It’s back to school this September for me too!

September brings about the start of a new academic year for those at school, college and university and it’s no different for me this year but this time venturing into uncharted territory. 

GCSE Food talk 

First up I headed back to secondary school, to talk to a group of Year 11 GCSE Food & Cookery students, after being invited into Easthampstead Park Community School in Bracknell. It was a really interesting opportunity, partly given the fact I’ve not stepped foot in a secondary school in a few years. Secondly, it’s the very school that my better half and business partner Mark went to as a teenager. More importantly however, I was interested to see what GCSE students know about food, and what they are being taught. 

Having seen the outline to the course in advance I was impressed to see that the first section talked about “Understanding Food”. They are given the Government’s Eatwell Guide (shown below) as the basis for what a balanced and nutritious plate should consist of. Whilst yes, as a Nutritional Therapist I can pick holes in it, and say how this may not be the optimal guide of what the ‘average’ person should be eating but my role in this situation is not to criticise – the fact there are students interested in learning what food is, is fantastic and should be encouraged. 

I focused on talking about key areas that a) would be more applicable or relevant to a group of 15/16 year olds, b) important key messages the guidelines are trying to communicate and c) providing some insight and helping them think about the foods they eat. 

I was asked to focus my talk around vitamins and minerals and we discussed a number of concepts including: 

  • What we need vitamins and minerals for. 
  • Good sources of vitamins & minerals – including different coloured fruits & vegetables. 
  • Which vitamins are fat and water-soluble? 
  • What impact does cooking food have on vitamin or mineral content and availability? 
  • Can soil qualify influence the mineral content of food? 
  • Other nutrients contained within fruits and vegetables. 
  • The importance of fibre.
  • Who might need to amend nutrient intake as well as quantity of food e.g. athletes, pregnant women & the elderly. 
  • Hidden sugar, salt and other additives in drinks, condiments, and processed foods. 

I also had the opportunity to answer some of their great questions such as: 

  • Are there any foods that can help you sleep? 
    • In short, yes. There are foods that can help support the pathways that produce chemicals needed for sleep, for example, bananas, almonds, turkey, white beans. These are all sources of tryptophan (Balch, 2010) the amino acid required for the pathway that makes both serotonin and  melatonin, which are required for sleep. Eating large meals, consuming caffeine or foods containing naturally  occurring tyramine can all  hinder or  interfere  with getting a good nights sleep  (Balch, 2010). We also discussed using mobile phones and devices that emit blue light,  which is shown to  suppress melatonin  production (Harvard  Health  Publishing, 2015). 
  • Can food affect your mood? 
    • Absolutely, food can play a role in your mood for better or for worse by  influencing our nervous system, we mentioned  Tryptophan foods above and these also  make serotonin an important neurotransmitter, which  influence our mood (Langley, 2015). Other examples include:  
      • Omega 3 fatty acids are an important factor in supporting the nervous system, which includes our brain. There are different types of Omega 3s; ALA – which we must get from a dietary source such as walnuts and flaxseeds, as we cannot make it. EPA & DHA can be made from ALA in  the right circumstances however, we can also find it in oily fish such as sardines. (Mateljan, 2015). 
      • The use of stimulants including  caffeine can have a negative effect on mood and sleep, including in adolescents (Jin et al. 2016).  Remember caffeine is not just found in coffee, it is also present in differing amounts in black and green tea, chocolate, and energy drinks as well as others. This can also mean that the  caffeine is ingested alongside high levels of refined sugars, sweeteners, additives and chemicals  which may provide short term alterness and energy if used  consistently can lead to an altered mood (Richards & Smith, 2016) and increased  tiredness (Ishak et al, 2012).  
  • Is it better to eat vegetables raw or cooked?
    • Yes and no: vegetables can be a source of more than one vitamin &/or  mineral and depending on their state  when consumed different nutrients might be more  available for your body to use. For example, betacarotenes (precursor to Vitamin A) found in vegetables such as carrots is more bioavailable when cooked as opposed to raw (Robinson et al. 2013), but Vitamin C becomes degraded in foods such as peppers when cooked (also once chopped). Cooking can make vegetables easier to digest (Robinson et al. 2013) but  depending on the cooking methods nutrients can be lost in the process e.g. leach into the water, which many discard.  Therefore, we often suggest consuming a mixture of raw and cooked vegetables, using water based cooking methods such as steaming to retain as many nutrients as possible. 

My Masters Adventure 

My next adventure into education recently was starting my Masters in Advanced Nutrition (Research & Practice) at the Northern College of Acupuncture in York. I spent a long time researching and talking to a variety of mentors, from lecturers to practitioners as well as colleagues before opting for the NCA course. I also had to make it through the application and interview stage as well as complete my Diploma at CNM in order to be accepted onto the course. 

This is a distance learning MSc but that doesn’t mean just watching pre-recorded lectures it is much more interactive with internet conference calls at least twice a week, forums and eLearning to get stuck into! It will take me 4 years to complete so a big commitment alongside my clinical practice however it is something I’m excited by and lucky to have the support of family and friends to give me the added confidence to undertake this. It is a select group, just 8 Nutrition professionals, however some modules allow us to work across disciplines with acupuncturists and Chinese medicine practitioners coming together which is an exciting prospect. It’s early days but I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how things are going and some of the exciting research we will be looking at and ultimately conducting! 

Free Community Health Talk 

Finally, to bring this blog to a close I will just briefly mention that we successfully ran our first joint health talk at the clinic this week. We revisited the subject of Headaches & Migraines, a topic that always attracts people. The last time we did this talk earlier in the year it was mainly focused on postural and structural reasons behinds the conditions. This time however, I was able to bring the nutritional side of things to the forefront. There is much to discuss on this topic so I’ll give you a run-down of what we covered in the next blog entry. If this is a topic effecting you, contact me and we can have a free 20-minute mini consultation to see if a nutritional approach may suit you. 

We run regular free health talks, like our Facebook page to keep up to date with upcoming events, make suggestions of topics you’d like us to cover and maybe even catch one of our talks on a Facebook Live (if I can work out how to do it!) 



Balch, P.A. (2010)  Prescription for nutritional healing: A practical A to Z reference to drug free remedies using vitamins, minerals, herbs and food supplements. 5th Edition. New York: Penguin Books Australia. pp. 539. 

Harvard Health Publishing (2015) Blue light has a dark side. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 26th September 2017]. 

Ishak, W. W, Ugochukwa, C, Bagot, K, et al. (2012) Energy drinks - Psychological Effects and Impact on Well-being and Quality of Life – A Literature Review, Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 9(1), pp. 25-34. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 26th September 2017). 

Jin, M, Yoon, C, Kim, H, et al. (2016) The Relationship of Caffeine Intake with Depression, Anxiety, Stress in Korean Adolescents, Korean Journal of Family Medicine, 37(2), pp. 111-116. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed September 26th 2017). 

Langley, S. (2015) The Naturopathy Workbook, 4th Edition. UK: The College of Naturopathic Medicine. pp. 81. 

Mateljan, G. (2015) The World’s Healthiest Foods. 2nd edn. United States: G M F Pub. pp. 968-969. 

Richards, G, Smith, A. P. (2016) A Review of Energy Drinks and Mental Health, with a Focus on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Journal of Caffeine Research, 6(2), 49-63. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 26th September 2017). 

Robinson, K.M. Tomovich Jacobsen, M. Zelman, K. (2013) Raw Foods Diet. Available at: (Accessed: September 25th 2017) 



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