 3

Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) belongs to a group called the omega-3’s. We get ALA (omega 3) from seafood and oily fish (mackerel, salmon, herring) and some seeds. We don’t eat enough of these.


Improving consumption of omega 3’s in particular has been shown to help with brain function, reduce inflammation and lead to a higher level of general health.

LA or Omega 6

Linoleic acid (LA) belongs to a group called the omega-6’s. We get LA (omega 6) from seed and vegetable oils, and generally, in western countries, we eat plenty.


In fact, the amount of omega 6 compared to omega 3 in our diet is a problem. Some nutritionist recommend we redress the balance by cutting back on our use of vegetable and seed oils and increasing intake of oily fish.

Saturated fat – don’t eat too much of it.

Saturated fat is a kind of fat found in animals and the products they produce (milk, butter, cheese). Too much saturated fat is unhealthy, but if you’re eating meat, you’ll struggle to avoid it.

Saturated fats are created in nature for long term storage, they are what keeps animals (including humans) warm. By historical standards, we now eat quite a lot of meat and as such, probably too much saturated fat.

The science of Saturated Fat

Fats are made up of fatty acids. They chain together to form different types of fats. Within the chain, there are different arrangements called bonds.

  • If a chain contains a double-bond then it is a mono-unsaturated fat.
  • If it contains more than one double bond it is a poly-unsaturated fat.
  • If it contains no double bonds at all then it is a saturated fat.


The Risks of Saturated Fat

Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase the LDL cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is usually caused by a build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries around the heart (coronary arteries)… The fatty deposits, called atheroma, are made up of cholesterol and other waste substances. – National Health Service Website

But why worry about heart disease?

Well, according to the British Heart Foundation Website :

  • Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the UK’s single biggest killer
  • Nearly one in six men and more than one in ten women die from coronary heart disease
  • CHD is responsible for almost 74,000 deaths in the UK each year, an average of 200 people each day
  • There are nearly 2.3 million people living with coronary heart disease in the UK

What can I do?

Heart Disease is a big problem, but, it’s relatively simple to decrease your risks. Just follow these 3 simple bits of advice and you’ll be significantly less likely to suffer from it:

  • Give up smoking. Smoking doesn’t just affect your lungs. It’s bad for your whole body.
  • Reduce your cholesterol, by reducing your saturated fat intake. Swap animal fats for vegetable and fish based fats and you can’t go far wrong.
  • Take regular exercise. It will flush your system.
  • Be a healthy weight. Obesity which is linked to type 2 diabetes will increase your risk. Swap simple carbohydrates (like white bread/pasta/potatoes and sugar) for fresh vegetables and wholegrains to help do this quicker.

The bottom line – Saturated fat is not a bad thing (we all use it to keep warm) we just don’t need very much of it in our diet. Keep saturated fat to a minimum and you won’t be going far wrong. Though that might mean cutting down on the amount of animal products you eat!


Fibres are types of very complex carbohydrates. Because they’re so complex they take a while to break down, filling you up and helping your digestive processes.

Fibre, also known as non-starch polysaccharides (NSP), comes in two forms; ‘soluble’ and ‘insoluble’.

Soluble fibre can be broken down in the colon and used as food by good gut bacteria.

Insoluble fibre cannot be broken down, its just helps the digestive process along (and adds bulk to your poo).


You should be aiming for 18g of fibre a day, though research indicates that most people only get to about 14g. If you’d like to increase your fibre intake, you could try:

  • Swapping white pasta/bread for variations containing wholegrain or wholemeal.
  • Washing rather than peeling vegetables like carrots and potatoes.
  • Eating a high-fibre breakfast like ‘All bran’ or ‘bran flakes’

By doing this, you’ll be filling up (fending off the snacks), fuelling up with slow burning energy (less likely to turn to fat) and helping your digestive process stay healthy.

Calories in vs. Calories out – How can I affect the balance?

Changes in weight depend on altering the balance between calories in and calories out. That’s it

The concept of changing ‘calories in’ is relatively simple, you just eat fewer of them and bob’s your uncle. It may not be straight forward to achieve, but the actual aim is easy to understand. See ‘affecting calories in’.

The problem comes when you try to understand the other side of the equation; ‘calories out’. This is different for everyone and may be constantly changing.

Here’s our guide to understanding factors which affect ‘calories out’ so you can work out why you might not be shifting as many pounds as you would like, or why you might be shifting too many.

    1. BMR: Our basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories we burn just to exist. Everyone has a slightly different BMR and you may need to adjust your calories in to compensate for any of the following:
      • Muscle mass – more muscle = higher BMR
      • Age – as we get older BMR slowly decreases
    2. Body size – The bigger you are the higher your BMR
    3. Hormones – thyroxine, testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin concentrations all affect BMR
    4. Stress and anxiety – BMR increases with stress
    5. Sleep – BMR decreases when you are asleep
    6. Gender – men have a fairly stable BMR. Women often have a more variable BMR


  • Exercise: Physical activity has a huge impact on the amount of calories we use. The more vigorous the exercise, the more calories we use.
  • Diet Induced Thermogenesis (DIT): The body creates a bit more heat when we eat, eating spicy foods like chillies actually gives us a slight boost


“When you are thinking about calorie balance, you have to consider your lifestyle, not compared to the average person (or your friends), but just in terms of yourself and your balance”