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Ask the Nutritionist

If you have a nutrition or diet question or need some advice on eating a healthier diet you can email one of our nutritionists below and receive a personal reply to your question. We will publish a selection of questions and answers on Waitrose.com so have a read of our previously answered questions below before you submit your question. If you can’t find the answer to your question here, or within our Health and nutrition pages, continue with your query.

Meet our nutritionists

Moira Howie
Nutrition Manager

Moira's favourite nutrients are the B vitamins because they help you get energy from the food you eat, helping you to lead an active lifestyle.

Nutrition Manager Moira Howie

Nicola Selwood
Nutritionist

Nicola's favourite nutrient is vitamin D because you get it from the sun and it’s important for building strong bones.

Nutritionist Nicola Radford

Joanne Lunn
Nutritionist

Joanne's favourite nutrient is vitamin C because it helps to support the body’s defences throughout the seasons.

 

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Previously answered questions

Q: I am trying to lose weight but find I have no energy and am tired all the time. I suspect I am not eating the right foods and yet when I look at foods that I think will give me lots of energy, they seem high in calories too.

A: Energy in food is measured in calories and is released into the body with the help of vitamins and minerals. Energy is supplied by carbohydrate foods (starches and sugars) to produce blood glucose - the body's favourite fuel and also by fats. Protein also provides energy but it is used mainly for body maintenance and repair. Protein can help keep blood glucose levels stable so should be included in your meals.

Try and eat three regular meals a day and some healthy snacks to provide a constant energy supply. We should all be eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day and if you start to feel hungry snack on fruit, carrots, celery or dried fruit, nuts and seeds. A healthy breakfast is also very important as it fights off feelings of tiredness and may help boost concentration.

The Glycaemic Index (GI) of foods is a way of ranking foods according to their effect on blood glucose levels and how quickly they are digested. Choose foods that have a low GI as they raise blood glucose gradually and give you a sustained energy supply. Examples of low GI foods include apples, porridge oats, beans, peas, lentils, wholegrain breads, apricots, barley, oranges, cherries, muesli and sweetcorn.

As you are trying to lose weight, your diet may be nutritionally unbalanced. The B vitamin group and magnesium allow the body to use the energy in food and iron is important to prevent tiredness caused by anaemia. Additionally, ensure you drink plenty of water and avoid drinks containing sugar and caffeine.

Healthy ideas that provide energy and may help you to lose weight when eaten as part of a well-balanced diet could include:

  • Porridge with sliced fruit
  • Baked beans on toast
  • Lean beef stir-fried with vegetables
  • Noodles with prawns and vegetables
  • Houmous with pitta bread
  • Chicken salad sandwich on granary bread
  • Chilli con carne with salad
  • Vegetable curry with basmati rice
  • Fruit salad
  • Soups with vegetables, lentils or barley.

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Q: Besides the spreads and yogurt drinks that are available are there any 'natural' foods that would help to reduce high cholesterol levels?

A: Many spreads and yogurt type drinks, containing plant sterols or stanols, can be beneficial to lowering blood cholesterol when eaten as part of a well-balanced, healthy diet.

There are two main types of cholesterol present in our blood:

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL). This is known as 'bad' cholesterol as it can form fatty deposits within artery walls, leading to narrowing of the arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease.

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL). This is known as 'good' cholesterol as it removes excess cholesterol from the blood and returns it to the liver.

The type of fat we have in our diet is the main influence on levels of 'good' and 'bad' cholesterol in our blood.

Saturated fats, found in butter, lard, dripping, cream and some processed foods like cakes, pastries and biscuits, tend to raise total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol in the blood. Where possible, saturated fats should be avoided and replaced with unsaturated fats.

There are two types of unsaturated fats:

Monounsaturated fats - found in olive oil, avocadoes, olives, nuts and seeds.

Polyunsaturated fats - found in vegetable oils, fish oils, oily fish and nuts and seeds.

Unsaturated fats have been found to actually lower the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. To help control your high cholesterol it is therefore very important that you reduce intake of saturated fat and incorporate olive oil, vegetable oil, fish oils, seeds and nuts into your diet.

Other 'natural' ways of reducing high blood cholesterol is to include more soluble fibre found in oats, beans and lentils and fruit and vegetables. Try and ensure your diet contains at least five portions of fruit and vegetable per day and eat plenty of starchy foods to ensure a healthy balanced diet. Soya has also been shown to lower blood cholesterol, so try and incorporate soya products into your diet, such as tofu or soya milk.

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Q: We don't have a source of fresh fish in our area and so rely on tinned fish in olive oil (tuna, red salmon and sardines). Although I realise it's not as good as fresh fish, does it have a significant nutritional value?

A: Fish are generally classified into two types:

White fish - including cod, haddock, hoki, skate, halibut, plaice, monkfish and lemon sole. These fish are all relatively low in fat.

Oily fish - including salmon, mackerel, herrings, pilchards, trout and sardines.These all contain fish oil naturally and have a fat content ranging from 5% to 16%.

We should all aim to eat at least two portions of fish per week, one of which being an oily fish. As fresh fish is unavailable to you, canned fish will play an important role in your diet. Oily fish contain a certain class of polyunsaturated fat known as Omega 3's and these are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). Essential fatty acids are important as they are only available to the body from certain foods.

Canned salmon, mackerel, pilchards and sardines will all provide you with the vital Omega 3's we need. Pilchards, mackerel and sardines are available in oil and often tomato sauce. Tuna, however, contains much lower levels of fat and, therefore oil, and tuna in brine or water contains around 0.6% fat. Tuna canned in olive oil has a higher fat content due to the olive oil it contains. Olive oil has a very different fatty acid profile to the oil found in oily fish and is high in mono-unsaturated fat, which is also important for our health.

I would suggest you include as much variety as possible by choosing different types of canned fish and eat these as part of a well-balanced healthy diet. All fish provide protein and canned fish contains more calcium than fresh fish due to the small edible bones that have been softened by the canning process.

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Q: Is it advisable to eat nine portions of fruit and vegetables each day?

A: As I am sure you are aware we are all advised to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, this is equivalent to a minimum of around 400g. Fruits and vegetables are vitally important in our diet as they provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre. We are also encouraged to eat from a wide range of types and 'eat a rainbow' of different coloured fruits and vegetables, to ensure a variety of vitamins and phytonutrients. Fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables all count towards five-a-day, however, fruit juice counts only as one portion regardless of how many glasses you have in a day and potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes do not count as a serving.

It is not harmful to your health to consume up to nine servings a day, as long as all other nutrients in your diet are not compromised.

Our daily diet should be based around starchy carbohydrate foods such as bread, rice, pasta and cereals. Wholegrain and brown varieties should be chosen where possible to provide extra fibre. A small amount of protein should ideally be served with each meal from lean meat and poultry, fish, beans, lentils, eggs, nuts and soya. We should all try to eat at least two portions of fish per week, one of which should be an oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, pilchards or sardines.

Our daily diet should also not contain too much fat, especially saturated fat. Where possible replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

Calcium is also important to help keep our bones strong and help prevent osteoporosis in later life. By consuming at least three servings of low fat dairy foods each day, for example a low fat yogurt, a glass of semi-skimmed milk and a small piece of reduced fat cheese will ensure calcium requirements are met. Non-dairy sources of calcium include soya beans and soya products, nuts, bread, dried fruit, pulses and some dark green leafy vegetables.

Following the above principles will help meet all your nutritional requirements. By continuing to consume large amounts of fruit and vegetables in your diet will help protect against certain diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

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Q: I'd really like some advice on eating during pregnancy. I've searched the internet and read a few bits and think I have the basics but in particular are there any recipes you'd recommend from the Waitrose website as being particularly good/nutritious for pregnant women?

A: There are more than 3500 recipes available in our recipe search to suit a wide range of tastes and meal occasions. It is, therefore, easier to offer advice on certain recipes that you may need to avoid due to certain ingredients that may be harmful during your pregnancy.

As you have been looking on the net you are probably aware of the main dietary issues during pregnancy but I have noted them below for your information:

Enjoy a healthy, varied diet that contains adequate amounts of all the nutrients needed by you and your growing baby, including sufficient iron, calcium and folate (folic acid).

Avoid dietary supplements containing Vitamin A.

The vitamin folic acid is particularly important before conception and during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Extra folic acid at this time reduces the risk of neural tube defects in the baby such as spina bifida. Ensure you take a folic acid supplement (400 micrograms) and consume foods that are naturally good sources of folate e.g. green vegetables, oranges and foods that have been fortified with folic acid such as some breads and breakfast cereals.

Avoid alcohol consumption and drink no more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week.

Limit caffeine intake to no more than 4 cups of coffee a day. Coca-cola, some energy drinks and hot chocolate also contain caffeine.

Avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin and do not eat more than four medium sized cans of tuna or two fresh tuna steaks a week. This is due to levels of mercury present.

Limit intake of oily fish to 1-2 portions per week such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and pilchards for good health.

Iron needs are increased during pregnancy so consume plenty of foods containing iron such as red meat, fortified breakfast cereals, pulses, breads and green vegetables.

Large intakes of vitamin A are harmful during pregnancy and that is why vitamin A supplements should not be taken unless advised to do so by a health professional. Liver and liver products e.g. pate, contain large amounts of vitamin A so should also be avoided.

Avoid blue-veined and soft cheeses such as brie and camembert and pate due to risk of listeria. There is no risk with hard cheeses such as cheddar, cottage cheese, processed cheese or cheese spread. Also, always ensure you re-heat ready cooked meals until piping hot and wash all fruits and vegetables well, especially if they are to be eaten raw.

Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurised goats milk or unpasteurised goats cheese and follow good practices of food hygiene. Avoid contact with cat litter trays and always wear gloves if the litter tray has been fouled.

Avoid eating raw or partially cooked eggs and ensure all meat and poultry are thoroughly cooked.

We hope the above information provides some guidance and there is no reason to change any healthy eating habits that you were following before you became pregnant. Enjoy plenty of starchy carbohydrate foods for energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals at each meal time with protein from lean meat, poultry, beans, pulses, nuts, grains and seeds and dairy foods.

Ensure you have plenty of calcium in your diet and aim to have at least three servings of dairy foods per day such as a glass of semi-skimmed milk, a low-fat yogurt and a small piece of cheese. Soya, sesame seeds, nuts, dried fruit, pulses, bread and green leafy vegetables are all useful sources.

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Q: I would like to know whether Waitrose stocks any products without purines.

A: We do not routinely analyse for the amount of purines in Waitrose products. A low purine diet is usually prescribed for people who suffer from gout. Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood and it is advised to avoid foods which are very high in purines as purines lead to uric acid formation.

If you suffer from gout please consult your doctor if you already haven't done so, as he/she may be able to offer further help and advice.

The major sources of purines in the diet, which you may want to avoid or eat infrequently, include: liver, heart, kidney, sweetbreads, meat extracts (bovril, oxo), anchovies, crab, fish roes, herring, mackerel, sardines, shrimps, whitebait, beans, lentils, peas, spinach, rhubarb and strawberries.

Meat, game, poultry and fish, with the exceptions above, contain only moderate amounts of purines and can be eaten within reason. Peas, beans, lentils, spinach, rhubarb and strawberries also contain moderate amounts of purines but all other fruits and vegetables contain very little amounts and can be eaten freely.

Cereals, cheese, eggs, milk, breads, sweets, chocolates, cocoa, coffee and tea do not contain purines. It is very important to maintain a healthy weight for the treatment of gout so it is important to consider the calorific value of these foods that do not contain purines, and aim to eat a healthy well-balanced diet. Fatty foods such as butter and cream should be avoided. It is also advised to restrict alcohol consumption.

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Q: I have read a number of times that although fruit juice can count as one of your five-a-day portions, it doesn't count if it's from concentrate. I love V8 vegetable juice and have a glass every day, but I see on the bottle it comes from concentrate. Does this mean it doesn't count as one of my five portions?

A: Fruit juice from concentrate does count as a serving for 5-a-day. Both V8 and fruit juices will only count as one portion, regardless of how many glasses are drunk in a day.

Fruit flavoured drinks, which are dilutable, such as squash do not count towards 5-a-day.

An important message with 5-a-day is eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from many different types and colours and try to 'eat a rainbow'. Incorporate orange, red, green, purple, blue and yellow fruits and vegetables to ensure a range of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients.

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Q: What are the guideline daily amounts that you now label on your products?

A: Guideline Daily Amounts or GDAs, are a guide to the amount of calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt you should be consuming in an average day. There are GDAs for men and women.

Waitrose nutrition panel provides information per 100g and per serving on the majority of products. We have created a separate and highlighted panel to sit above the standard nutrition panel. This highlighted panel can easily be related to the Guideline Daily Amounts.

The following table shows the guideline daily amounts for men and women.

  Women Men
Calories 2000 2500
Fat 70g 95g
Saturates 20g 30g
Salt 6g 6g
Sugars 90g 120g

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