Harnessing Celebrity Power

Published on the 13th Feb, 2019 by Azmina

I was interviewed a few days ago by Nutraingredients.com about my views on whether celebrities should be banned from endorsing health products. Here’s a snippet of the questions asked by Nikki Cutler, and my candid responses.

A close up of a young woman vlogging herself whilst preparing a smoothie

Getty / Azmanjaka: A close up of a young woman vlogging herself whilst preparing a smoothie

First of all, do you think there should be a ban on celebs endorsing health products on social media or not?

This is not a black and white question. If they have a professionally recognised qualification, or have collaborated with a dietitian or registered nutritionist and can back up what they say with solid scientific evidence, they can be invaluable. Celebrities are able to connect with people in a way professionals may not. What’s important is that we protect the public from nutrition misinformation, and that any endorsements are based on health facts, not health fraud. It’s also important that payment for endorsement is clearly disclosed.

Would you agree that any manufacturer of ‘health benefitting’ products is morally obligated to sell that products based on the proven health benefits, not by the spokesperson they associate with their brand?

Agree – they should be abiding by EFSA Regulations and only using authorised health claims in all communications.


Do you agree that it is as much the brands’ responsibility as it is the social media companies’ to ensure that celebrities aren’t paid to promote health products?

Brands can harness the power of celebrities to help people make healthier choices, after all they are role models with influence. BUT this should be strictly within the EFSA regulations for making a health claim, and should be backed up with evidence for making that claim. And ideally a qualified and regulated  dietitian or nutritionist should be supporting such communication. Most reputable brands do abide by EFSA rules.

Would you agree that asking a celebrity to endorse a product will encourage young and impressionable people, especially girls, to think they look the way they do because they consume that product?

Yes. They have a responsibility as role models. They could be providing valuable guidance to young people if they sought collaboration with an expert before promoting health products. Food and nutrition misinformation can have harmful effects. A case study of one success, albeit someone in the public eye, does not mean you will have enough context to interpret how a product could be of benefit to you.

A real worry: National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data suggest that teenage girls are most at risk of low intakes of several important minerals, with 22% of them having intakes lower than the LRNI or Lower Reference Nutrient Intake for calcium, and 27% for iodine. (Intakes below the LRNI are inadequate for most individuals). Yet, this is probably a time when girls are experimenting with trendy eating practices, and are being influenced by what they see and hear from non-experts on social media. Both these nutrients are abundant in milk, so trends, for example, to go dairy free exacerbate this risk.

Do you agree it will also encourage them to buy products they don’t need without even checking the ingredients which could lead to health problems?

Agree. Much of the fake news is based at best on preliminary results from small scale studies, or anecdotal results with little scientific basis. Nutritional guidelines are based on solid evidence from robust research. The science needs to be interpreted appropriately so that it can be taken in context.

Would you agree that promoting appetite suppressant products online encourages eating disorders?

People with eating disorders have been shown to use diet pills, but there are not enough empirical studies to show that diet pills cause eating disorders.

How can this activity best be regulated?

Consumers are increasingly taking their health into their own hands, and self-efficacy is a good thing. But it needs to be supported by credible accurate knowledge and support from qualified professionals such as dietitians and registered nutritionists. There needs to be more awareness of the difference between people who may call themselves a nutritionist or diet expert, which is currently unregulated, and a dietitian, which is a protected title. Many people claim to be experts in nutrition yet have very limited knowledge and offer no protection to the public, as they are not regulated. There needs to be a simple way to check background and qualifications. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and they are governed by an ethical code. More on this.

You wouldn’t go to a dentist to have your eyes tested, so why look to a celebrity to advise you on nutrition?

Are there any brands/celebs your aware of that do this frequently?

Rather not answer.

How can consumers best tell when celebs are endorsing products simply because they’re being paid to do so?

Consumers are bombarded with fake nutrition news and perhaps the more sensational it is the more attractive it becomes! It’s not easy to differentiate between celebrities who truly believe in a health product without having been paid to promote it, and those who do it for financial gain. So it’s best to ignore the hype, accept such claims simply as entertainment, and look to accredited professionals for your health advice. Misinterpretation and exaggeration of nutrition research, whether intentional or not, is health quackery and can be potentially harmful.

Read the published interview here.


Restaurant Nutrition Review – The Albany

Published on the 20th Jan, 2019 by Azmina

I visited The Albany in Great Portland Street, London, during Veganuary, to check out why there was such a big board promoting their vegan dishes. Here I share some tasty snippets of their vegan menu and suggest ways to make it healthier. This blogpost isn’t about endorsing particular restaurants; it’s about helping you to make better choices if you’re visiting them.20190121_145225


The cheesy nachos really surprised me. I’ve tried an array of vegan cheeses, and they’ve all fallen short on taste and texture. This cheese is perfectly melted and has the stringy texture I expect from melted cheddar. I liked the idea of the tikka bites, which are a vegan take on chicken. However, I didn’t feel they were a good replacement to chicken tikka; they were deep fried, and didn’t have the tikka flavour or chicken texture. But they did taste good, especially with the mango chutney and raita.  Here’s my self-made platter from the vegan starters. If you’re with a group, you might like to order dishes and share them out so you’re getting variety and not over-doing the fried choices.


Mains (more…)


Published on the 11th Dec, 2018 by Azmina

Newsweek today published my comments on new research showing that weight maintenance tips and knowledge of how much exercise you need to do to work off Christmas food and drink, could prevent Christmas weight gain. The results showed that on average, participants in the comparison group gained some weight over Christmas but participants in the intervention group did not. Those in the intervention group ended the study weighing on average 0.49kg less than those in the comparison group.

Feasting backed turkey on holiday table ready to eat

My 5 take-outs from this study (more…)

Your vegan breakfast

Published on the 11th Oct, 2018 by Azmina

The jury’s still out as to whether breakfast is the most important meal, but no-one can argue that it’s a way to help you get some essential nutrients. My patients often say they simply don’t feel hungry on a plant-based diet, and this is usually because I’ve suggested they have lots of fibre and plant proteins, which are very filling. This can mean you have fewer opportunities to take in all the foods you need to give you nutritional balance, so making time for breakfast is a chance to fill the nutrient gap.

This blog focusses on your breakfast carbs. They help to get your blood glucose up, which leads to a raised brain sugar, helping you to concentrate after you break a whole night’s fast (hence the name!). Low GI cereals will give you nice slow rises in blood glucose, helping you to stay alert for that mid-morning meeting – and you’re less likely to crave for sweet treats before lunch. If you can’t face a bowl of cereal and plant-based drink, try tea and wholegrain toast with peanut butter, a yogurt alternative smoothie, or even a banana as you swing out the door.


For a speedy smoothie, take half a cup of soya plant-based drink, a few berries, half a banana, half an apple, and a handful of almonds. Blitz them together and enjoy the protein and essential fats from almonds, antioxidants and fibre from the fruit, and calcium from the fortified soya drink. The carbs come mainly from the fruit, and most of the ingredients are low GI.

Choosing your breakfast carbs

Breakfast Cereals

Be careful as many processed breakfast cereals have a high GI, especially if they’re sugar-rich. When choosing cereals look for high fibre cereals such as All Bran or muesli. If you find these hard going on their own, add some of your favourite fruits, or a sprinkling of chopped walnuts and seeds.


Porridge is one of the best breakfast foods ever invented. The beta glucans in oats have been shown to lower blood cholesterol, and the carbs are slowly digested, helping to keep you fuller for longer. Instant hot oats are a convenient substitute.


Toast is always a favourite but choose your bread carefully. Go for grainy varieties such as multigrain, granary, soy and linseed. If you prefer white,  try sourdough, it’s low GI….

Top Tip: Tasty toast toppers include beans on oaty toast with a dash of Worcestershire sauce, grilled vegan cheese, chives and sliced tomato on 2 slices of granary toast , or sliced banana on 2 slices of currant bread.

Vegan all day breakfast

And for a cook-up, try my vegan all day breakfast made from grilled seasoned tofu chunks, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, avocado, baked beans and baby potatoes.

vegan bf

Check out the recipe here


Is the vegan diet a trend or a movement?

Published on the 31st Jan, 2018 by Azmina

In my practice, I find that young people, especially girls, begin to explore vegan eating after watching a documentary that may be sensational, or even alarming, in parts. And although this is worrying in terms of making sure that people get a balance of nutrients, my view is that veganism isn’t just a passing trend. It’s here to stay, and so it needs to be considered within the context of a varied eating pattern.hummus tabouleh vegan

Why is it a movement?

You just need to look around you to see how this is becoming big business. Anyone who’s been to coffee shops like Pret in the last 6 months could be tempted to try a vegan or veggie diet – they have an entire section of each of their shops dedicated to it. Anyone who shops in Tesco could be influenced to try the vegan diet as they scour shelves with a massive new range of plant based ready meals and sandwiches. Anyone who reads Time Out could be influenced to try the vegan diet due to the myriad of new vegan cafes and restaurants popping up all over London, pretty much every week. Anyone who sat on London Underground this month could be influenced to try the vegan diet as they read the “Veganuary” tube adverts. More on Veganuary.

Source: www.peta.org

Source: www.peta.org

Dietary change needs to be carefully considered

There are limited studies specifically on vegan diets, so it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about the long-term health benefits. Vegan eating tends to be lower in calories and saturated fats than non-vegetarian diets, and typically, vegans have been shown to be slimmer, and have lower cholesterol levels. Having a lower BMI may also help to protect against certain cancers. But as yet, there simply isn’t enough research to suggest that we should all turn to vegan eating, and indeed, certain groups who may be tempted to go vegan need to be mindful of meeting their nutritional needs.

What young people need to watch

  1. Calories. It may be tempting to opt for a vegan diet to lose weight. Chances are, you will lose weight, and that’s helpful if you’re overweight and need to address that. But many of the girls I see do not have a weight issue. Plant-based foods tend to be lower in calories, so they need to be advised on making sure they eat regular meals and snacks to allow them to take enough food over the day.
  2. Calcium. Dairy foods are the richest sources of calcium. Teenage life is a time of rapid growth and about half the strength of the adult skeleton is laid down in adolescence. Many dairy-free milk and yogurt alternatives aren’t fortified with calcium, and those that are may not have the same amount of calcium as dairy products. Check labels and compare the “calcium per 100g” figure with milk or yogurt. A teenage girl needs 800mg calcium per day.
  3. Iron. You need more iron during adolescence to help with growth and muscle development. Red meat is a rich source of iron, but you can also get iron from plant foods: choose dark-green vegetables, such as kale and broccoli, lentils and beans (especially dark coloured ones like green mung beans), nuts, and breakfast cereals that are fortified with iron. Teenage girls need 14.8 mg of iron each day.
  4. B12. You need this vitamin for healthy blood and a healthy nervous system, but you only find it in animal foods. Make sure you have foods that are fortified with vitamin B12, such as breakfast cereals, soya drinks, and yeast extract (such as Marmite). You may need a supplement of B12.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids. Since these are found mainly in fish, you need to get yours elsewhere. Vegan sources include walnuts, linseed oil, rapeseed oil, soya oil and soya-based foods, such as tofu. Note they may not have the same cardio-protective effects as the type of omega 3 fats you find in oily fish.

Bottom Line

Switching to eating more plant based foods is a good thing. But a strict vegan diet is very hard to get right, and you need to make sure you’re thinking about where you’ll get your nutrients from. Ideally, seek professional advice from a registered dietitian.


Fraser GE. Vegetarian diets: What do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases? Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(5):1607S-1612S.

Craig WJ. Health effects of vegan diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(5):1627S-1633S.

Spencer EA, Appleby PN, Davey GK, Key TJ. Diet and body mass index in 38,000 EPIC-Oxford meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27(6):728-734.

Veganuary – how to stay in balance!

Published on the 15th Jan, 2018 by Azmina

With the rising awareness of “Veganuary”, and the movement in vegan eating, it’s timely for experts to share their knowledge on how to make a vegan diet balanced and nutritious. So here are my top tips.


Well-planned vegan diets can be good for your health. A diet that’s primarily based on plant foods has been shown to have numerous health advantages, such as helping to reduce rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and some cancers. But simply changing to plant-based milks and avoiding meat and animal-derived products won’t necessarily bring you the health benefits. To be sure you’re getting the right mix of quality proteins, and the full range of essential nutrients, your vegan diet does need to be well designed and thought-through.

Five top tips (more…)

It’s time to reward good sugar reduction practice!

Published on the 2nd Oct, 2017 by Azmina

I was excited to read that The Sugar Reduction Summit has this year launched the Sugar Reduction Awards to recognise and celebrate the progress that’s being made in sugar reduction.  The Awards run alongside the Summit, on Thursday 9th November at The Royal Society in London.
I think this is a great initiative and am delighted to have been asked to join the Panel of Judges.

Az Judge at Sugar Reduction Awards

There are 7 categories to cover a whole raft of innovations and initiatives – from reformulation, to NPD, to best research, best sugar reduction awareness campaign and “sugar reduction hero” – it would be great to see some entries for this category from fellow dietitians or nutritionists that are specialising in this area!  Criteria varies across the categories but we’ll be looking at things like public health gain, impact, innovation, resourcefulness.


Restaurant Nutrition Review – Mac & Wild

Published on the 25th Aug, 2017 by Azmina

So, yesterday was National Burger Day. I decided to set off to review Mac & Wild, so that I could check out how you might make a healthier choice, whilst still enjoying the fun and frivolities of the atmosphere. Why Mac & Wild? I wanted to reconnect with my Scottish roots, and I must say the sensory stimulation did remind me of home. The tartan blanket over the bannister, the thistle pot on my table, and the Rabbie Burns poetry on the mirror, all added to the experience.


Cutting the salt at the WI Fair

Published on the 7th Apr, 2017 by Azmina

A palace full of women, clunking of pots and pans, and delicious dishes cooked with less salt…that was the setting for my live cookery demo with top chef James Fisher at the WI Fair at Alexandra Palace on 1 April 2017.


Our fun interactive session at the Live Kitchen was an informal cooking demonstration and talk, with me interviewing James while he conjured up Aubergine and Tomato Gratin, and Salted Caramel Brownies made using LoSalt instead of regular salt.



Nutrition & Growth – where does yogurt fit in?

Published on the 31st Mar, 2017 by Azmina

I have a personal interest in the value of yogurt in health promotion, so I was delighted to be asked by the Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative for a Balanced Diet (YINI) to attend the 4th International conference on Nutrition and Growth in Amsterdam.  Here are my insights from the symposium entitled How Yogurt could improve Health in Children (plus some pretty pictures from Amsterdam!).

The array of eminent speakers shared their research on topics including how yogurt may facilitate better eating habits in children, how tastes for sweet and sour can be learned, how yogurt maybe associated with reduced cardio-metabolic risk factors in children, including susceptibility to obesity.  My fingers could hardly tweet fast enough!

 My 3 key learnings (more…)

Students compete bake-off style!

Published on the 9th Mar, 2017 by Azmina

Inviting young people to cook under a competitive environment is a great way of getting them to enjoy healthy cooking. Students leaving home for the first time to head to university are suddenly confronted with questions around what and how to cook – and in February 2017 I met with some inspiring student chefs who entered the LoSalt Student Cook of the Year (SCOTY) competition. As nutritionist to LoSalt, it was up to me to judge the entries for nutritional composition and I was impressed with the level of knowledge demonstrated by the five short-listed students from around the UK.

students at LoSalt cook off

My interest in this area stems from personal experience with my own two children, and my work with NHS choices on helping students to eat well after leaving home. The other judges joining me were:


Should junk food have plain packaging?

Published on the 7th Mar, 2017 by Azmina

I’ve just been on BBC Asian Network (goto 2.14 hr) to give my opinion on whether plain packaging on confectionery and unhealthy snack items might be a way of combating our obesity crisis. This stems from a proposal by neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz, from Cambridge University, who suggests that the way sugar-rich and fatty foods are marketed can make them irresistible to some people.



I absolutely agree that one of the most important ways to help us to improve our eating habits is to make a change to our environment. If you make unhealthy food less accessible, for example, then it’s just more difficult to grab and go. Initiatives such as removing sweets at the checkout in supermarkets have been introduced by the BDA in an attempt to reduce the purchase of such foods. (more…)

Is Fake News bad for your health?

Published on the 21st Feb, 2017 by Azmina

On 15 February, I presented to nutritionists and students at the University of Westminster on the potentially damaging effects of nutrition misinformation, on behalf of the Dairy Council. Why? Because since 2009 I’ve been concerned about fake news on nutrition being dished out by non-experts and being taken as fact by people who just want to eat a little better.


“Cyberchondria” www.creativepool.com

What’s the fuss about Fake News in nutrition? (more…)

Childhood Obesity Strategy – the BDA response

Published on the 18th Aug, 2016 by Azmina

Today, the British Dietetic Association has expressed its disappointment at the “much diminished” Childhood Obesity Strategy published today by the government:

Key policies which could drive down obesity rates amongst children and young people have been dropped, including proposals to ban junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed and regulation of price promotions on unhealthy food. This is despite support from numerous sources, including the Commons Health Select Committee[i] and the Obesity Health Alliance[ii], which have brought together a huge range of expertise and evidence.



Eat fat to get slim – really?

Published on the 25th May, 2016 by Azmina

The foodie news this week has been dominated by the announcement from the National Obesity Forum (NOF), which the headlines summarise as advice to eat more fat, fewer carbs, and to stop buying low fat foods and counting calories. This may sound like the best news ever, but it was criticised by Public Health England as being “irresponsible”.

onion rings

Here are my top ten thoughts:

  1. Nutrition is an evolving science and it is essential to review dietary guidelines as and when new research emerges. Controversy and debate over the science helps us to re-examine our advice.
  2. Dietary guidelines should always be based on robust scientific evidence. The British Heart Foundation and others have suggested that the NOF Opinion Paper has been selective in its review and that it has not been compiled after a comprehensive review of the evidence.
  3. The recommendations made in the NOF Opinion Paper go against current dietary guidelines from Public Health England and leading bodies such as the British Dietetic Association (and other Dietetic Assoc. around the world), British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK. These organisations are globally respected bodies; they are robust in their policies.
  4. Lower fat products can help people enjoy everyday foods at a lower calorie cost. Foods like lower fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are great examples. Having said that, in my experience many clients think they can get away with twice as much of foods like reduced fat sausages and mayonnaise, so this could potentially be counter-productive.
  5. Low carb, high fat diets can compromise our intake of fibre.The latest SACN Carbohydrates and Health Report recommends we eat 30g of fibre a day. It’s hard enough to do this with a moderate carb diet. We also need whole grains from carbs for good health and cardio-protection.
  6. Taking in more calories than your body needs will make you gain weight, regardless of where those calories come from.
  7. It does make sense to eat high fat foods that are part of the traditional Mediterranean diet – avocado, nuts, oily fish, and olive oil. This diet, which is also rich in fruit and vegetables, has been linked to longevity and a lower risk of cardio-vascular disease. (And I also think eggs, which are often quoted as being high in fat, are a great food!).
  8. Choosing fewer processed foods and more home-cooked meals is a good thing. But some processed foods enable us to eat better – milk, whole grain bread, canned tuna, frozen peas, stir-fry veg packs… These are all processed, yet also healthy. Best to limit processed foods like cured meats, pies, pastries, cakes and biscuits. (Note these foods are typically high in fat).
  9. Media frenzy over such sensational headlines leads to confusion and a lack of confidence in the experts. We all need to work together to compile realistic and evidence-based dietary advice that speaks in an engaging tone of voice.
  10. I will not be changing my advice as a result of the NOF publication. Eat more vegetables, more fruit, more whole grains, and healthy fats. Eat a variety of foods. Eat slowly and mindfully and watch your portion size.

In conclusion, I welcome debate, but it must always be entrenched in a robust body of scientific evidence for it to be taken seriously by the experts in nutrition – registered dietitians (BDA) and degree-qualified nutritionists (AfN).

Read Azmina’s views on the Sugar Debate.

Black Farmer Eggs – review

Published on the 25th May, 2016 by Azmina

I’ve just published a brief feature on eggs, in my role as resident dietitian to patient.co.uk. Judging by the comments I received, it seems that the most surprising information was that “There’s no recommended limit on how many eggs you should eat in a week“. Yes, it’s true! Eggs are a great source of protein and essential nutrients, and although they contain cholesterol, this doesn’t have as much effect on your blood cholesterol as saturated fat.

I decided to test out Black Farmer eggs to see if they were in any way superior to regular eggs.

packaging eggs


Dolmio pasta sauce – what’s all the fuss about?

Published on the 15th Apr, 2016 by Azmina

Today I was interviewed by ITV news about the announcement from Dolmio that they plan to warn customers not to have some of their pasta sauces and rice products more than once a week. They say they’re going to guide people how often they should eat certain foods, based on their sugar, fat and salt content.

Azmina ITV news Apr 2016 Dolmio

creamy pasta

My 5 Facts

  1. Pasta sauce, esp. tomato-based pasta sauce helps you to eat pasta. The jar is around 80% tomatoes, which give you vitamins and potassium, and one portion of veg – good. If you choose brown pasta, you get a serving of whole grains – good. If you add frozen veg to the boiling water with the pasta, and serve a side salad, you could get another couple of servings of vegetables, contributing to your “at least 5-a-day” portions of fruit & veg – good.
  2. Drawing attention to the hidden salt and sugar in it’s products and advising on how much to eat helps to raise awareness. It’s helpful to let people know that many processed foods can be high in sugar, salt and fat.
  3. The food industry does need to reformulate to cut down on salt and sugar, but not at the expense of adding other ingredients that might drive the calories up, or by using additives and more processing techniques to improve flavour.
  4. Pasta sauce and quick-cook rice are not the culprits for our obesity crisis! If they enable us to cook a meal at home rather than ringing the local take-away, we’re more likely to have made a nutritious choice.
  5. Let’s focus time and resources on the bigger issues like special offers on unhealthy foods like confectionery, improved accessibly and affordability of healthier choices, and measures to increase our activity levels.

Time to tuck into that tuna pasta bake I made earlier….


10 things I learnt about Sugar at the FENS Conference 2015

Published on the 31st Oct, 2015 by Azmina

I was lucky enough to attend the 12th European Nutrition Conference in Berlin in late October. Of course, I brushed up on my German history during my sight seeing…


…but I also made the most of the lectures from top speakers around the world. Here are my key learnings from the sessions on Sugar. (BTW, scroll down to the end if you want a 50% discount to the Sugar Reduction Summit). (more…)

The SACN Report – what do experts think?

Published on the 25th Jul, 2015 by Azmina

I’m always keen to get consensus of opinion from my colleagues on hot topics, so here are screenshots of the tweets that were posted after I published my blog on the 17 July 2015 SACN Report on Sugar and Carbs. Scroll down, enlarge if needed, and have a peek!

Screen shot 2015-08-19 at 11.10.46Screen shot 2015-08-19 at 11.10.01 (more…)

3 Facts about Sugar

Published on the 29th May, 2015 by Azmina

Today, on the BBC, Action on Sugar highlighted the sugar coating on dried fruit snacks. I agree that the coating is an unnecessary addition of sugar and calories, but I am concerned that too much focus on sugar in healthy foods like dried fruit and fruit juice (in the right portion size, of course) could mean we eat less fruit as a nation.

We are already not meeting the government target of 5-a-day, and scaremongering can sometimes cause so much public mistrust, that they end up not listening to good practical and realistic advice from experts like registered dietitians.

Fact 1: Sugar is empty calories

Sugar gives you energy and carbohydrate, but no vitamins or minerals, so it isn’t good for you. It provides 4 kcal/gram, which is the same as a gram of pure starch (like flour), or a gram of pure protein (like egg white). Note that it has less than half the calories of fat (such as oil), which provides 9kcal/g.

Fact 2: Sugar is not the new tobacco

There is no conclusive link between sugar intake and diseases like diabetes, obesity or heart disease (1). The only proven link is sugar can cause dental caries.

I believe that small amounts of sugar as part of a varied diet helps us to enjoy food. A little sweetness in healthy foods can encourage consumption – think of a fortified breakfast cereal which can help children to eat a nutritious breakfast containing whole grains, vitamins and minerals, as well as milk. Or a slice of wholegrain bread with honey.

Similarly, people who don’t like plain yogurt, a healthy source of calcium and quality protein, might enjoy sweetened fruit yogurt.

Fact 3: Fruit juice is not junk food

Fruit juice does contain natural sugars in liquid form, but it comes with nutrients like vitamin C and potassium. This could be important particularly for people on low incomes, as it’s a cheap source of these nutrients.

Fruit juice can’t be put into the same camp as soft drinks that have the same amount of sugar, but don’t provide the added nutritional benefits. Smoothies, which are typically made up of pulped fruit and fruit juice, will also contribute fibre (2). People who drink fruit juice tend to also eat more fruit & veg (3).


It’s easy to over-consume sugar in liquid form, so keeping to 150ml of fruit juice a day (which counts as one of your five a day fruit and veg recommendation), is a sensible portion size. And best to have it with a meal so you reduce the damage to teeth.

The Bottom Line

Stop demonising sugar or fat and let’s talk about food! We eat food not nutrients, so we need to put all this into context. After all, healthy eating is about balance, variety, and enjoyment.


  1. European Food Safety Authority (2010) Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for carbohydrates and dietary fibre. EFSA Journal 8(3): 1462 [77 pp.]
  2. Ruxton CHS (2008). Smoothies: one portion or two? Nutrition Bulletin 33, 129-132.
  3. Gibson, S (2012) Proc Nut Soc 71

Is this cookware ingenious?

Published on the 1st Feb, 2015 by Azmina

In my quest to learn more about products and gadgets that help us to eat better, I decided to test out the new Ingenio range from Tefal*. I believe in using non-stick cookware that allows you to pan-fry in the minimum of oil, and being a busy mum, I’m always attracted to pots and pans that don’t need much effort in the washing up department…

What I made

My starter was one of my favourites – chicken samosas. I wanted to make them without added fat, and to bake them in place of deep-frying. So I started to use one of the pans and create the spicy low fat filling from this recipe.

samosa mix


Verdict: It was easy to use, and nothing stuck to the bottom. (more…)

To juice or not to juice?

Published on the 23rd Jan, 2015 by Azmina

Current guidelines include 150ml of fruit juice as one of your 5 a day fruit and vegetables, once-a-day. This is only a small glass and it’s best to have this with a meal, to slow down the rise in blood glucose. Although you get vitamin C from fruit juice, it is also high in natural sugars and acids, which can damage your teeth. Drinking too much can also make you put on weight. Babies under 6 months shouldn’t be given fruit juice and the best drinks for children are water and milk. If you do want to start giving your children juice, remember to dilute it with water.

chilled gazpacho


Reducing heartburn and indigestion over the festive season

Published on the 3rd Dec, 2014 by Azmina

I was asked by a brand to develop a Risk Rating Scale for heartburn and indigestion. This was challenging because people react differently, and there are no hard and fast rules about which foods or situations cause a reaction, with much of this being subjective. There is very little published scientific evidence on risk factors and how to prevent indigestion and heartburn.

Photo: Thinkstock

But, certain lifestyle behaviours can make you more prone… both heartburn and indigestion tend to be more common when we over-indulge, have irregular eating habits and are more stressed. Does this sound like you at Christmas time? (more…)

The Sugar Debate – the plot thickens

Published on the 18th Jun, 2014 by Azmina

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been involved in the debate around sugars and fruit juice, and have been trying to build a consensus of expert opinion from key nutritionists and dietitians, as summarised in my sugar debate blog. June and July are packed with sugar seminars, and the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) Draft Report on dietary recommendations on carbohydrates (including advice on sugar), is due out imminently.

fruit juice

My biggest aspiration about debates around sugar is that they need to be evidence-based and balanced. Government recommendations are devised from quality research, and nutritionists need to be constantly up to date so we can better inform the public and help minimise mixed media messages, which only lead to confusion and a lack of confidence in “the experts”. So, when I saw the programme for The Sugar Reduction Summit, I knew I had to be there. (more…)

5 things I learnt at the Global Yogurt Summit 2014

Published on the 7th May, 2014 by Azmina

I am passionate about the value yogurt brings to balanced nutrition and when I was invited to attend the 2nd Global Summit on the Health Effects of Yogurt in (wait for it) San Diego, I didn’t need much arm-twisting.

san diego conv centre

San Diego Convention Centre

The programme was packed with eminent speakers including Angelo Tremblay (Laval University Canada), Nita Forouhi (University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine) and the distinguished Professor John Bienenstock (McMaster University). The morning started as you’d expect it, with a refreshing yogurt and berry parfait, just enough to get those digestive juices ready for an avalanche of evidence-based insights on yogurt and health.


Here I’ll share some key learnings and give you a flavour of the #YINI2014 twitter conversations during the 4-hour seminar. (more…)

The National Sugar Debate – building a consensus amongst nutritionists

Published on the 3rd Apr, 2014 by Azmina

From the start of 2014, the media frenzy over sugar has heightened… January started off with British Dietetic Association spokespeople contributing to major newspapers, and it’s still a hot topic with no sign of cooling down. Since the start of the year, I’ve been leading twitter chats, giving a presentation to media medics and providing quotes to newspapers and magazines to see if I can get some sort of expert consensus. Here’s a summary of my three months debating whether sugar really is the new tobacco.


12 January 2014 – you may remember the headline in The Sunday Times: “Obesity tsar calls for tax on juice”. Soon after that, I was asked for my opinion in The Guardian’s equally sensational headline How fruit juice went from health food to junk food”. My opinion then (and now) is that fruit juice is perfectly acceptable in the appropriate portion size of 150ml a day and that ideally you should drink it with a meal to reduce the impact on teeth. (more…)

Is 7-a-day the new way?

Published on the 1st Apr, 2014 by Azmina

The hot story today is about research published in The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Heath suggesting that we should be eating seven or more portions of fresh fruit and veg a day. The British Dietetic Association phone lines have been jammed and as a BDA spokesperson, my day so far has been spent on the frozen and canned fruit story.


The study asked more than 65,000 middle-aged people in England about how much fruit and vegetables they ate over the last 24 hours and evaluated their risk of death from diseases like heart disease and cancer. There is enough scientific evidence to persuade me that eating more fruit and veg is protective against these non-communicable diseases, period. But I do have issues with lumping frozen fruit with tinned fruit,whether it’s in natural juice or syrup. 


Restaurant Nutrition Review: 21 Covent Garden

Published on the 26th Mar, 2014 by Azmina

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I decided to check out restaurants that fit the bill for lovely mums who fancy a pic 1tasty yet healthy day out in London. Today I visited 21, situated in the heart of Covent Garden.

I instantly liked the natural surroundings – the restaurant is located underground and the setting is a series of rustic alcoves with brick walls and stone flooring. I was keen to experience the healthier Italian dishes on offer, as I believe Mediterranean cuisine can be one of the most nutritious in the world.

We started off with wild mushroom and truffle risotto with mascarpone and parsley. It was a big portion, so just right for hungry mums, and although it had the texture you’d expect from a risotto, it wasn’t too creamy or rich. I couldn’t taste the truffle, which was a bit of a let down, but it was full of flavour and had a generous amount of wild mushrooms. It didn’t look or taste like it had been smothered in cream, butter or cheese, so I’d say it seemed to be a healthier version of classic risotto.



Do you throw away your five-a-day?

Published on the 25th Mar, 2014 by Azmina

pic 1

my new machine

Surveys suggest that people tend to add fruit and vegetables to their shopping trolley, they proudly display fruit in a bowl, or store a variety of veg in the fridge, but by the end of the week much of it ends up not being eaten. In my quest to help people reach their five-a-day target, I decided to check out whether having the appropriate equipment (in my case, a Nutribullet) at home would make a difference.

When I first got my machine, I must admit, the box and cookbook were displayed in the kitchen for a few days, waiting for me to read the instructions and give it its first wash. But once I had overcome that hurdle, I decided to keep the machine on the kitchen surface with all the cups and blades nearby. I’ve learnt that in order to make any change to your eating habits, you need to make it easy for yourself, so I made sure everything was ready and within easy reach. That was step 1. So, did it make a difference?


Restaurant Nutrition Review: Pizza Express Gluten-free

Published on the 19th Feb, 2014 by Azmina

I get so many requests from people wanting to eat out whilst on a gluten-free diet that I just had to check out the gluten-free offerings at Pizza Express. There were a few things that you’d expect to be gluten-free – like olives and toasted almonds. But I wanted to be sure that people who need to avoid all gluten could be guaranteed a gluten-free meal and be saved from any embarrassment when out with friends.

My pizza party included people on a gluten-free diet as well as those who were watching their weight and we ordered an array of dishes to see if they tasted as good as they sounded on the menu.

What we ordered

Our starters included huge olives, dough balls (which unfortunately weren’t gluten free) and a creamy gluten-free risotto, which was demolished in seconds by all.

Rissoto gf


Orthorexia – could this be your man?

Published on the 30th Jan, 2014 by Azmina

Do you ever worry that your man has become super-obsessed with healthy eating? Label-reading for fat and calories…avoiding going out to dinner…spending a lot of time planning meals? Then start looking for tell-tale signs of orthorexia. You might notice he looks paler, or is always exhausted, yet will still be disciplined with his hundred push-ups.

I’m about to go on BBC Asian Network lunch-time news programme to increase awareness of orthorexia. This condition is masked as eating healthily, but it is taking a healthy diet to extremes, and often means you cut out all processed foods and live on fruit and veg.


Tackling Obesity – let’s debate the challenges

Published on the 8th Jan, 2014 by Azmina

Despite a busy schedule, it’s important to me that I stay up to date with the latest research and the government initiatives that are set to influence people’s eating habits. It’s no wonder obesity is still high on the national agenda – 2010 data from Health and Social Care Information Centre suggests that over a quarter of us are classed as obese. We must take massive action. If we continue with the current health education programmes, we will continue to get the same results. Is the same enough? Although each of us needs to take responsibility for our actions and eating behaviour, we need to make it easier for people to make healthier choices.


Insights from NLP Course – identifying my values

Published on the 31st Dec, 2013 by Azmina

My NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) journey spans about 10 years and I commit to giving myself a training top-up every now and then to help me learn new skills. My absolute favourite trainer is Ian Ross. He is an INLPTA Master Trainer, having studied negotiation and conflict resolution at Harvard. He has over 25 years experience of applying NLP in commercial contexts.


He, with Lynne Kerry, is a Director of Vievolve and I was lucky enough to go on one of their NLP Practice Days in December. The course was about Developing Purpose, Congruence and Authenticity in a business or personal context. In English, to me, that means living your life so you are totally aligned, making business or other decisions that are congruent with your values. I was interested in this because I feel we sometimes get caught up in the rat race and don’t give ourselves time to pause and reflect on our actions and how they represent who we are.

There were many special interactions with the rest of the group and here are some of my take-outs from the day:

  1. Authenticity is about honesty with yourself.
  2. If you are 100% your authentic self, your dark parts show up too! But those not-so-good bits of you must be fulfilling a need. They must be giving you some sort of benefit, even if it’s not obvious to you. And they make up the whole you. So be aware of these.
  3. To discover your true purpose, identify your core values – what’s important to you? There are many techniques that help you to discover your values. One way is to write down what’s really important to you, then to put that list in some order of priority. A great exercise we did was to match that list with how you spend your time. I found that family came very high up on my list, and work and money quite low. Yet I spend much more time at work than with my family, so there is a mismatch for me. I now have the knowledge of where I am, so I can do something about it. (more…)

Social Media How-to

Published on the 29th Oct, 2013 by Azmina

I’ll be speaking at this year’s Nutrition & Health Live conference on 2 November and am busy planning the content so we ensure the session is engaging and informative. Well, of course it will be engaging when it’s about my pet subject, Social Media! The workshop is aimed at nutritionists and dietitians, especially those who haven’t yet caught the social bug, and I’ll also be chairing the Expert Panel. I’m partial to this conference as it’s a great networking opportunity and the lectures are usually very insightful (and I was lucky enough to be short-listed for Nutritionist of the Year Award 2012).N&H12_Award-Shortlisted_logo-RGB-web

Here’s what me and my colleagues have in store for delegates this year:

I’ll kick off to spread some Twitter basics, get the group to create a tweet or two, and I’ll introduce the successful RDUK Twitter chats, which are supported by the British Dietetic Association. Then Emma Carder takes it up a notch as she discusses multiple social media interaction using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Nichola Whitehead later shares her journey on how she works and how to increase your number of followers.

The Expert Panel Discussion points will include: (more…)

One Day at a Time

Published on the 9th Aug, 2013 by Azmina

This is a recovery tool for getting over Food Addiction or Binge Eating; it’s probably one of the most important tools.

Dieters tend to plan to lose weight for something in the future….the celebration, the holiday, the job interview, etc. This type of goal focuses on the future and it is this which can cause many people to relapse.  The simple concept of taking things One Day At A Time is that the person trying to recover from overeating has to think about what they need to do for that day only.  They do not have to project further forward than that.  (more…)

Protein drinks – is it all hype?

Published on the 6th Jun, 2013 by Azmina

I’ve been helping Duncan Walker at BBC online with his article on the rise of protein drinks for ordinary people, published today.

If you look at dietary surveys we are actually doing okay for protein and there’s no reason for dietary supplements unless you are in a vulnerable category. But who is vulnerable? milk n fruit

Nutrition and Diet surveys are based on people recording what they eat – if you’ve ever tried to do that, you’ll know how difficult it is to remember every mouthful. And food eaten outside the home, including sandwiches and takeaways, are estimates of portion size rather than accurate weighed measurements. So it’s not a complete picture of what we’re eating.

Protein as we get older…

Protein shakes could be important, or popular, with middle aged people. On average, between the age of 50 and 70, you will lose about 30% of your muscle strength. That’s why we look flabby as we get older! Protein is the nutrient that helps to re-build your muscles. And I think that’s probably one of the reasons why there’s this growing attention – we’re an ageing population and 50 is the new 30. We all want to be as active as we once were. (more…)

Takeaways face ban during school hours

Published on the 30th May, 2013 by Azmina

I was asked for my views on this proposed ban today by ITV Daybreak. Salford City Council is proposing that fast food outlets (like MacDonald’s and local fish and chip shops) near schools should be banned from serving hot food before 5pm, in an aim to reduce the obesity crisis. The ban would only prevent new outlets that apply for a licence and the public is being asked for their views before the ban is implemented. chips

My thoughts

If unhealthy food is within easy reach, you’re more tempted to go for it. And when you’re hungry, the smell of hot food can be even more alluring. I advise people wanting to lose weight to remove the temptation by not keeping unhealthy snacks accessible– out of sight is out of mind.

But this proposed ban only addresses new businesses, so children who frequently visit existing outlets are unlikely to change their habits. Hence, I doubt this ban would have a significant effect.  (more…)

Calories on the Menu – maximising accuracy

Published on the 18th May, 2013 by Azmina

The Department of Health Responsibility Deal has encouraged manufacturers to gradually improve the nutritional content of their products. Restaurants, especially big chains, are printing calorie values on their menus. It’s vital that brands use qualified experts to nutritionally analyse their range, and dietitians need to have the knowledge and skills to provide accurate calorie values on menus and food labels.


I attended last month’s Calories on the Menu course organised by Nutrition & Wellbeing. We met at a convenient location in London and were an intimate group of about 12 people. We had access to a laptop and were coached through the up to date regulations on health claims, front-of-pack labelling, calculating fruit and veg portions in composite foods, and more. We had hands-on training on calculating calories using Saffron software and the delegate handouts were comprehensive and professional. My 10 top tips… (more…)

Restaurant Review – Moti Mahal Delux

Published on the 8th May, 2013 by Azmina

Thanks to my friend Sumant Bhal, I was invited to the launch of Moti Mahal Delux in London. I didn’t know what to expect – I’d been told they created legendary dishes but I needed to sample them for myself.

As we walked in, the atmosphere was buzzing. It seemed to me that customers had taken in the aroma of the freshly roasted spices and had been lured into the restaurant even before it was officially opened. We were directed to our seats and then offered a taster menu of various delights. I was particularly interested in the healthier items, so here’s a sample of those dishes that won’t go straight to your waistline.


I had a platter of goodies including some spicy roasted aubergine, grilled chicken tikka, charred tandoori lamb, spicy potato cakes and grilled paneer with roasted tomato. All accompanied by a fresh mint chutney and home-baked naan bread (no butter or ghee on top).  (more…)

Nutrition & Health Claims for Food Brands

Published on the 29th Apr, 2013 by Azmina

I was lucky enough to attend the latest Food and Drink Innovation Network  Nutrition & Science Claims Masterclass event in Daventry. I haven’t been to one of Jeffrey’s seminars for some time and this was a chance for me to be reminded of how refreshing these events can be. Learning aside, I met some inspiring people, was fed and watered tastefully, and also had a fun time.

FDIN Daventry

Speakers included Dr Carrie Ruxton, Claire Nuttall, Dr Janice Harland, David Jago from Mintel and the eminent Professor Rob Pickard. The short and sharp lectures were interspersed with team exercises and networking opportunities.

10 take-outs from the day:

  1. The consumer needs to “feel the benefit” if you’re making a nutrition claim. However, adding nutrients doesn’t often translate to benefit for a number of years.
  2. If the shopper buys something that doesn’t taste good, they’re unlikely to buy it again.
  3. Let’s get health on the shopping list! Manufacturers need to help people interpret labels and health info (cue the registered dietitian…).
  4. There are a number of issues consumers are concerned about – bone and health issues are amongst the big ones.
  5. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is reviewing vitamin D and carbohydrate evidence, so there may be more public health campaigns that could work to the benefit of food manufacturers.
  6. Brands can start the education process by using credible experts to help communicate issues such as bone density in teenagers. This type of responsible advice can help create long-term loyalty to a brand.
  7. Asian dishes seem to be penetrating much of Europe. There’s a lot of focus on nutrient claims regarding eyesight improvement in countries like Japan and China. New ingredients from Asia will gradually filter through to the UK – we may see more “Beauty Food”.
  8. Food-based advice is important for brands – how much of a food you need to eat to get a benefit and derive recommended nutrient intakes.
  9. We can’t get complex science across on a pack, and we need to use consumer-friendly info to help the brain to analyse messages. The brain depends on repeated messages, so brands need to repeat key statements on all communications. Alliteration is an incredibly powerful means of communication.
  10. You don’t necessarily need to talk about the benefit – other things like graphics on-pack can convey a clear message.

If you want more snippets, check out my tweets below. And you can download the presentations here.

FDIN tweets


Fat Tax – what do UK dietitians think?

Published on the 16th May, 2012 by Azmina

We’ve been here before; I remember being interviewed about this by the BBC during last year’s National Obesity Forum conference. This time new research from Oxford has hit the headlines. There have been reports in the press today about how a “fat tax” applied to unhealthy foods could help combat obesity.

Oliver Mytton and colleagues at the University of Oxford examined the evidence on the health effects of food taxes. It’s suggested that a tax on unhealthy food could help improve health, but the tax would need to be fairly heavy to make a difference – up to 20%. Ideally, a move to make fruit and veg cheaper would have to accompany such tax.


What is GI?

Published on the 17th Apr, 2012 by Azmina

The fuss about Carbohydrate

Flick through a newspaper and it isn’t surprising to see the latest trend in carbohydrate – “avoid wheat”, “starchy foods are fattening”, or “pasta is the best food ever invented”. How do you know what’s best? Is this conflicting advice or do the experts agree? Well, let’s review some of the issues here. 

When you eat carbohydrate foods (such as bread, potatoes, pasta, cereals and sugary foods), the body digests it and converts it to glucose (sugar); this can then be used for energy. As the carbohydrate gets digested to glucose, the glucose level in your blood rises. In other words, each time you eat a carbohydrate food, the blood glucose level in your body rises. (more…)