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.
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.
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.
My 5 take-outs from this study (more…)
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.
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:
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…)
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.
What’s the fuss about Fake News in nutrition? (more…)
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”.
Here are my top ten thoughts:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Taking in more calories than your body needs will make you gain weight, regardless of where those calories come from.
- 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!).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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.
My 5 Facts
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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….
Published on the 17th Jul, 2015 by Azmina
Today saw the publication of the much awaited Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition “Carbohydrates and Health” Report. This Report examines evidence from robust research, and the key recommendations are that we should aim to reduce our intake of free sugars* to 5% of our daily calorie intake, and also up our fibre intake to 30g a day. According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, we’re currently on about 12% when it comes to sugars, and around 18g in terms of fibre. So, we have a long way to go….
My view is that we need to cut down on sugar and that we need targets to aim for. The acknowledgement that we’re eating too much sugar is huge progress, particularly since it’s based on the evidence. However, it’s my hope that Public Health England (PHE), who will be responsible for translating this science into recommendations for the public, will consider the impracticality of cutting down sugar to just 5% of daily energy – the equivalent of about 5-6 teaspoons of sugar for an average woman (7-8 tsp for men). I hope that dietitians and qualified public health nutritionists who work with people on the ground will be consulted before PHE translates the SACN Report into Government Policy.
There’s been a media frenzy today about the limit on free sugars. Unfortunately, there is little emphasis on the crucial fibre part of the recommendation … (more…)
Published on the 7th Jul, 2015 by Azmina
This documentary film, just released, covers 60 days in the life of actor Damon Gameau, who goes on a diet that includes 40 teaspoons (tsp) of sugar, which he suggests is the national average consumption in Australia. He doesn’t do this by drinking sugar-rich drinks or indulging in puddings and desserts; rather he chooses everyday foods that are perceived to be healthy, like cereals, dried fruit, honey, flavoured yogurts, cereal bars, smoothies, fruit juice, frozen yogurt, ready meals and pasta sauce.
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…)
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.
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).
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…)
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?
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…)
Published on the 5th Jun, 2013 by Azmina
Yesterday I was interviewed by a researcher from ITV This Morning in preparation for their debate on new mums eating their own placenta. It follows news that Kim Kardashian plans to do this once she delivers her baby. Gosh, being a media nutritionist is full of surprises! I set to work on finding out what this could mean for you nutritionally…
This practice seems to be common in some cultures. In my search for credible evidence, I found none. There was nothing in the research that pointed to this being good for you – but there was none that confirmed it was harmful either.
- Placenta is indeed a nutritious organ. It’s rich in protein, vitamin B12 and iron. These are important nutrients, especially for women or if you are vegetarian (though I wonder what vegetarian women would think about eating placenta?). We don’t know the nutritional value of cooked placenta. You can get these nutrients from red meat and liver.
- This is a matter of personal choice. You need to eat a varied diet, regular meals, and protein and iron-containing foods after pregnancy. If you’re breast-feeding, you must take a 10mcg supplement of vitamin D and 500 extra kcals.
- There have been reports that the hormones help to combat post-natal depression. I wonder how much of this is a placebo effect.
Anyone for liver?
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.
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…)
Published on the 8th Mar, 2013 by Azmina
I’m working with Change4life to help get us eating better and moving more. Today I was on Sky breakfast news talking about the latest survey of 2000 mums around the challenges of cooking from scratch. The story is also in the Metro, Daily Mail online, Express and more.
Time and confidence are the main barriers that mums report when it comes to preparing meals for their families:
- Over half (51%) of those surveyed said the reason they don’t cook more often is because it is too time consuming;
- Almost a quarter of mums (24%) said they don’t cook from scratch more because they don’t know how to; and
- Almost three quarters (71%) said they eat convenience foods instead of cooking from scratch because they are quicker to prepare.
The survey was commissioned for Change4Life’s Be Food Smart healthy eating campaign, which aims to lift the lid on the hidden nasties – salt, sugar and saturated fat – found in many popular foods, particularly convenience meals.
It’s understandable that over time eating habits change and that the time-pushed mums of today aren’t necessarily going to approach cooking family dinners in the way their own mothers once did. However, many take-aways and processed foods can contain high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat, so shoppers needed to be encouraged to buy healthier options whist still taking short-cuts to fit in with demands on their time. (more…)
Published on the 3rd Jan, 2013 by Azmina
Just returned from a sofa chat on ITV Daybreak studios with John Stapleton and Helen Fospero, and today we were talking about healthy living campaign Change4Life survey results on what consumers know about nutrition. Watch one minute of the interview.
Two thousand adults took the newly launched ‘Food IQ’ quiz, designed to highlight levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat in popular foods. The results show that the majority of people are largely unaware of what is in their food – with over three quarters (77%) of respondents’ Food IQs rating as low (scoring 50% or under).
I’m not surprised that people have low awareness. I wouldn’t expect the average person to know that a cheese and ham sandwich has more salt than a packet of crisps. We’re bombarded with different nutritional messages from websites, magazines, even celebrities; often this can be confusing.
And you need to be really label savvy to make healthier choices. Food labels need to be simpler. We don’t often realize that there’s hidden salt in bread or that a fruity cereal bar could be packed with sugar. Cakes & biscuits have hidden fat and sugar, and cured meats, cheese, & breakfast cereals can be high in salt.
Published on the 19th Dec, 2012 by Azmina
As consultant nutritionist to ITV Lorraine show’s Little Black Dress Diet with Dannii Minogue, Lisa Faulkner and Jane Wake, I thought I’d share some tricks on how to stay focussed while you’re out partying the night away.
- Eat before you go to the party. (more…)
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.
Published on the 25th Apr, 2012 by Azmina
Nutrition is taking centre stage; everybody seems to have an opinion on it. I believe that nutritionists and dietitians need to become more visible on social media platforms, so I decided to put my money where my mouth is and present my views to nutritionists and other healthcare professionals at a seminar in London yesterday.
Check out my slides if you’re hungry for more…
Topics I covered were:
Published on the 13th Mar, 2012 by Azmina
So, there’s been huge media frenzy over a large Harvard study just published in the journal ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’. News reports today talk about how red meat substantially increases the risk of deaths from heart disease and cancer. Let’s look at this in context….
Published on the 3rd Jan, 2012 by Azmina
2012 saw the launch of a nation-wide government campaign to help us buy and cook healthier meals on a budget. Yesterday I was quizzed about my views on this, live on the Vanessa show Radio London, as part of my work with the British Dietetic Association. (more…)
Published on the 4th Jun, 2011 by Azmina
So, I’ve just completed working on the Real Woman’s Bikini Diet for GMTV’s Lorraine show. What fun sampling and analysing Masterchef winner Nadia Sawalha’s yummy recipes. You won’t believe you could lose weight on this mouth-watering array of tasty treats. From exciting breakfasts like No Fry Fry-Up to sumptuous suppers like Creamy Mushroom and Basil Chicken, you can be sure to find a delicious meal that won’t show up on your waistline.
I’ve taken Nadia’s recipes and checked them out for good nutrition so you don’t need to worry about getting the right balance. The diet goes live on the box on Monday 6 June but you can get a sneak preview here.