Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been in the news a lot over the last few years, so let’s have a look at it.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

After my blood tests showed I was deficient in vitamin D as well as iron, I decided I’d write a post about it at some point, particularly as it’s been suggested that it can reduce the severity of Covid 19. As it was trending on Twitter a couple of days ago and popped up several times on my Instagram feed I took that as a sign that now was the time!

So..what is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is actually a family of related substances, the most common of which are D2 and D3.

Why do you need it?

It promotes the absorption of calcium and helps regulate the levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood.

It helps to regulate bone growth and repair.

It reduces inflammation.

It modulates processes such as cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, as well as glucose metabolism.

In short, it’s really important for our bones, teeth and muscles. A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Sufficient vitamin D and calcium also help to protect against osteoporosis.

Where do you get it from?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and the D3 form occurs naturally in some foods, predominantly fatty, animal-sourced foods.

  • oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
  • red meat
  • liver
  • egg yolks
  • fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals

Vitamin D2 occurs in a very small number of sources, mainly in mushrooms that have been grown in UV light, yeast and some fortified foods, so it can be particularly difficult for vegans and vegetarians to get enough purely from their diet.

Photo by ready made on Pexels.com

Should I take a supplement?

Luckily, we also produce Vitamin D ourselves when exposed to enough UV light but in the UK, in autumn and winter, we cannot make enough. NHS guidelines state that everyone should consider taking a supplement during these months.

However, there are some groups of people who should take a supplement all year round, including –

  • people who get outdoors much – e.g, anyone housebound or frail.
  • anyone in an an institution such as a care home.
  • anyone who covers most/all of their skin when they’re outside.

Additionally, anyone with dark skin may not make enough Vitamin D and should consider a supplement too.

So, there you go. That’s pretty much everything you need to know and, as it’s pretty grey and windy in most of the UK at the moment, you might want to keep taking your Vitamin D tablets for at least another month or two!


Are you getting enough iron?

Last July, I tried to give blood. If you have donated blood before (thank you!) you will know that they check your haemoglobin (Hb) beforehand to make sure that taking blood won’t make your Hb drop to below normal levels. For women, they need your level to be 125g/l and for men it needs to be 135g/l. Unfortunately, mine was 110g/l! This is so low I was advised to see my GP and suspended from donating from a whole year. I chatted to the nurse and she did advise me that there were lots of innocuous reasons for my Hb being low, including heavy periods (check!) and diet, particularly eating a vegan or vegetarian diet (check!). On top of this, we were just coming out of a heatwave which meant for the previous few days I’d been living on salad, fruit and ice lollies. I wasn’t overly concerned but I made the appointment with my GP who decided to test me for EVERYTHING! The results came back quickly and showed that I was deficient in both iron and vitamin D, so he prescribed both. I have been looking at my diet to see if I can make some changes, but as both nutrients are hard to get in a vegan diet, I will be taking supplements for the foreseeable future. Whilst I was researching I discovered that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, affecting 30% of the population, so I thought it might be helpful to do a short post about iron and why we need it. (Spoiler alert! It’s not just so that we’ll be allowed to give blood!)

Why do we need iron?

Iron is a really important mineral –

  • It helps the transport of oxygen around the body and it’s transfer between cells.
  • It also helps to keep the immune system healthy.
  • It helps the brain to function normally.

Iron deficiency can lead to –

  • tiredness and lack of energy
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
  • pale skin

What foods are good sources of iron?

Animal sources.

  • liver and other offal
  • red meat (70g a day or less)
  • fish (e.g, canned sardines, cockles and mussels)

Vegan / vegetarian sources.

  • beans – e.g, kidney beans, edamame, chickpeas
  • nuts and seeds
  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • dried fruit – e.g, apricots
  • fortified breakfast cereals and breads
  • soy bean flour
  • quinoa

How much do you need?

  • 8.7 mg per day for men over 18
  • 8.7 mg per day for women over 50
  • 14.8mg per day for aged 19 – 50

What else do I need to know ?

Vitamin C promotes iron absorption so it is important to eat or drink a source of this vitamin with iron rich meals, e.g, drink a glass of orange juice.

Conversely, tannins (found in tea) significantly inhibit iron absorption, so you should be careful not to drink tea to close to meal times or when you take your supplement.

Hopefully you can use this information to avoid anaemia yourself and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to give blood again soon!


Size is just a number*

*Or several different numbers, as the case may be.

The sun has appeared in the sky today, for the first time in what seems like forever. This is very exciting news! Now, I know we’ve been allowed to go out for a little while now but, to be honest, most days, I haven’t really got anywhere to go. I’m happy pottering about at home most of the time, but not even being able to sit in the garden for most of the month of May has been pretty depressing, even by British standards. So, imagine my delight when Alexa informed me that it was going to be a balmy 17oC today! This did present me with a bit of a dilemma though, as I have *ahem* “outgrown” all of my summer trousers during lockdown and have been wearing stretchy joggers most days. Luckily, I had to pop to Morrisons to pick up some stamps so I grabbed a pair of navy blue linen trousers whilst I was there. When I got home I delved into my wardrobe for a top to go with them and this is where things got interesting (or ridiculous, depending in your point of view).

One outfit, three sizes.

I stood in front of the mirror and realised that the top I was wearing was a size 8 while the trousers I’d just bought were a size 16! A quick check of my crop top/ sports bra revealed that it was a size 20-22! How on Earth could size 22 boobs fit into a size 8 top? Because women’s clothes sizes make no sense, that’s why! When you check the size guide of any given brand (usually available on their websites – good luck finding one instore!) the measurements are given for the bust, waist and hips, so they know what the measurements of the garments are. Why can’t they put them on the labels? We all know which areas of are bodies can cause problems when clothes shopping. For me, it’s my waist as I put all my weight on round my middle. My life would be so much easier if I could reliably shop for jeans by waist size. My husband can. He can go online, filter by waist and inside leg and know that when the jeans arrive, they will fit him perfectly – regardless of where he buys them from. Why are women still put through the ordeal of taking off their perfectly fitting size 12 jeans to try on a different pair of size 12 jeans, only to find they can’t do them up? How difficult can it possibly be to put the measurements on the labels and let us make an informed decision instead of playing the shopping equivalent of Russian roulette every time we need to buy something? No wonder women spend so much longer trying on clothes than men! We have so much less information to go on!

If you find yourself worrying about the numbers on the labels inside your clothes, my advice to you is to just cut them out. Buy clothes that make you feel good and get rid of number that makes you feel bad. Or you could do what I do, and make some of your own clothes – no labels required! If you are trying to get fit or lose weight, I’m not saying you should stop. There are other far more important numbers to worry about though- how many flights of stairs can I manage now? How long did I manage to exercise for today? How many of my five-a-day did I eat? Try and improve those numbers and your health will improve too. By all means, keep track of your waist size if you want to. Waist size is an important indicator of potential risks to your health, after all. Just make sure you use a tape measure and not some arbitrary sizing system that varies wildly from retailer to retailer. Your self-esteem will thank you for it.


What the heck is a “macro” anyway?

If you have tried to lose weight, get fit, or even just read an article in a magazine recently, there’s a good chance you will have heard of “macros”. Everyone talks about “counting their macros” nowadays, but do you know what they are?

It’s quite simple really. “Macros” is short for macronutrients. That might not help much but it just means the nutrients that we need to consume in large amounts, i.e, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. (as opposed to micronutrients – nutrients we need to eat in small amounts, such as vitamins and minerals).

The average person (not on a special diet due to a medical condition) should aim to get 50-55% of their calories (kcals) from carbohydrates, 30-35% from fats and 10-15% from proteins. You can manually work all this out if you are tracking your food intake – carbohydrates and proteins provide 4kcals per gram whilst fats provide 9kcals per gram. However, it’s a lot easier to use a free app such as myfitnesspal, which also calculates roughly how many calories you should be eating a day (though I will do a post about that later – I want to focus on food quality rather than quantity for now) . If you read my previous post about having a balanced diet and want to start making some adjustments, you might find it helpful to start tracking your food to see where your intake is at the moment. If your macronutrient percentages are roughly okay, then have a look at the foods that make up those numbers and see if there are any healthy swaps you can make e.g, swap white starchy carbohydrates for wholegrain versions. If not, try and reduce things you are having too much of – maybe grill or bake instead of fry to reduce fat – and increase your intake in areas where you are lacking. If you stick to the recommendations in the Eatwell guide your macros can’t go far wrong! I’ve highlighted which foods are good sources of which macros below, but please contact me if you have any questions.


Practically everything has some protein in it. The best sources are eggs, dairy, meat and soya bean, with lentils, chickpeas and wheat not far behind. Proteins are made up of amino acids and there are 9 amino acids we need to eat every day. Animal protein and soya beans contain all of these essential amino acids but if you eat a good variety of foods, you can get all the amino acids you need from other sources.


As well making up the bulk of most spreads and oils, fats are also present within foods such as meat, cheese, nuts and seeds, and are added to processed foods such as chocolate and crisps. If you need to reduce your fat intake, try and reduce fats from the sources outside the Eatwell plate (processed foods) rather than cutting down on healthy fats or foods that provide other important nutrients, such as dairy and nuts.


Sugar is a carbohydrate, but you should aim for the bulk of your carbohydrates to be from starchy foods, and ideally from wholegrain sources such as wholemeal bread and brown rice. Fruits and vegetables are also a source of carbohydrate and you should aim to eat at least 5 portions a day. Obviously, fruit is sweet. This is because it contains natural sugar. Unless you are diabetic though, (in which case you need more specialist advice) don’t worry about that too much for now. Get in the habit of choosing healthy snacks first, and we’ll worry about tweaks later. Fruit and veg contain other nutrients and fibre, and will always be a better choice than an unhealthy snack.

So, that’s the gist of “macros”. You can count them if you want to, and if you’ve been advised to eat specific amounts of one or more of them, you might want to get an app to make your life easier. However, you don’t have to. If you want to improve your diet trying to eat in line with the Eatwell Guide is a great start – and there is no maths needed!

I’ll be doing future posts about each of the macronutrients – which one are you most interested to hear about? Let me know below and I’ll do that first!


A Balanced Diet

You’ve probably heard the term “balanced diet” a million times, but do you know what it really means? There are lots of different definitions out there, but, basically, it means eating a variety of food which gives you all the nutrients you require to stay healthy whilst providing the right amount of energy for your needs . As we are all different, a balanced diet won’t look the same for everyone. Our bodies vary a lot, not only size and shape, but in how they process food and cope with exercise, and our tastes vary wildly too. This will sound obvious, but If you want to make any changes to your diet – either to lose or gain weight, or to try and eat more healthily, it’s important to make sure you eat foods you ENJOY! What I really want to do is to help people understand what it is that they are eating so the can not only make any changes that they need to, but to understand WHY they are making them.

An easy way to see what your diet should look like is to check out the Eatwell Guide

The Eatwell Plate

If you would like to read more about the Eatwell Guide you can do so here

As you can see, the bulk of your diet should be made up of wholegrain or fibre-rich starchy foods and fruit and vegetables, with a smaller proportion made up of protein based foods, and dairy (and dairy alternative) products. Fats and oils should be limited and highly processed foods like crisps and chocolate are shown outside the plate to indicate that they should only be eaten occasionally. I will be sticking broadly to these guidelines so if you’re looking for the latest fad diet, this isn’t the site for you!

In future posts I will talk about the different food groups shown above in more detail, explain the different macro- and micronutrients needed as well as energy requirements for different groups and any other topics that come to mind. This is a very quick intro as I am pretty busy studying for my Level 4 qualification but if you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover, please get in touch via my facebook or instagram pages. Thanks for visiting my page!


How my veggie baby became my vegan baby!

So…it’s been AGES since my last post. It’s been a pretty busy year or so. After the chaos of our wedding, followed quickly by the birth of our baby , we gave ourselves a little break before embarking on the next task – moving house! I don’t have any interesting relevant veggie stories about the whole nightmare of house hunting – I’m just mentioning it by way of explanation.

What I want to talk about is the potential difficulties of raising a vegetarian baby. My little one was exclusively breastfed for the first six months of her life and luckily, she and I both found it pretty easy. I am aware that this isn’t always the case and I’m in no way judging anyone who formula feeds. Being a mum is hard enough without being judged by the “breastapo”! She got through the first 6 months of her life with no real problems, except a bit of eczema, predominantly on her face. The problems arose when we started weaning. I tried to make her food from scratch – again, not judging, this was just what I wanted to do. It’s a lot cheaper than buying those tiny jars, for one thing! The one thing I didn’t make was her porridge. I bought baby porridge and it is fortified with vitamins and is more finely milled than regular porridge, so I thought it would be both better and easier for her. Most of the brands I looked at weren’t vegetarian but I managed to find one that was, and had the added bonus of being made up with hot water, whereas the others were made up with the baby’s regular milk which, if you’re breastfeeding means trying to express 200ml a day just for breakfast, on top of whatever volume you need for cooking or bottles.
Most babies start of on a veggie diet of pureed or mashed veg anyway, so she was eating pretty much the same as her little friends in the first few months. We gradually started introducing foods one at a time. All the advice says that this is particularly important if there is a family history of allergies, and I am allergic to nickel and have hay-fever so I was extra careful! When she was about 8 months old I thought I’d try her with some scrambled egg. She absolutely loved it! She wolfed down a whole egg’s worth but then immediately brought it all back up again! She wasn’t a sickly baby so this was quite unlike her. Not wanting to panic too much I called 111 (this is a UK phone number that provides non-emergency medical advice). She had started to go a little bit floppy so I was advised to take her straight to A&E right away and she was given Piriton. After a bit of a wait we saw a paediatrician who told me in no uncertain terms not to “fuck about” next time, and to call an ambulance as my daughter had quite a serious egg allergy! She also said that the eczema on my daughter’s face was likely to be down to a milk allergy. The recommended course of action was to cut both egg and dairy from both of our diets (in case I passed them on via my breast milk). She was absolutely fine by this point so we went home and cleared out the cupboards!

So, that’s how my veggie baby became my vegan baby! This has caused a few challenges, which I’ll tell you all about in due course!


Having a healthy vegetarian baby.

So, after the hassle of arranging a vegetarian wedding we have a new challenge to face – a vegetarian pregnancy! I have to say that after the comments I get day – to -day, I was expecting to get a lot more grief about this but I have only really received one comment, and that was from my dad! When I told him I was pregnant he said “So, you’re going to start eating meat now then, are you?”, to which I replied with a simple “No”, and that was that. Maybe people are too scared to mess with a hormonal woman!
I’ll admit that I was a bit worried about getting all the nutrients that myself and my baby needed, but this was more because I have a history of borderline iron deficiency anaemia (this was BEFORE I stopped eating meat) and that fact that I couldn’t face eating a lot of things for the first couple of months, than that fact that I am a vegetarian. I took vitamins for first few months, which I think most pregnant women do, veggie or not, but I really haven’t changed my diet. It’s pretty easy to get everything you need, but if you need any help, do what I did and stick this poster, available from Viva!,up in your kitchen. I am pleased to say that my bloods have all been fine, my weight gain has been normal and despite being in a high risk group for gestational diabetes, my glucose tolerance is completely normal too.
So, the moral of the story is that, regardless of what the “Where are you going to get your protein / calcium / iron from?” scaremongers might say, a vegetarian diet is perfectly healthy for expectant mothers, and their growing babies!


Our Vegetarian Wedding

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve had a busy year! As you may remember, I was planning my (vegetarian) wedding last time. You might also remember that the idea of a meat-free weekend was met with some hostility by some of the guests, as well as a few people who had nothing to do with the wedding but felt the need to object anyway! Well, I’m pleased to say that it went without a hitch and there were no complaints about the food. In fact, lots of the guests told us how delicious it was and that they hadn’t missed having meat at all. The venue, Buckland Hall, was beautiful, the staff were attentive yet unobtrusive, and the food was amazing!

 Buckland Hall is an entirely vegetarian and egg-free venue, and if you’re planning a veggie event, I can heartily recommend it! The cake was made locally Jo Wright at Secret Cinderella Cakes and also went down very well, despite being dairy free! 
The hand knitted owl cake toppers were a clue to our “surprise entertainment”. Our wedding rings were delivered to the best man during the ceremony my Olivia the barn owl, and after the drinks and canapes, we all moved outside into the crisp November air for a falconry display provided by Hawksdrift Falconry, who you might have seen on Dragon’s Den
All the guests had a chance to fly the birds, including my favourite and star of the show, Olivia.After the falconry display, we moved back indoors for our fantastic wedding breakfast, followed by a relaxing break then a disco and more veggie treats in the evening. 
All in all, the day couldn’t have gone better, and I think the whole experience goes to show that you should do what you think is right and what makes you happy, especially when it comes to your wedding. You will never be able to please everyone anyway, and you never know, you might even change some people’s minds – if only temporarily! 

Ignorance is bliss

So, I’ve been getting the usual questions on a regular basis for several years now and rather than repeat myself over and over again I’m going to start answering them here. I’ll try to address one issue a week, schedule allowing, which will be either one of the most common or most annoying that I encounter. This week, the big one – PROTEIN!
I’ve recently read The China Study (which I highly recommend if you have any questions about the health aspects of a whole foods, plant based diet), which has prompted the occasional discussion with colleagues about vegetarianism. After trying to explain the detrimental health effects of animal protein demonstrated in the book, one of my colleagues stated that “We need to eat animal protein as there are some nutrients you can only get from meat – and I’ve got a biology degree!”. This is worrying on so many levels! Even when I did my GCSEs (UK high school exams) many moons ago (ok – 1993) we were taught that you needed to get all the essential amino acids and that, while they are all present in meat they are also present in soya. Nowadays it’s accepted that you don’t even need to get all of these amino acids at the same time i.e, rather than having to eat soya (or meat!), you can gain them separately from various plant sources throughout the day. However,while it’s clear that we knew nearly 20 YEARS AGO that you didn’t have to eat meat in order to consume a healthy amount of protein,this is still the prevailing opinion, even amongst the “educated”.
Interestingly, at school we were also taught that while saturated (animal) fats were bad for you (which I’ll go into in another post), low fat cuts of meat were a good way to include this protein in your diet. Unfortunately, there is now substantial evidence to support the case against, not just animal fat, but animal protein, which has been shown to contoribute to the development of various diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as osteoporosis, kidney stones and autoimmune diseases such as MS.
Populations following a mainly whole foods, plant based diet tend to have lower rates of all of these diseases (when normalised for age and activity level) than populations that consume a more animal based diet.
So no,while we do need to consume protein, we don’t need to eat animals to do it, and the sooner people are taught that, the better.


Vegetarian Wedding Plans

I am getting married later this year and am planning on having an entirely vegetarian wedding. I don’t think this will come as a massive surprise to our guests as both myself and my fiance are vegetarian, yet some people have called me selfish for inflicting my views on others! I don’t think I’ve ever complained to the about the food at a wedding or any other social function, despite the fact that the veggie option is often of very poor quality. I have had to have a plate of side vegetables as xmas dinner before, as the veggie option was inedible, but I understand that the organisers cannot arrange for everyone’s personal tastes to be catered for.I certainly wouldn’t call them selfish. When you’re catering for large numbers of people you’ll never please everyone .However, I fully intend to have a chocolate wedding cake too, despite the fact that one or two of the guests can’t stand chocolate, but no one seems to find that offensive! I won’t be asking anyone to eat anything they don’t already eat – I’m just asking them to lay off the meat for one meal. Is that really selfish? If people really object, they can get a burger on the way home – we’ll never know!