How to build healthy habits


Want to change your habits for better health? Take control over your lifestyle?

Watch our webinar with Nutritionist Anjanette Fraser as she talks through the small changes to your diet and sleep that can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing. Discover how to ...

  • Maximise your energy levels
  • Improve your mood
  • Sharpen your focus
  • Boost your physical health



Download the How to build healthy habits slides here


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What are your views on the theory that cooked pastas and rice, when allowed to cool completely, become low GI and remain low GI even if they are re-heated?

An experiment identified that cooking, cooling, then reheating pasta lowered its Glycemic Index compared to cooking and eating before and after cooling. Here’s a link to a review of the experiment on the Diabetes UK website which is interesting and I agree more experiments are required to confirm findings.

Would choosing low GI foods have an effect on weight?

Choosing lower GI foods will primarily reduce the speed at which sugar is released from food into the bloodstream. In slowing the speed of sugar release (e.g. including protein, fat, or fibre) a person should feel fuller for longer and less likely to crave foods e.g. carbohydrates so soon, thereby possibly helping to reduce weight i.e. less snacking/craving higher sugar foods.

I'm vegetarian (no fish either) and I struggle to eat enough protein. I don't generally get very hungry and I don't want to consume more calories, nor put on weight. Which are the best bang-for-buck vegetarian proteins, and is a variety of protein better than a single source? I'm looking for a magic bullet - one easy source of good quality protein with few calories.

Variety is important so yes it would be good to vary your source of protein to balance your diet. Vegetarian sources: dairy, eggs, soya, quinoa, or combining at least 2 of: nuts, seeds, peas, beans, lentil, grains in each meal. I’d say dairy is possibly the highest source of calories but it also makes a valuable nutrition contribution to your diet so I’d suggest all of the above are possibilities. Sorry no magic bullet, but variety is key.

I have a very sweet tooth and regularly have a craving for chocolate. What can I eat that will suppress this craving for something sugary? Any tips on how to deal with cravings such as chocolate? Especially as a comfort food and in that situation I just can't keep away from it or stop eating it once I've started!

Some Nutritional Therapists suggest chromium (mineral which you can buy from health food stores/online) is helpful – a natural form of Metformin to help improve sugar balance and sugar craving. The old adage; if it’s not there you can’t have it – consider removing all sources in the house/work and after a couple of weeks the cravings may disappear (works for some people but not all).

Are some cheeses better than others?

Not been asked this before, but here’s a link to an interesting article on the British Heart Foundation website which has some interesting facts about cheese and towards the bottom an interesting comparison about the fat content of various cheeses, so yes, I’d think some are better than others.

Since starting to drink one whole lemon a day I get no more colds (instead of getting them frequently)! This is even if people around me are sneezing. Why is this?

I have to say I can’t explain this either. Specifically, vitamin C can reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold, but I’m not aware of any clinical trial which demonstrates vitamin C prevents people from contracting a cold. Perhaps it is something else within the lemon, but I’m not sure what.

Why avoid artificial sweeteners, and is sucrose classed as an artificial sweetener?

Here’s a response from the NHS regarding sweeteners which mentions some recent clinical trials proposing sweeteners may increase the risk of Diabetes type 2. Here’s an article discussing this. Many years ago there was also some comment on possible neurological effects, however I think like many things in nutrition we need more trials/time to discuss this more fully, and until then it is likely to be a personal choice. Sucrose is a natural sugar – it’s a disaccharide (glucose + fructose).

What is advisable coffee/tea intake?

The NHS advises up to 4 cups of coffee per day carries no risk there are exceptions – pregnancy, and professionally I’d suggest also caution in hypertension due to effect of caffeine on blood pressure. I’d also suggest it’s a personal choice – caffeine tolerance is different for everyone. Consider the timing also, before exercise may be considered more beneficial.

Where does simple walking come in the exercise regime?

Any physical exercise is better than none (movement for joints, exposure to natural light, vitamin D if outside etc..). In terms of weight loss and improved cardiac fitness elevating heart rate is required so a slow meander is unlikely to be sufficient.

What are the best ways to build immunity to cold/flu viruses? 

NHS would recommend the flu vaccine. Also consider taking probiotics if antibiotics have been prescribed. Eating a variety of fruits/vegetables remembering nutritional value of most are reduced when cooked. Red pepper, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit all have higher concentrations of vitamin C than oranges. The NHS also recommend taking a daily supplement of vitamin D from October to April in the UK to maintain immunity. Don’t forget good old vitamin C supplement too over the winter.

How often should we eat simple carbohydrates per week? Thinking more like rice and pasta. 

Simple carbohydrates (bread/pasta/rice/potatoes) can be eaten daily as part of a balanced diet. They are important for brain and bowel function. Choosing the time of day – perhaps around exercise would be beneficial. In excess, like any of the macronutrients they will cause weight gain. It’s not necessary that they are consumed with every meal, but certainly I’d suggest at least once per day.

What can you do nutritionally to reduce restless leg syndrome?

Firstly check with your GP there is no underlying health reason for the restless leg. You may find soaking yourself or at least your feet in an Epsom salt bath/bowl allowing you to absorb the magnesium sulfate through the skin may help to relax and relieve aching tired legs.

Are lentils with rice a good nutritional combination? 

Yes, for a more complete protein source combining at least 2 of the following during a meal increases the availability of the 9 of the essential amino acids available: nuts, seeds, peas, beans, lentil, grains.

What is your view on intermittent fasting - either 5/2 or eating food only in a short 8 hour window each day? 

It’s a relatively new concept attracting a lot of media attention. I think it’s a personal choice what works for you – certainly some good research/results from participants, but I’m not sure everyone would be able to fast to 500 calories 2 days per week (people with hypo-glycaemia). Perhaps the 12 hour fast per day is more achievable i.e. not eating between 7pm-7am.

Any advice on late night snacking?

General guidance is not to eat close to sleep – allowing you to digest food more completely before sleep. If late night snacking is a result of feeling hungry consider if sufficient food has been eaten during the day and sufficient protein to keep you fuller for longer. If late night snacking is habitual consider the mental triggers. 

Do you have any comments on a ketogenic diet for diabetes in the long term?

Here’s a response from Diabetes UK so a low carb diet can be seen as beneficial to reduce weight and manage glucose, but they are unsure about the longer term. I’ll stick with the experts regarding the long term as I don’t think there has been sufficient research on this yet.

You mentioned switching from margarine to butter. Are margarines bad for you? Why? They don't have trans-fats any more do they? What about olive oil spreads? Why is cooking with butter or coconut oil better than olive oil? 

The process of changing a liquid (oil) to a solid involves a process called hydrolyzation which heats the oil to very high temperatures which also changes its chemical structure making it less favorable. Registered Nutritional Therapists prefer butter to margarine. When cooking/heating oils the better ones are the ones which are chemically more stable at higher temperatures. There has been a lot of media attention recently on coconut oil, more recently the research on Trust Me I’m a Doctor claiming it is beneficial for improving cholesterol results.

Is it necessary to consult a GP first before taking 5HTP?

If currently taking anti-depressant medication yes consult a GP prior to taking 5-HTP. The supplement is available from health food stores and I’d suggest if not currently taking medication I’d still consult the shop assistant or a Registered Nutritional Therapist to ascertain if there are any other methods you could utilize prior to taking 5-HTP as it does alter brain chemistry.

Are HIIT workouts safe for those aged over 50 with high blood pressure? It is well known that Andrew Marr had a stroke whilst rowing in intense workout?

The concept of HIIT is to elevate heart rate for a short period of time, so it is not age related – more a concern about medical history. It would be advisable to initially participate in HIIT with an exercise professional (exercise class or personal trainer) who should also check technique is correct to prevent injury. 

What tests would you recommend someone concerned about health does regularly for vitamin levels, hormone levels, minerals, cortisol, to know what is going on in the system?

The NHS offers health checks every decade starting at 40 years old so certainly this should be taken up. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest additional tests unless there are health issues which are unresolved and may require further medical investigation. Your GP should always be the first person to contact, and their guidance if symptoms continue. If you have private health care, health insurers may be able to guide you with additional tests that the NHS might not routinely conduct. Tests may also be purchased from laboratories by yourself but it is a bit of a minefield and they can be expensive. It’s also one thing ordering them, but another interpreting them – so I’d always suggest consult a health professional. If you’re looking for a Registered Nutritional Therapist local to you, consult the professional body using this link and you can enter your postcode and find someone local to you.

My dietician has recommended chocolate to increase my weight and bulk up, would you recommend this too or something else instead?

I wouldn’t recommend chocolate to increase your weight – eating anything in excess technically would lead to weight gain, but in terms of healthy weight (muscle) gain I’d question whether sufficient protein and good fats are being consumed. Here’s a guide to how much of each according to the NHS

You mentioned probiotics. Is there any benefit from PREbiotics? 

Yes, certainly prebiotics help to feed the probiotics so absolutely no problem including these too – caution for some people prebiotics may be a bit too stimulating causing increased flatulence. Generally, a varied diet should include prebiotic foods. Most prebiotic research has focused on inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), naturally found in chicory, cereals, agave, milk, bananas, leeks. Their most common activity is stimulating the growth of the host microbiota to ferment the prebiotics resulting in improved stool size, weight, consistency and reduction in constipation. 

I sleep deeply for about 4 hours then wake and have difficulty in going back to sleep, what can help on this issue?

From a nutrition perspective I’d question if cortisol is too high in the evening, or if your last meal was too carbohydrate heavy and insufficient protein, or if alcohol is consumed which may impact your blood sugar levels. These may be reasons from a nutrition perspective which may be waking you – of course there are many non-nutrition related reasons too. I’m not aware of a specific nutrition remedy for helping you back to sleep naturally, but certainly breathing/mindfulness exercises (have a look at the CABA resources online) are used by many to successfully help calm the mind if a busy mind is preventing you from returning to sleep.

With regard to improvement in sleep, are there any particular foods which you suggest other than the suggested tryptophan foods? e.g. Spinach to boost Vit D? 

Tryptophan is helpful to boost serotonin (and melatonin). I’ve not considered deficiency of vitamin D being a factor for insomnia. Some people sight benefit from magnesium – either in form of Epsom salt bath/soak feet in basin/bowl, or magnesium as a digested supplement to aid relaxation.

I suffer from IBS type symptoms - bloating - trapped wind etc which disturb my sleep. What foods etc should I cut out in the evenings to minimise these problems? 

I’d suggest keep a food diary with symptoms to identify any trigger foods. As we are all unique it is difficult to pin point your exact triggers, but common triggers are yeast and/or dairy. I’d keep a diary when consuming these to see if symptoms persist, then eliminate one only for a period of 1-2 weeks and then reintroduce. I’d suggest that disturbed sleep due to bloating is not common (most experience bloating more during the day), so also consult your GP for further tests to be on the cautious side. If your GP has concluded IBS you may find a Dietitian or Registered Nutritional Therapist helpful with further suggestions personal to your symptoms (

I have Parkinsons disease. Are there any diet suggestions which will help with the symptoms - mainly inertia in my case? 

Unfortunately my knowledge of the role of nutrition in Parkinsons is very limited. However I did find this interesting article which I wondered if you had read.

I've reduced my white rice intake, reduced my portions, done more exercise and reduced how much desserts I eat. This has done nothing for my weight. Do you have any other suggestions on what to do? I sleep a 7-8 hours sleep a night and use public transport where possible but cannot do HIIT due to disability. 

Has your composition (% fat/muscle) changed? Focus is changing from weight to more importantly reducing fat and improving muscle tone. It is a combination of food and exercise – although HIIT is not a possibility, an exercise where your heart rate is elevated for a brief period of time, followed by a brief rest period will help to reduce fat. E.g. walking quickly for 30secs followed by slower walking for 30secs, repeated for 15mins 3 x week. Also try not eating carbohydrates for some evening meals, instead ¼ plate being protein and ½ plate vegetables/salad.

Is there such a thing of eating too much fruit and salads? If I have a lot I struggle with painful bloating. Is there something I should be including within my salads to help my digestive system?

Yes, try to limit fruit to no more than two pieces per day. If you find bloating a problem there may be too much fibre (prebiotic) which can exacerbate bloating in some people. Try rotating salad content to identify which contents cause more of a problem than others. I can’t think of anything which you could add to salads to reduce bloating unfortunately, other than reducing the item/s which are causing the symptoms.

Would you recommend fibre supplements and which one? Would you recommend any other supplements specifically for women especially for boosting energy?

I’d suggest to try a few things before fibre supplements – hydration (urine should be a light yellow colour)), exercise (to help keep bowels moving), 5-a-day (mostly vegetables rather than fruit which are not over cooked), bathroom hygiene (spending up to 5mins per day on the toilet at a time of the day when most relaxed e.g. evening with a book/music to help relaxation), posture on the toilet (knees should be higher than hips). There may be underlying co-factors e.g. psychological issues related to the situation, eating disorders, previous laxatives used – unfortunately it’s a bit difficult to answer without a full case history as there may be many contributing factors, and to help treat the cause rather than the symptom. Some people find taking a fish oil daily can help as a laxative (and also help improve cholesterol and joints). In terms of fibre, consider trying 30g per day found in oats, barley, fruits with skin, peas, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds. Fibre supplements generally either irritate the lining of the bowl or improve the volume of the faecal matter making it more obvious for the small intestine to move contents along – if these could be done more naturally using the above methods rather than supplement this would be better.

I’d certainly consider a good multivitamin (from a health food store rather than supermarket) to boost energy levels (B vitamins) and cover as many bases as possible in case there are some gaps in the diet.

I have 2 young teenage sons and I am finding it difficult to come up with new ideas for balanced meals for them. Do you have any suggestions? They aren't fussy eaters but one is allergic to peanuts, other nuts and eggs.

Keeping a balanced diet where you can as early teenage suggest they are still growing so all food groups should be included where intolerances permit. If they are like ‘normal’ teenagers it may be tricky getting fruit/vegetables into their diet so smoothies are a good suggestion. Breakfasts if possible go for a lower sugar cereal, eggs for the son who can tolerate them, porridge with flaxseed (for added protein) and piece fruit. Lunch and dinner protein (meat/fish/eggs) the size of the palm of your hand plus some carbohydrates (rice/pasta/potatoes), and 2-3 vegetables where possible. Focusing on the three meals to increase their protein content should help to reduce (but not likely eliminate) cravings for sugary snacks. Here is also a link to some recipes on the CABA website.

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