Diet and Anxiety

Anxiety is very common, with up to 20% of the population suffering from anxiety at some point in their lives.

What you eat affects how you feel.

Diet does not cause anxiety, but healthy eating has been shown to improve the symptoms.

Foods to Avoid:

Foods to Choose:

Along with changes in your diet, it is recommended that you:

  • Take regular exercise, around 30 minutes each day like walking, cycling or yoga
  • Improve sleeping habits like regular bedtime and screen free time
  • Stress reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing, having fun
  • A good support system of people you can talk to
  • Seek counselling and medication if necessary


Information Overload

info overload

Nutritional Information is coming at us from every angle nowadays. Everyone is an expert it seems. But if everyone is an expert, why is the advice all different?

Well obviously, they are not all experts. But lots of people think they are. When we look at our social media, every other post is an Instagram-tastic fabulously healthy meal. The miracle food or supplement they have discovered.

Family and friends too, are great with the advice. Now we all love our peeps, but do they really know what they are talking about? Having grown up in a house where the Cabbage Soup Diet reared its ugly head, I would be wary of the well-meaning but ill informed.

Advertisements on TV, radio and magazines are just that – advertisements. They are selling something. Websites are often the same and can be harder to spot. They may seem official but often there is a supplement or something similar being pushed.

Like celebrities and influencers on social media. Before you rush out and buy the miraculous pills they are saying lost them a stone in a week, check if they are being paid by said pill maker.

A medical expert is someone we trust. But not everyone with a medical qualification has been trained in nutrition. You can’t expect your GP to be a nutrition expert because it is not a big part of their training.

Food labels we should be able to trust. To use as our guide. They are governed by law, but many manufacturers push the regulations to the limits in what they say on packaging.  At the end of the day, they are selling their product. All they want from you is your €€€’s.

We should be able to rely on government guidelines. The problem is that they can be hard to understand. And they can become outdated. It is difficult for regulatory agencies to keep up with the new developments and discoveries made in science every day.

And don’t even get me started on the fad diets. Often very restrictive and making big promises based on no scientific evidence. At best, taking advantage of people. At worst, preying on the vulnerable and causing harm. If you are ever advised to cut out a whole food group without a medical reason, question it. If someone suggests you take some supplement instead of a medicine you have been prescribed, definitely question it. You may see people lose weight temporarily on these mad diets but check back when the unsustainable diet has been left behind. Has the persons overall health improved??

Become aware. Educate yourself. Be critical. Don’t believe everything you see.  Look for the qualifications and motivations of those telling you what to eat. Look for an ulterior motive. Are they offering to sell you something like a pill or a shake? Do they have something to gain by pushing you in one direction or another?

Evidence based nutritional advice is not going to sound like a magic potion: move more, eat less processed foods and eat more vegetables.

Magic potions are for fairy tales.

Obesity in Ireland

  fat man

25% of Irish children are overweight or obese

60% of Irish adults are overweight or obese

50% of pregnant Irish women are overweight or obese

75% of Irish adults over 50 are overweight or obese

Forecasts by the World Health Organisation show that Ireland is at risk of having the highest rate of overweight and obesity in Europe by 2030.

There has been a huge increase in average weight over the last 30 years. The way we eat and the way we live our daily lives has changed dramatically in a short space of time. Physical activity has fallen. Technology has changed the types of jobs we do, requiring less physical effort. More and more people spend time in front of screens, not moving. Not just at work but also in the home.

The way we eat has changed too. More people are living alone grabbing a ready meal on the way home from work. In families, parents are working and it’s not always possible to have sit down family dinners every evening, though we know that those families that do have a lower incidence of overweight. We depend a lot on convenience foods and takeaways because we are so time poor.

The traditional treat foods are no longer even really treats when we have them every single day. Processed foods high in fat and sugar are flying off our shelves because people don’t have the time to go shopping for real foods and prepare and cook homemade meals.

An unhealthy diet has been linked to morbidity and mortality. Overweight people are at greater risk of living shorter lives, and suffering from non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. And from an economical perspective, if the rates continue as they have been how are we as a country going to be able to afford it? Businesses will suffer with all the extra sick days. The health service is already under strain, how will it cope if nearly 90% of adults are overweight or obese with all the health problems associated with that? I don’t think it will.

We are possibly witnessing the first generation of children being born who will have a lower life expectancy than their parents. I find this terrifying. The human race has always evolved and improved, until now.

In short: the way we are eating now is slowly killing us.

It’s time for each of us to take a look at our lives and take responsibility for our own diets and our own health.

Sugar Tax

Ireland has introduced a sugar tax on sugar sweetened beverages. The aim is to combat obesity.

Will it work?

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Officially known as the Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Tax (SSDT), or the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in the UK, the sugar tax was introduced in April. Its early days yet but we can look to other countries experiences and see what the effects have been.

There has been a lot of interest in recent years in the idea of taxation of unhealthy foods. The emerging policy of applying taxes based on the health effects of a product or nutrient has been attempted in several countries in recent years with mixed effects.

Denmark abandoned a “fat tax” they had introduced in 2011 after only a year. At the time, there was reported to be little or no effect on consumption however subsequent analysis suggests a 10-15% decrease. In Hungary some processed foods are taxed and an assessment by the WHO in 2013 found a decrease in consumption by 20-35% along with an increase in consumer awareness. In Finland and France there are unofficial reports of a fall in sales of sugar sweetened beverages after taxes were introduced.

The big question is whether these taxes will decrease consumption and eventually obesity. One modelling study found that a 20% tax on sugar sweetened beverages would lead to a reduction of 34-47 calories/day in adults and 40-51 in children. The reduction for regular consumers is likely to be higher, and they will benefit more. A study of soft drink taxation in Ireland showed 11% decrease in consumption for each 10% increase in price. It has been suggested that a 20% tax on SSBs would lead to a reduction in body weight 1.54-2.55lb per year.

The potential health benefits to consumers are significant. The 1-3% reduction in incidence in ischaemic heart disease predicted by several studies modelling the effect of increasing tax levels of unhealthy foods at 17.5% in the UK would result in 900-2700 fewer deaths a year. Small changes in diet can lead to meaningful changes in risk factors across the whole population, resulting in substantial health benefits (WHO 2015).

It has been estimated that the sugar tax will cost the average household in Ireland around €57/year, while potential revenue from this tax is €80m. The revenues present great opportunities to subsidise healthcare systems (OECD 2012).

In Ireland we have already seen reformulation by the food industry, and smaller package sizes which has the direct effect of the consumer consuming less sugar.

These taxes could improve health. Evidence suggests they may decrease consumption, but the tax rate needs to be at least 20% to see a significant effect and ideally be combined with subsidies on healthy alternatives.

Tax is not a simple or quick fix. Price alone will not alter diet and health but properly established it could prove effective in reducing obesity and with it, the prevalence of non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

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What is a Superfood ?

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A Superfood, like Superman is not real. It is a phrase invented by companies selling food products to influence consumers to buy their product. And it works!

What comes to mind? Coconut oil for sure has been splashed around as a superfood in recent years. Kale? Blueberries? Spinach? Flax seeds? Wheatgrass? There has been some very clever marketing done lately!

I am not saying that these foods are bad for you. I am saying that they do not perhaps possess the magical powers that you have been led to believe!

Coconut oil. Not a food I would recommend to anyone with its high fat content. But if you like it, go for it in sensible portions. Foods that are high in fat are high in calories no matter how super foody the ad says they are. A bit like avocados which are also high in fat. These foods are higher in healthy fats, but the bottom line is they are high in fat. Anyone sitting down eating a full avocado could consume over 200kcal, that’s before we even count the toast or whatever you are serving it with. Any food with high fat content whether its coconut oil or olive oil or any fat should be consumed in small portions because of the calories. Definitely choose the healthier fat, but more is not better.

Dark green leafy vegetables are without doubt extremely nutritious. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. And antioxidants that have health benefits.  But don’t ignore all the other lovely greens in the vegetable aisle and reach just for the spinach. Unless of course you are Popeye!

Nuts and seeds also do deserve the title. They are rich in healthy fats, protein and fibre. They too are rich in antioxidants. But again, they can be high in calories and like with any healthy fats people need to be mindful of that.

Wheatgrass and blueberries are also nutrient dense foods. But what gets overlooked in all the hype about these Superfoods is that a lot of the foods we have grown up with are just as Super: Eggs. Homemade brown bread. Porridge. Yoghurt. Cabbage. Salmon. Seaweed. Soup. Traditional Irish foods. Foods that are available locally and don’t require an aeroplane to get to your plate. Sometimes I think we want the best foods to be exotic and new and a bit more exciting than something we ate at our grandmothers table.

But don’t be fooled by clever marketing.

Traditional Irish wholefoods are the Superfoods in my book!