Dietitians Week: Answering your questions

A profile picture of Liv Gensale and Cecilia
Specialist Dietitians, Cromwell Hospital
09 June 2021
Next review due June 2024

Are you concerned that you’re not getting enough vitamin D? Or perhaps you’re not sure if you’re eating enough protein? Liv and Cecillia answer some of your questions.

Will not being outside much affect the amount of vitamin D I get?

Our main source of vitamin D is sunlight, so if you’re not getting outside much you might not be getting enough. Vitamin D is important because we need it for healthy bones and muscles.

Current guidelines say that everyone over the age of one in the UK can take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D. Some foods are naturally rich in vitamin D, such as oily fish and egg yolks. You can also buy foods fortified with vitamin D, such as some breakfast cereals and margarines.

I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); can probiotic drinks help with my symptoms?

If you have IBS, or think you might, speak to your GP or a dietitian. They can suggest changes you could make to your diet and lifestyle to help with your symptoms.

There’s no harm in taking the probiotic yoghurt drinks you find in the supermarket. It’s important to remember that these aren’t medicine though. There are lots of different types and some are more effective than others. It might be hard to find information about the type of bacteria they contain. Sometimes these drinks can also have added sugar.

You might also have seen pharmaceutical probiotics in some supermarkets or health food shops. These tend to have more evidence behind them. They contain certain strains of bacteria that have been researched in clinical trials.

Because there are a lot of different types, it can be helpful to speak to a dietitian about which one might be most helpful for you.

Does calorie counting really work for losing weight? Is it that simple?

Good quality nutrition is important when thinking about weight management. Calorie counting can be helpful for some people, but the most important thing is to eat a healthy diet.

It’s important to eat a variety of foods from all food groups. This includes fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates. Your body needs a variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients such as fibre. Eating a varied, balanced diet will also make sure you have enough energy.

It’s also important not to focus on the number on the scale. Lots of things can affect how much you weigh, including how much muscle you have, fluid, and the weight of any undigested food. This means you might be losing body fat even if your weight doesn’t change.

As a dietitian, I wouldn’t recommend calorie counting. It can be very time-consuming and often takes the pleasure out of eating!

I am on the FODMAP diet for IBS. But I feel like I’m not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

The FODMAP diet is a short-term diet that some people are prescribed to help them understand if certain foods are causing their symptoms. It should always be done under the supervision of a doctor or dietitian.

The diet can feel restrictive, but there are ways to make sure you’re getting a varied diet. And you can still include plenty of fruits and vegetables. There are resources like booklets and apps available that can give you lists of the types of fruits and vegetables you can eat. It might be helpful to plan your meals to make sure you include enough.

If I’m trying to lose weight, should I eat most of my calories earlier on in the day?

The most important thing is to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet. But you might find that eating a healthy and varied breakfast gives you more energy during the day. It can also help you to have fewer sugar cravings and stop you overeating later in the day.

Late-night eating can add extra calories to your diet if you’ve already eaten plenty during the day. You also might find that the foods you eat late at night are less healthy, such as crisps, fizzy drinks or chocolate.

Meal planning can help you plan out your meals and snacks.

My child is very active but doesn’t eat much, should I give them protein supplements?

If you’re worried about how much your child is eating, or how they’re growing, it’s best to speak to your GP or a paediatric (children’s) dietitian. They may recommend you try certain foods first before giving any supplements.

They might suggest more frequent meals and snacks that contain plenty of energy and protein. This could include:

  • high protein smoothies made with full-fat yoghurt and milk
  • nut bars (look for ones low in sugar)
  • homemade flapjacks or energy balls
  • cheese and crackers
  • boiled eggs
  • meatballs
  • packs of nuts
  • yoghurts
  • toast and peanut butter
  • houmous

It’s also important to make sure that your child is eating foods from all the food groups. This includes plenty of carbohydrates and essential fats to make sure they’re getting the energy they need to stay active.

Are there any foods you have to avoid if you’ve previously had diverticulitis?

Diverticular disease is a condition where small pouches form in the lining of your bowel. These don’t always cause symptoms, and lots of people don’t know they have them.

Sometimes, food can get stuck in these pouches and cause them to become inflamed. This can cause symptoms such as pain in your tummy, constipation, diarrhoea, fever, or blood in your poo. This is called diverticulitis. If you have any of these symptoms you should get medical help.

People with symptoms might be told by their doctor to change their diet. This could mean eating less fibre or having a liquid diet for a little while. But this should only be done under medical supervision.

If you don’t have symptoms, there’s no need to make changes to your diet, even if you’ve had diverticulitis before. Try to eat a balanced diet, and make sure you eat plenty of fibre. Aim for 30g of fibre a day from foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

How can I make sure I’m eating a healthy diet now that I’m a vegetarian? Do I need any supplements?

Lots of people worry they won’t get enough protein on a vegetarian diet, but you can get all the protein you need. If you still eat dairy products and eggs, it might be a little bit easier. You can still meet your daily protein requirements on a plant-based diet; it might just take a bit more planning.

Try to eat a variety of protein sources and include protein-rich foods in meals and snacks. This could include:

  • meat alternatives, such as vegetarian sausages and mince
  • pulses, such as lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • nuts and seeds (including nut butters)

It’s not just protein that’s important. Make sure you’re eating a variety of foods from all the food groups.

Some vegetarians might take iron and vitamin B12 supplements, as these can be lacking in their diet. But it’s not always necessary. Speak to your GP or a dietitian for more advice about whether you would benefit from a supplement.

Every year, the British Dietetic Association marks Dietitians Week, which aims to celebrate and showcase the work of dietitians. This year it runs from 7–11 June.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

A profile picture of Liv Gensale and Cecilia
Liv Gensale and Cecilia Jaarsma
Specialist Dietitians, Cromwell Hospital

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    • Irritable bowel syndrome. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence., revised October 2020
    • Probiotics: Food Fact Sheet. British Dietetic Association., published June 2018
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    • Weight Loss: Food Fact Sheet. British Dietetic Association., published February 2016
    • Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: diagnosis and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence., updated 04 April 2017
    • Healthy Breakfast: Food Fact Sheet. British Dietetic Association., published July 2020
    • Macronutrients and energy balance. Oxford Handbook of Nutrition and Dietetics (3 ed). Oxford Medicines Online., published April 2020
    • Diverticular disease. Patient – Professional Reference., updated 27 Feb 2020
    • Diverticular disease: diagnosis and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence., published 27 November 2019
    • Fibre: Food Fact Sheet. British Dietetic Association., published September 2016
    • Vegetarian, vegan and plant-based diet: Food Fact Sheet. British Dietetic Association., published September 2017

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