Why Did The Horse Meat Scandal Happen?

There is no escaping the so called "Horse Meat Scandal" which has played out in the media over the past few weeks. Causing shock, disgust, outrage and panic, here we sum up briefly why it happened and what we can do about it. 

Why did it happen?

The food industry is not as benevolent as it may appear. Behind the seductive and 'ethical' packaging lies a powerful and often aggressive industry. In the face of recession supermarkets have been driving down meat prices for consumers, putting enormous pressure on food producers to provide meat at lower and lower prices or risk losing their valuable contract with the supermarket. Add to this the soaring cost of grain needed to feed cattle and we end up with the cost of beef reaching an all time high. The cost of energy needed to produce beef and processed meat goods has also soared at the same time leading us to a desperate situation, the result of which has been the current horse meat scandal. 

The food inspection industry, originally linked directly to the government, has shrunk over the past ten years as a trend to deregulate it, together with budget cuts has seen increased privatisation and less stringent checks on how and where our meat is produced. 

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Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity - what it is, what it isn’t and what you need to know about this emerging condition

Cakes, fresh bread, biscuits, pasta, pizza – lets face it, most of us wouldn’t voluntarily give all of these up indefinitely would we? But for some people, these foods, at least in their traditional form, are permanently off the menu. I am of course referring to those with Coeliac Disease, an autoimmune condition where eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, causes the body to attack its own tissues and leads to serious damage of the small intestine. Left untreated this damage can lead to more serious complications such as malabsorption of important nutrients, the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, lactose intolerance, fertility problems, and increases the risk of developing some forms of cancer. The good news however, is that we know how to test for the condition and that by avoiding gluten-containing foods, those with coeliac disease can be practically spared from the complications associated with it. For many a diagnosis is usually welcome as it typically follows months or even years of unpleasant symptoms including diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, nausea, vomiting, constant mouth ulcers, tiredness and unsurprisingly, depression. 
There are however, a growing number of individuals who experience all of the above symptoms and are utterly convinced they have coeliac disease only to find that when tested for the condition their results come back negative. Some people are told they simply don’t meet the ‘gold standard’ for coeliac diagnosis which can, I grant, sound a little patronising and almost as though you didn’t quite win first prize. This gold standard does in fact relate to two types of testing, the first is a blood test that looks for specific antibodies which is then confirmed by the second, a biopsy of the gut where a sample is viewed under a microscope to look for damage caused by the gluten. Even if initial blood tests give a negative result but the gut is subsequently found to be damaged, a diagnosis of coeliac disease may still be given. 

So what exactly is going on with these particular people, is it another condition, are they allergic to wheat, maybe intolerant to other foods instead, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, or maybe it’s “all in their head”? While the causes of the unpleasant symptoms seen in these people are many and varied doctors have begun to realise there is in fact one common denominator – gluten. These people are not suffering from coeliac disease but may be suffering from an emerging condition doctors are calling Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)

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Is it really low fat? How to tell if food manufacturers are telling porkies

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a good food package, gone are the days where a food label simply tells you what you’re about to shamelessly devour, today, food labelling is a far more sophisticated affair. As consumers we’re under a lot of pressure with literally thousands of brands and products vying for our attention with promises of new improved recipes, heart healthy ingredients and no nasty artificial additives. But with the rise in obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes (to name but a few) many of us are now trying to watch how much fat, sugar and salt we eat each day and the labels and products we see on the supermarket shelves today are increasingly catering to this.

But are the claims of ‘low fat’, ‘reduced sugar‘ and ‘low sodium‘ made by food manufacturers really to be believed? I have to say that the answer is usually no. 

So how can you tell if that pretty food label is telling porkies? Well here’s a simple way to bypass any claims made on the front of food packaging and see for yourself whether you’re being misled. Even if you’re not following a specific diet or avidly trying to count calories, learning to read nutritional labels at a glance will ensure you’re always in control of what you eat - for life! (and it’s pretty easy too).    

Reading the label

Most packaged foods in the UK will provide information which details how much protein, carbohydrate sugar, fat, fibre and salt (sodium) the food contains together with how much energy and how many calories it provides. These values are almost always given per 100g and increasingly per serving size. So how do you make sense of all those numbers, and which ones really tell you if a food is high or low in sugar, salt or fat?

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Arsenic in rice - is it safe to eat?

You may have recently read or heard about renewed concern over the levels of arsenic in rice and rice-based products. A recent report by the American Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has found that the levels of arsenic in rice and rice products appears to be much higher than initially thought and that these levels could potentially be harmful to your health. So should you be concerned? 

Well first off, arsenic exists in nature, in water, food, air, rock and soil so levels found in our food, bar pesticides containing arsenic, are not strictly linked to human activity and farming practices. There are two forms of arsenic, organic and inorganic and it is the latter which is of most concern as inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen and ingestion may increase the risk of certain cancers. Rice is of particular concern as it is grown in flooded conditions and exposed not only to the arsenic in the soil and air but also to high levels in the water. 

The human body is remarkably adept at coping with certain toxins which occur naturally in the foods we eat, but this is of course providing your diet is balanced and you don't consume excessive amounts of any one food - yes, you guessed it, it's all about the proverbial "Moderation". 

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Can smoking affect your nutrition?

In 2010, approximately 10 million adults in the UK were smokers and around 60,000 cases of cancer could be attributed to tobacco smoke. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and is the UK’s biggest cause of preventable illness and early death (Cancer Research UK). Unfortunately the harmful effects of smoking are not just limited to the lungs as ‘the filthy habit’ also has a serious detrimental effect on your nutritional status. The links may not be very apparent but long-term smoking can prevent you from utilising vital cancer-fighting nutrients, rob you of precious vitamins and put you at risk of other diet-related illnesses such as osteoporosis. 

So just what is at stake? 

Firstly, inhaling cigarette smoke introduces a plethora of chemicals into the body with each puff and at least 50 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer such as benzene, which is also used as a petrol additive, formaldehyde, which is used to embalm dead bodies, Ammonia, often found in toilet cleaner and the highly addictive nicotine which is often used in insecticides and poisons.

These substances put enormous stress on the body and increase levels of substances known as free-radicals. As the name suggests, free-radicals are a tad unruly and, once inside the body, can cause a serious amount of damage to your cells and tissues. Now, your body produces its own free-radicals through the various cellular functions that take place every day and these ordinarily aren’t a problem thanks to some house-keeping substances called anti-oxidants which effectively neutralise the free-radicals before they can do any serious damage. Smoking however, increases the level of free-radicals far beyond what the antioxidants can neutralise and this is when we start to see more serious health problems.

Your diet and the foods you eat are your lifeline to a ready supply of antioxidants which can help combat the damage caused by free-radicals and one such antioxidant which goes by another name is Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Vitamin C plays a critical role in maintaining a strong immune system, helping tissue repair and wound healing and helps you absorb iron from your diet. It also plays a key part in maintaining healthy bones, teeth and gums. If you smoke however, you have a much greater need for vitamin C and its antioxidant powers.The real issue here though is that smoking causes free-radical damage  whilst simultaneously robbing the body of the vitamin C needed to neutralise it. In other words, smoking causes the problem AND takes away the solution. 

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Migraine & Lifestyle

So far this week we've looked at migraine, what it is, who suffers from it and why; migraine and food and the simple dietary tricks you can use to keep migraines at bay and migraine and nutritional supplements where we looked at which supplements really can help you manage migraine attacks. Today, in our final article on migraine we're looking at the lesser known tips and tricks you can use every day to prevent migraines from occurring.



Evidence suggests that moderate levels of exercise may help to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine. Physical activities such as jogging, swimming, dancing, cycling or even walking briskly can reduce the severity of migraines as exercising causes your body to produce its own natural painkillers called endorphins and chemicals called enkephalins which act as an anti-depressant. Add to this the overall benefits of exercising for your general health and you have a real reason to get active!


Eat Regularly

It may not seem that important but ensuring you eat regularly is incredibly important in preventing migraines. Going too long without food or skipping a meal causes your blood sugars to drop to very low levels (Hypoglycemia) causing symptoms such as yawning, sweating, irritability, tiredness, headaches - and migraine. If you are prone to nausea or vomiting when you have a migraine, skipping meals and allowing your blood sugar levels to drop can make these symptoms worse.

Where possible, try to stick to a manageable daily routine and eat regularly, and at the same time each day. Ideally you shouldn’t go any longer than 2-3 hours without food. Avoid eating sugary foods, cakes, biscuits, pastries etc. (even if you crave them) and go for unrefined wholegrain breads, brown or red rice, pasta, fruits and vegetables. Eating slightly more protein such as lean white or red meats, beans, pulses and nuts may also help.


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Migraine & Nutritional Supplements

So far this week we've looked at Migraine, what it is, and why people suffer from it and Migraine & Food and the simple dietary tweaks that can make a big difference to sufferers. Today we're looking at the role nutritional supplements can take in the treatment and management of migraine alongside those dietary changes we've already looked at. 

Not read the previous migraine articles yet? Migraine | Migraine & Food

Ordinarily I’d prefer to avoid nutritional supplements in favour of tackling health issues with food but there are a few instances where they may be a useful addition to dietary changes. In the case of migraine, research suggests that supplementing your diet with certain nutrients may help prevent or reduce the severity of attacks and lessen your dependency on prescription medication. Remember though, that everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another and that supplements are just that; a supplement to a healthy diet and are no substitute for food.



There is growing evidence to suggest that the brains of people who suffer from migraine are severely deficient in the mineral magnesium, especially those who suffer from migraine with aura (visual disturbances). This can, to some extent, be overcome by taking a magnesium supplement each day. The most suitable dose, as reported by the Migraine Trust, is 600mg daily of magnesium dicitrate. There are various forms of magnesium such as magnesium sulphate, magnesium oxide and magnesium hydroxide, all of which can have laxative effects but magnesium dicitrate and magnesium citrate appear to be better tolerated by most people. If you decide to take a magnesium supplement it may be wise to start with a low dose and gradually increase to 600mg to avoid any unwanted effects. Taking the supplement with food can also help to minimise its laxative effects.

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Migraine & Food

Yesterday we took a look at what migraine is, its symptoms and its causes and today we'll be looking at how you can take control of them without having to rely too heavily on painkillers and prescription medicines by making some pretty easy changes to your diet and the foods you eat.  

It may seem a little far fetched to think that food could have any kind of influence on something as strong as a migraine but evidence suggests there are a number of things you can do to lessen the severity of migraines, reduce how often they happen, or even stop them completely, and of course an added benefit of these measures is that you’ll be spared from many of the side-effects of over-the-counter and prescription medications. 

You’ve probably heard many people say their migraines are triggered by certain foods and for some people the link between eating a food and then having to run to a darkened room to wait out the pain is very clear but for others, identifying foods which might cause a migraine can become an obsession of a lifetime. In actuality you may never really determine what foods trigger your migraine (if any) as only thirty percent of sufferers do and frantically obsessing over food in this way can actually bring about the very headache you’re trying to avoid. Everybody’s different and experiences migraine in a different way but some foods are more commonly incriminated in migraine and those foods are listed below. There is however an upside - and fortunately it’s quite a big one as there are plenty of foods which can help prevent migraines from occurring in the first place.

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Today marks the start of Migraine Awareness Week 2012. More prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined, migraine affects over 8 million people in the UK and brings excruciating pain to 190,000 sufferers every day. For most people the only solution when a migraine attack occurs is prescription painkillers but over the course of the week we’ll be looking at foods, nutrients and lifestyle changes which can help to prevent migraine, or maybe even stop them altogether.

Hopefully, unlike me, you’ve never experienced that moment of sheer dread and panic when you lose your peripheral vision, people’s faces seem to mysteriously disappear and everything around you is replaced with a curtain of zigzags and sparkly dots. It may sound like a drug-induced high but a salute to the psychedelic 60’s this isn’t - for an unlucky few this is the precursor to a migraine.

In my case I tend to pull a rather strange facial expression as I try to determine if I’m losing my vision (not unlike that startled expression and tilted head dogs give after hearing a dog whistle!) which those around me find utterly bizarre. It’s at this point I reach for my trusty cocktail of medication to stave off what will likely be an excruciating next few hours.

Now of course, I’m a nutritionist and have never been a fan of popping pills for anything, always preferring a more natural approach, but do admit that what can’t be classified as my natural approach is just sheer stubbornness on my part. However, I have learnt to my detriment that a “grin and bear it” attitude doesn’t quite cut it with migraine. Indeed there are many medical conditions where prescription medications are absolutely necessary and even life-saving - I certainly won’t dispute that. There are however, a huge number of medical conditions and illnesses where, despite medications being necessary, dietary changes and nutritional supplementation can significantly help reduce the dependency on medications and may even negate the need for them entirely. This is certainly true of migraine and over the course of the week we’ll be taking a look at migraine in more detail, looking at which foods can help and hinder the condition, the role nutritional supplements can play and the small changes in lifestyle that can make a big difference. But first a little background...

What is Migraine?

Migraine is a pretty complicated neurological condition which affects around 15% of adults in the UK. Unlike mild headaches which many people experience, migraine is accompanied by some particularly distinct symptoms which are often quite severe and can include
• A painful headache on one side of the head (often behind one eye)
• Disturbed vision
• Becoming extremely sensitive to light, noise and smells
• Feeling sick (nausea)
• Vomiting
Some people who suffer from migraines may also have difficulty speaking during an attack, experience a pins and needles sensation in their arms and legs, suffer abdominal pain and may appear to be very confused. This can all seem very frightening at the time but these symptoms usually subside after the migraine attack. It is however, not uncommon to feel a little groggy and tired for a few days following a migraine.

Only about a third of migraine sufferers experience the disturbed (zigzag) vision before the headache and this is known as migraine with aura. If your vision is badly affected make sure you take yourself out of harms way by pulling over if you’re driving for example.

Everyone experiences migraines differently and with varying severity. Some people may suffer a migraine several times a week while others may go months or even years without an attack. 

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