Life but not as you knew it: 32 with bowel cancer

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month, so in our latest blog post, we’re bringing you a blog by Cara, a Shine member who was diagnosed with bowel cancer shortly after she turned 32.  Currently undergoing treatment, Cara is passionate about raising awareness of bowel cancer and its symptoms, as well as sharing her experience of treatment. Please do share this blog with others and, as always, let us know what you think!


As April is bowel cancer awareness month I am asking this:

#Isitok that on average 2,500 young people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and that many of these individuals experience a delayed diagnosis? A delayed diagnosis that stems from a perception that in your 20s and 30s you’re too young to possibly have bowel cancer?

Cara 1

Guest blogger, Cara

I decided to write this blog post because that is exactly the situation I found myself in 14 months ago when I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer and I hope that by sharing my story I can raise awareness of the disease and make people stop and think. After all, nine out of 10 people survive bowel cancer if it is caught in the early stages and the key to this is early diagnosis. My advice is that if you have a concern and it’s not normal for you, don’t be embarrassed speak to your GP about it. We all know our own bodies and you know when something just isn’t quite right.

A little about me……

At 32 years old I found myself staring cancer in the face like an insurmountable challenge that I didn’t know if I was strong enough to tackle. It had taken 10 months to reach a diagnosis and when I speak to other people my age with bowel cancer I’m not alone in having been told we are just ‘too young to have cancer’.

My cancer story started when I decided to pay a visit to my GP because I was slightly concerned that there were some changes in my bowel habits and I was experiencing abdominal cramps. A routine blood test showed that I was anaemic and the GP made a referral. Looking back now the anaemia explained the tiredness I had been dismissing for months as something that just happens when you “turn 30” – something which now makes me chuckle as if reaching 30 puts you on some slippery slope to the realms of being an OAP!

Before I knew it, we were six months down the line with no answers as to why I was anaemic, and with the suggestion that the pain and anaemia were both down to period pain. During this time, I also had to deal with the death of my father. It was a difficult time, but as I dealt with my grief, my life began to get back to some sort of normal. I was going to the gym, going out with my friends and I even took part in a charity cycle from London to Paris with work.

However, as the weeks passed I found myself being unable to keep pace with my friends. Little did I know that my anaemia had slowly been getting worse and that lurking in my colon was a growing tumour. Just before Christmas, after a couple more visits and chats with the GP, I found out that my red blood count had fallen dangerously low and that my doctors were considering a blood transfusion. A test on a stool sample discovered blood that wasn’t visible to naked eye and I was quickly referred for a colonoscopy. That was when I knew I had cancer. I had seen this before when my father had been diagnosed. From that point my diagnosis happened very quickly but what I still couldn’t get my head around was why, with my family history of cancer, the faecal test wasn’t done at the beginning alongside everything else. It’s still something that I question today.

Since my diagnosis I have faced 14 months of endless hospital appointments, blood tests, seven hour days in the chemo unit, major surgery and blood clots, and while I would love to say I am at the stage of moving from cancer patient into the ‘life after cancer phase’, my post-chemotherapy scan showed lesions on my liver and the cycle has begun all over again. I am now undergoing a more aggressive chemotherapy which involves the joy of a ‘cold cap’ in a vain attempt to save my hair!

Another twist in my tale…..I have Lynch Syndrome…..

Lynch syndrome is the most common form of hereditary colon cancer and can increase the risk of developing colon cancer by up to 80%. Statistics make it as common as the BRCA mutation, but many people won’t have heard of it. Being in active treatment, I haven’t been able to fully address the impact that Lynch syndrome could have on my future, but I know that when the time comes it will have an impact on decisions about children and also that there will be decisions to make about having preventive procedures. While it would be very easy to think that knowledge of this mutation could have helped to detect my cancer earlier, I can’t change the past. I do believe though that knowledge is power and, that by ensuring I get right screening, I can minimise my risk of developing another cancer in the future.

What I have learned….

Dealing with a chronic disease forces you to develop a certain superhero strength…but that’s not to say that there aren’t difficult days or days where I feel so overwhelmed by it all that I don’t know how I going to make it through the next bit of treatment. Cancer will change me, but how is not yet fully clear. I’ve been told that I am so strong to be able to deal with everything that I am going through ………personally I don’t think I’m anything out of the ordinary. I think we all have superhero strength within all of us. It’s like the saying goes: ‘you don’t know how strong you can be until being strong is your only option’.

Cara works as a buyer in the womenswear department of a major UK retailer. She volunteers as a Cancer Research UK Campaigns Ambassador and claims to have an unhealthy addiction to travel literature and anything travel or adventure related! You can follower her on Twitter @Caraeliz24.

 

 

 

 

 

Life, but not as you knew it: Breathe and bend!

Every year, at Shine’s Great Escape, we run morning yoga sessions for our “Escapees”. For many, it’s the first time they’ve tried yoga and most people are pleasantly surprised by how much they get out of it.

In this blog, Stephanie Bartlett shares her experience of starting yoga during her cancer treatment and how it’s helped calm her busy mind.  Want to learn more? Below Stephanie’s blog, we’ve posted some ‘getting started’ tips from Shine’s yoga guru (and podcast host) Tatum de Roeck!


StephAndTheo

Stephanie with son Theo

Last July I was diagnosed with cancer.  As a young and healthy 32 year old, I certainly wasn’t expecting it, though I have learnt very quickly it genuinely doesn’t matter who you are or how ‘healthy’ you thought you were.

Cancer for me has been ‘mind consuming’. In the seven months since my diagnosis, my mind has been consumed with everything cancer related, from the seemingly endless weeks of waiting for test results to the side effects of 18 weeks of chemotherapy to the apprehension of the next course of treatment; there was just no getting away from it.

That was until I discovered yoga. My very first yoga session consisted of some simple breathing techniques and some basic stretching and relaxation. I followed my instructor and it was very peaceful. I found it easy and I soon realised that an hour had passed and I hadn’t thought about cancer.

I can only describe how I felt after my first session as a balloon floating in the sea. I felt present in the here and now.  My mind felt completely empty.  No thoughts had entered my mind the entire time. I had no idea what it felt like to be free of the constant cancer woes until then. I also felt very relaxed, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and like I was finally lightened of the burden.

I continued to practice yoga with my instructor about once a fortnight and before I knew it I had learned a whole yoga flow and every session we were adding to it. I was also learning more how good it was for my mind and body. Post-surgery and during chemotherapy I looked forward to each session as I viewed it as my escape from cancer. I then found myself doing yoga on my own at home in the days in between seeing my instructor – I could finally escape cancer every day. I knew exactly what to do and I loved it.

The truly great thing about yoga is that no matter how I was feeling or how physically able I was (and this changed from week to week, with the effects of surgery or chemotherapy), I was always able to do yoga. And it’s really not about getting one leg wrapped around your neck while balancing in the shape of an elegant swan – rather, it’s all about connecting with yourself and using your mind and body no matter how much you’re able to move.  Basically, we can all do it, no matter how flexible you are.

As a busy and working mum to my five-year-old son, Theo, I’m constantly on the go.  Life is always eventful and there’s no escaping the constant need to be somewhere or do something.  This consumed a lot of my thoughts before cancer and adding cancer to that mix made life even crazier. Yoga enabled me not only to calm down my mind but also to focus on simply moving and breathing.  It lets me forget the chaos that life has thrown at me and it enables me to put into perspective the important things that are worthy of my attention. Most importantly, it also helps me forget about the pointless little things that can fill the gaps.

I have certainly caught the yoga bug; I now know a moon flow, what sun salutation is and can do my warrior poses.  During each of these yoga flows, the actions and breathing are the only things on my mind. Even before the cancer diagnosis I didn’t know it was possible to escape; I’ve always had a busy mind so for me it’s been a real eye opener. Steph1

I cannot recommend yoga enough to anyone going through a cancer diagnosis or treatment – an even those that aren’t. I once thought “oh, yoga is not for me – it’s too airy fairy”.  How wrong I was!  I have even booked myself onto a four day yoga retreat in Spain, as a reward once all my treatment is over. It’ll involve hours of yoga, relaxation and a well needed break in the sun.I genuinely never believed yoga would help me as much as it does but I honestly love what yoga does for me.  Give it a go, you won’t know until you try it!

Stephanie lives with her son, Theo, who is five, and she was one of Shine’s 2017 Escapees. To learn more about the Great Escape, click here. And if you’re interested in trying yoga, read on for a briefing by our yoga instructor (and podcast host) Tatum de Roeck!


Thinking of trying yoga after cancer?

Three months after Tatum de Roeck qualified as a yoga teacher, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Below, she shares her tips for getting started with yoga. Tatum

Even knowing quite a bit about yoga, I was still daunted going into a new class when my body felt so alien. It was tough dealing with feeling physically limited, emotionally all over map and mentally frazzled. What made it easier was having an idea what to expect from a class and how to find the right one.

I now teach yoga as my main job and give classes as part of Shine’s Great Escape weekend. Many Escapees have never done yoga before and the class has given them the chance to find out they rather like it! So for others who think they might fancy giving yoga a whirl here are some tips and thoughts to help make finding the first class a little easier.

Yoga is yoga, right?

Not all yoga is the same. The spectrum of classes range from ones where all the poses involve lying down on the ground with cushions and blocks, to hot sweaty powerful classes that seem to be created for acrobats from Cirque du Soliel.

I’m not flexible, can I still do yoga?

Yes! Yoga isn’t about what it looks like on the outside but how it feels inside your body. You can be one millimetre into a pose and feel the benefit of the stretch. If you feel it, that’s your pose and it is perfect. Someone else might have a different rotation in their hip joint and their legs may impressively flop out, but they may be working on how to engage their muscles instead which might be just as much of a challenge. It’s good to bear in mind since everyone’s body is wildly different (and always changing) we don’t bend to yoga, it is yoga that should bend to us.

Starting Slow

Slow classes give you time to try a pose, see if it’s right for you and adjust as needed. Even if it’s a super relaxing class it gives you a chance to hear some yoga terminology, become familiar with teachers providing different options, and to build confidence for trying the next class.

How do I find a slow class?

If there is a yoga studio nearby I would either pop in or give them a call to ask if they offer a relaxing, slow or gentle classes. Some bigger studios sometimes even offer classes handily named something like ‘yoga for people with cancer’. Most mid-size studios will have great introductory offers of unlimited classes for a couple of weeks. This can be a really useful (and far cheaper) way to try out different classes. Sometimes yoga classes at the gym are unhelpfully labelled ‘yoga’. In these cases its useful to get some more info otherwise you might be in a sweaty power hour territory.

The key things to ask is it is suitable for beginners and is it gentle? If possible it may be good to see if you can briefly contact the teacher before you plan to take the class.

A lot of cancer centres like Maggie’s also offer yoga and if they don’t offer yoga on the premises it’s worth giving them a call to see if they know a place or a teacher they’d recommend.

What do I wear?

The main thing is to wear something comfortable, which doesn’t restrict movement but isn’t too loose. The reason we don’t wear baggy T-shirts is because some of the poses (like a forward fold or child’s pose) will cause loose T-shirts to ride up exposing the stomach and lower back or rising so much it covers your face. Very baggy shorts can also show a bit more than you bargained for. If this happens you spend the class fighting with your clothes which takes away a little of the joy (I’m relaying this from personal experience!).

Getting to the first class early

It’s a good idea to get to your first class 15 minutes early. There will be forms to fill out and it’s a good time to talk to the teacher before the class starts. You can let them know you are trying yoga for the first time, that you may need to take it easy or have a part of your body where there is a limitation of movement. They are the best people to give you a bit of an idea about what to expect in the class.

Do I need to do all the poses?

Nope! Yoga is about being in the body and feeling out what is right for you. Anything that causes sharp pinching pain or any sensation which takes your breath away is a sign from your body saying that position isn’t right for you at that time. If this happens you can come out of the pose slightly or fully. There is a pose called child’s pose which is the go to position any time in the practice. It’s the pose to regain your breath, to rest or simply stay there until another pose that you might like comes along.

Giving it another go

Since there is such a variety in yoga styles, teacher personalities and range of environments it is worth giving yoga more than one class to really determine whether or not it’s right for you. If you find it ultimately isn’t what you want at the moment that’s totally ok too! You’ll know what it is and that it’s there if you ever want to come back to it.

Ask for Recommendations

One of the best ways to find a class is to ask others who have tried and tested classes already.  In the comments below, feel free to share your experiences and any places or teachers you love. You never know another Shiny person may be in your ‘hood and looking for a class!

 

Bon appetite! Eating well and busting myths

You asked, we answered!

A few months ago we published a blog by Victoria Francis, a registered dietitian with over 15 years experience in helping people eat well.  We’re delighted that Vicky agreed to write a second blog for us based on questions posted in our private Shine group.

As food becomes trendy and food trends go viral, we thought it was important to keep to the facts about healthy eating. Vicky’s written the blog as a Q&A so if you posted a question, check below to see if it’s been answered.  And please do share and let us know what you think!


1. Is it possible that foods can “absorb toxins” and help you to expel them (e.g. chia seeds)?

victoria-francis

Registered dietitian, Victoria Francis

 

Detoxifying diets have gained increased popularity recently, in part due to the list of exaggerated non-evidence based health claims they “hold”. These are often suggested by self-proclaimed “health experts” and the media. The idea behind them is that our bodies are exposed to numerous toxins on a daily basis from sources including household cleaners, food preservatives and environmental pollutants and that our body is unable to get rid of them. Commencing a detox diet and eating a limited diet for a defined period is said to help “cleanse” our body. However, while nutrition does play a role in detoxification – for example specific nutrients support detoxification processes in our bodies – there are currently NO clinical guidelines or definitions of what should constitute a “detoxification diet”. And at present there is no scientific evidence that detox diets have any effect on toxin elimination.

But let’s humour the humble chia seed for a moment…..While scouring the Internet to gain clarity on the suggested miracle-workings of chia seeds I came across this statement:

“This tiny seed is a nutritional powerhouse for cleansing the body and removing toxins. chia seeds, like all gelatinous plant foods, become gel-like when wet. This enables them to absorb toxins, releasing them out of the system”.

While chia seeds can absorb fluids, there is no known mechanisms whereby they can differentiate between toxins and other substances and they DO NOT have the ability to absorb nor release them. However, they are a source of fibre which contributes to the elimination of toxins via faeces.

Vicky Blog 22Our bodies are well designed with their own built-in mechanisms (think of the immune system and organs such as the liver and kidneys) to purify and remove waste products and toxins via sweat, urine and faeces. It’s best to focus on a healthy eating plan with adequate fibre and fluid to support your body’s own self-cleaning system. Meeting the recommendations of 30g fibre per day (with additional fluid) will aid a regular bowel motion. This can be achieved by increasing your intake of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds, and choosing high fibre breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread where possible.

2. I’m looking for an alternative to cow’s milk. Soya milk isn’t recommended for my type of cancer. Would almond or coconut be a good alternative?

As recently as 1980, 89 per cent of all milk consumed by British households arrived via the clink of a glass bottle on your doorstep in the early hours. The choice was simple – red or silver top?

Nowadays the choice has increased significantly to include soy, almond, rice, hazelnut, cashew, oat and coconut milk. Who would have thought nipping off to the shops to get a pint would prove so confusing?

Cow’s milk is one of the main sources of calcium in the diet but it also provides several other important nutrients including protein minerals such as phosphorus and vitamins including vitamin D, riboflavin and B12. While many non-dairy milk alternatives mimic cow’s milk in terms of drinkability and texture they don’t always have the same nutritional profile. For example, rice, coconut and almond milk are very low in protein (see table).

Most non-dairy alternatives are fortified with a range of nutrients commonly obtained from milk but do check the label. For example, organic alternatives are not nutritionally superior as they are not always fortified.

Finally, when choosing an alternative opt for an unsweetened version to minimise the sugar hit.

Vicky milk table

3. What types of foods contain phytoestrogens? 

Phyto-oestrogens are a subclass of flavonoids that have oestrogen-like properties (though not as strongly as oestrogen). Soybeans and soy foods such as tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and miso are the only significant dietary sources of these phytoestrogens although other sources include chickpeas and other beans.

Overall, isoflavones are thought to have beneficial effects on specific body organs such the breast, heart, bone and prostate. Research also shows isoflavones possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant effects. These properties have been associated with the maintenance of blood vessel flexibility and inhibition of rapid cell overgrowth which occurs in cancer development.

Replacing peas in your risotto/pasta with soy beans, introducing tofu into your meals or choosing soy yogurts are some simple ways to pump up the phytoestrogen content of your diet.

With reference to soya intake and cancer it is known that oestrogen can stimulate some breast cancers and thus there was a concern that foods containing natural phyto-oestrogens (mainly soy and soy products) might raise the risk of hormone-related cancers. Current evidence supports continued soya intake for breast cancer patients and survivors of breast cancer and 1-2 servings per day can be safely consumed (a serving = a cup of soy milk, soy yogurt or 80g edamame beans). Human studies show soy foods do not increase the risk and, in some cases, research suggests soy may lower the risk of recurrence in breast cancer survivors.

Please discuss with your healthcare team before including or excluding soy from your diet if you have any concerns.

4. What kinds of things can you eat to get calcium apart from milk and dairy products?

Most people instantly think of a glass of cold milk when asked about calcium-containing

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Nuts can be a good source of calcium

foods. While milk and dairy foods such as yogurt, fromage frais and cheese are excellent sources of calcium this is only the beginning of the story. Other good sources include fish with edible bones (think sardines, mackerel, pilchards), nuts such as almonds, tofu, and oranges and green leafy vegetables including kale, broccoli and pak choi. Composite meals (meals made up with a number of ingredients such as lasagne or quiche) can also be high in calcium (e.g. a serving of quiche can provide 300mg of calcium, over a third of an adult’s calcium requirements).

 

Many foods are fortified with calcium including Horlicks (600mg calcium per serving when made with water) and some breakfast cereals such as Ready Brek and Crunchy Bran, as well as fortified orange juice and some breads.

There are also some dietary components that can hinder calcium absorption and therefore the amount that is available to our bones and teeth. Spinach, nuts and seeds are a good source of calcium but they are also high in oxalates which bind to calcium to form insoluble complexes. Similarly phytates found in wheat bran, nuts, seeds and grains (e.g. maize) reduce the availability of calcium. However DO NOT start crossing these foods off your shopping list as they provide a variety of other nutrients important for health including fibre, minerals such as potassium, iron and Vitamin K. Instead, just ensure you spread your calcium intake throughout the day.

Clock up your calcium intake with these simple tips:

  • Enjoy a mid-morning cappuccino or latte with skimmed milk or a malted milk drink before bed.
  • Shake up a smoothie for breakfast with milk, fruit, oats and yogurt.
  • Ready Brek is fortified with calcium – a 30g serving with milk provides over 2/3 of your calcium needs
  • Add a handful of unsalted nuts to your cereal – almonds contain more calcium than any other nut.
  • Enjoy sardines on toast, but mash up the edible bones first.
  • Serve yogurt as a dessert or add to curries to boost calcium.
  • Try tofu as your Meatless Monday dish.

5. What other things can you eat for breakfast instead of toast, cereal and yoghurts?

Breakfast is the reason I get out of bed in the morning but to keep it exciting I do like to mix it up! I checked my cupboards while I was writing this and 10 boxes of cereal sit there proudly on the shelf. A close friend of mine, however, only ever has one box of Shreddies on the go and she has never strayed…. I mean never and I’ve known her over half my life!

If you’re like me and the thought of the same bowl of cereal every day doesn’t muster up any excitement here are some alternative ideas to break the breakfast boredom:

  • Pancakes with roasted or pan fried apple or peaches
  • Homemade nut and seed bars
  • Eggs and avocado on toast
  • Bubble and squeak cake with poached eggVicky Blog 28
  • Homemade breakfast bars
  • Ryvita with peanut butter and banana or cheese
  • French toast or eggy bread with pan fried peaches
  • Smoothies
  • Frittata – e.g mushroom and spinach frittata or red pepper frittata
  • Overnight oats or chia seed breakfast pot
  • Banana bread topped with mashed banana, peanut butter or just butter
  • Sweetcorn fritters with poached egg and bacon

6. Are there any good replacements for pulses and green leafy veg so that you can get the nutritional benefit without the …errrrr … effects on your digestive system? For example would a tablet/juice version be tolerated better than fresh?

While we know that eating more fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses etc., are beneficial for our health, for some people these foods play havoc with the digestive system, primarily due to the fibre content. There are different types of fibre in our diet and they each play a different role (For example, the fibre found in beans, pulses, flesh of fruit and vegetables, linseeds and oats form a gel in the stomach helping to soften stools, making it easier to go to the toilet and lowering cholesterol levels, while the ‘insoluble’ fibres found in the wheat bran, skins of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds can’t be digested, so they increase stool bulk and transit time, therefore preventing constipation).

Side effects of increasing intakes of fibre for people with digestive disorders can be excessive gas production, bloating and constipation and/or diarrhoea. For some people increasing their fibre intake slowly can minimise these unwanted symptoms.

If you are sensitive to fibrous foods removing the insoluble fibre could help alleviate some of these symptoms and therefore juices could play an important role in boosting fruit and vegetable intake without the unwanted extra! Some juicers extract the liquid content and vitamin and minerals from whole foods leaving behind the pulp and indigestible material (including the pith and seeds). Other juicers such as the Nutribullet, Nutri Ninja and Breville Blend Active use the whole food, breaking down the stems and seeds, retaining the soluble and insoluble fibre. These are more likely to cause you tummy issues if you are sensitive gut. Nothing beats homemade but commercial juices can be handy when out and about. However, do check the label and avoid those with added sugar.

While there is no evidence that fibre supplements are harmful, choosing natural fibre sources means you get the added bonus of the vitamins and minerals in them. Also fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes act as a fertiliser and feed our healthy gut bacteria. We know that the more diverse our gut bacteria the healthier we will be as a healthy balanced microbiome (community of bacteria in our large intestines) regulates our metabolism and immune system protecting us from infection. It also manufactures vitamins such as K and B12.

If you cannot tolerate common culprits such as onions, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli etc, try to include polyphenol rich fruits such as berries and red grapes, as well as olive oil and dark chocolate in your diet. Polyphenols are like a great big slab of cheesecake to our friendly bacteria – they love them!

7. Red meat: Yae or nae? I’ve been told by so many people to avoid it completely.

Red meat can be included and enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet. The hype and scaremongering follows evidence showing a link between eating red meat and an increased risk of bowel cancer and an increased risk of stomach cancer from processed meat. Consequently, current advice from the Department of Health is to reduce the amount of red meat from 90g per day to 70g per day (maximum 500g per week).

Red meat is beef, lamb, pork, veal and goat. Processed meats include meats that have been cured, smoked or had chemical preservatives added such as bacon, ham, chorizo, corned beef, sausage, pepperoni and burgers. Red meat is a great source of high quality protein and vitamin and minerals such as iron, selenium, zinc and vitamin B12.

Are you eating too much? Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2013-2014) suggest women are currently meeting the recommendations while men are exceeding them. So boys listen up and take note!

If reading this you are thinking “but what does this mean to me when I am in the supermarket?” or “how much should I put on my plate”?, here are some examples of various cooked meat products and their weights:

  • 3 thin slices of roast lamb/meat = 90g
  • 5oz rump steak = 102g
  • Slice of ham for a sandwich = 23g
  • 2 sausages (from a pack of 8) = 130g

For more information on portion sizes go to here.

If you feel you might be consuming too much red meat here are some simple ways to reduce the amount in your diet:

  • Replace all or some of the red meat in dishes with plant based proteins including beans and pulses e.g. use less mince in a cottage pie and replace with red lentils or cannellini beans.
  • Swap a ham sandwich for chicken, tuna or egg.
  • Try turkey mince instead of beef and see if anyone notices… (they probably won’t!).
  • Simply eat less: have two sausages instead of three and have an extra portion of vegetables to fill up the empty space.
  • Try to use more plant-based proteins such as nuts, tofu and grains such as quinoa. Try swapping your meatloaf for a nut loaf or your beef burger for a veggie burger.

 

Recipes

Overnight Banana and Pecan Oats

Vicky Blog 29

Overnight oats

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • Handful pecans
  • ½ banana sliced

Mix oats, milk and yogurt together. Spoon into pot. Layer with peanut butter, pecans and banana. Leave in fridge overnight. Enjoy!

Nutritious nut, fruit and oat bar

Ingredients:

  • 100g dates
  • 50g semi-soft apricots (chopped)
  • 50g walnuts (chopped)
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 150g oats
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 100g honey
  • 100g low sugar/salt peanut butter

Method:

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Nut, fruit and oat bars

  1. Heat dates in a saucepan with a few tablespoons water until soft and then mash (you may need to add more water)
  2. Heat honey and peanut butter gently in a pan and then add oats, almonds, apricots, walnuts and seeds.
  3. Add dates and stir well.
  4. Spread into greaseproof paper lined baking tray and press down firmly.
  5. Bake at 160 for @20 minutes.
  6. Remove and leave to cool completely before cutting into squares.

 

You can follow Victoria on Instagram and on Twitter

 

 

Take heart and raise awareness?

Has this happened to you?  You log on to Facebook and there’s a message from a friend asking you to place a heart as your status – no comment, just a heart. It’s for a breast cancer awareness day or week and is billed as an “act of solidarity”. But is it? And how does it feel to receive that message if you’ve already had breast cancer?

We know theses games are usually done with the best of intentions, but we had a big debate kick off online and in our private Facebook group last week.  “I’m SOOOO annoyed!” was a comment shared by many who asked, “does this really help to raise awareness?”. Others argued that anything to raise awareness of cancer is a good thing (and that the best thing to do is ignore the messages if you aren’t in a heart-shaped frame of mind).  One of our Shine members did, however, take things to a whole new (heart-stopping) level, by posting a picture of hearts drawn around her mastectomy scars. We love it when people go rogue – so we asked Bronwyn to tell us what was on her mind when she posted!  Read on to learn more!


Bronwyn.pngWhy did I do it?

I’ll admit, before being diagnosed with breast cancer late 2014, I used to perpetuate those silly Facebook “Breast Cancer Awareness” memes. Those coy, cryptic little messages that you get where you have to ask the person what the post is all about it.

The first one I remember doing was something to do with the colour of my bra. Why I was doing it then? If I’m being honest:  FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. Did I really care or know anything about breast cancer? Nope. By posting was I encouraged to find out more about breast cancer or help in anyway?  No. Were the people I was posting to? I really don’t think so.

Fast forward three years and it’s just gone midnight and I am impulsively painting pink hearts onto a scarred chest with my daughter’s pink glitter paint.  The same chest that has been decimated by the very disease that I couldn’t give a shit about before – except to post an ineffectual, silly comment on my Facebook wall. The hearts on my chest mimic this year’s Facebook trend of posting a pink emoji heart in your status.

I only saw two of these little hearts pop up on my own Facebook feed.  They niggled at me, but what bothered me more was the strong feelings they were stirring up in the cancer community I am now a part of – the same cancer community who literally saved my soul by providing an outlet in my year of treatment (and the continuing aftermath). They saw these emojis on their own Facebook feeds from friends and family who have never had cancer themselves.  They saw them as as pointless, lazy, careless, insensitive and serving no purpose except as acting as a cruel reminder. Something in my head snapped at midnight after reading a few days of this. I knew I had to do it right then because if I left it until the morning my sensible cautious side would have talked me out of it.

I needed those heartless hearts to stop. I needed to clap hard and loud in the faces of people who were posting them to wake them up. To show them the ugly reality of what cancer does, to shove it in their faces, and hopefully to make them see that this shit is real. I wanted to make them care. I wanted to make them do something beyond posting a silly little heart and pretending it means something or is going to change anything.

The support I got after posting was fantastic and positive and I am very proud that it was re-shared outside of my own Facebook echo chamber. But the comment that was the most meaningful to me was from a 35-year old woman that I worked with 7 years ago.  She had found some lumps and was referred to a breast clinic but then let it slide; she has now rescheduled her appointment for 21st February. That’s actually the type of “cancer awareness” I would hope for – that people are educated about when they should get their breasts (or any other part of their body) checked for lumps or if something just isn’t right.  A cryptic heart doesn’t do that.


bronwynBronwyn is originally from Cape Town, South Africa. She came to the UK in 2004 to travel and has been here ever since. Very happily married to a man who went through his own cancer experience eight years ago, she has a 4 year old daughter – a little miracle, as her husband was told they had virtually no chance of having children naturally after his cancer.

Bronwyn was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2014 and went through treatment throughout 2015 and 2016 which involved a mastectomy of the affected breast and removal of the lymph nodes there. This was followed by six sessions of chemotherapy over a long 5 months, 16 sessions of radiotherapy and removal of the other breast and her ovaries because she has the BRCA2 gene.  

 

 

Life, but not as you knew it: Running free

Here at Shine HQ, we’ve just launched our new campaign Smash it for Shine.  What’s it about? Getting out of your comfort zone and making 2017 your year – whether you want to learn something new, try something different, or just challenge yourself to make a change (no matter how big or small).  In our latest blog, our guest writer Vicky shares with us how running has helped her cope both mentally and physically with the shock of a throat cancer diagnosis – and how she plans to keep going until she rocks the Great North Run in September.  Have a read, get inspired and let us know how you’ll smash it this year. There are loads of ways to get involved (and we promise that most of them don’t involve running a half marathon!).


One day last September, I was diagnosed with throat cancer. What a shock – both for me and the medical team. I’m a fit and healthy married mother of two – I have never smoked and don’t drink (excessively!). Why, how, what if…all these questions flew through my mind for weeks…it’s not fair, what did I do to deserve this…blah blah blah. But there are plenty of blogs on all of that, so I wanted to chat about how my hobby, running, got me through it all.

vicky

Vicky and running buddy, Millie

I took up running about three years ago, going from being a complete non-runner (forged sick notes for my PE teacher, avoiding running for a bus etc.), to thinking that I needed a flexible form of exercise that fit in around my life. With childcare, being a committee member of the school PTA, and very busy career, I hardly had time to fit in exercise.

So I took up running using the “Couch to 5k” app. It wasn’t easy, I hated it and was often found having a quiet sob behind my sunglasses for the first mile or so. But eventually it got easier and as each month passed I could run further and a tiny bit faster. I looked forward to getting out in the fresh air and having 30-40 minutes to myself.

Three years later, I have run 2 half marathons (the Great North Run – GNR), countless Park Run mornings, and many, many 10km races. I joined a local running club and found the fun in running with a variety of people, all ages and abilities. I also told two of the running club leaders what I was going through, and received so much love and support from them – training and rest advice which really helped.

At the end of last year (2016) I managed to complete a virtual challenge – which was to run 1000km (621.4 miles), and my final race of the year was one week after my treatment. I ran a 5km seasonally named “Reindeer Run” on Christmas Eve.

During my initial tests, back in August 2016, I had my training plan for the Great North Run to keep me going, and it kept me focused. I knew I had to eat, get some rest and follow my training plan…despite being worried sick about what my diagnosis might be. I had two endoscopy procedures within four weeks of each other, and the first question I asked the consultant was “when can I go for a run?”

The big day arrived last year and I ran the GNR 10 days after my first endoscopy operation. My consultant thought that I was bonkers but agreed that I could do it. He told me that as my body was fit and active, it was okay to run as it wouldn’t be a shock to my system, and it might actually be good for me. That feeling after 13.1 miles was amazing. I ran a little slower than the previous year but that medal means more to me than any of others where I have achieved faster times.

vicky-gnr

Vicky and her 2016 Great North Run medal

I attended my follow up appointment (where I received my diagnosis) after I had run 5 miles earlier that morning, and it took my mind off the meeting with the oncologist. Running frees the mind, allows you to think about your breathing, and most importantly, if you find yourself a good running buddy, you can chat about random rubbish. The steps of running keeps you going. You can’t stop and cry mid-run, but I did have days when I felt I was running…. running fast… and angrily away from cancer.

I started radiotherapy at the wonderful Clatterbridge Centre, Wirral, in November…. six weeks of daily trips and treatment, with the target in my mind of continuing my running. I proudly told the nurse and radiology staff of my intentions, and they told me to listen to my body and take it easy. My oncologist and consultant have both commented on how being fit and focused has helped me tackle side effects and the treatment, and I do wonder if I might have suffered more if I wasn’t so fit?

My running slowed down during radiotherapy but I was out, in the fresh air, alive. Who cares how fast or how far you go, its getting out there that counts! Because of my treatment, I still have a sore throat and dry mouth, so my trusty water bottle comes with me, and I don’t beat myself up if I need to rest a little or walk a few steps. It’s still early days in terms of recovery and I’m happy to slowly build my fitness back up again.

vicky-gnr2

Vicky with her running crew

My message to anyone going through cancer is to consider keeping active and doing something you enjoy…that may be yoga, cycling or swimming, but during the days when you are waiting for appointments or for treatment to start, it’s a wonderful tonic to have a daily focus. Be prepared to slow down a little if you are going through treatment – even the super fit get their energy levels zapped with radiotherapy or chemo – but just enjoy the focus on your activity and put cancer out of your mind for an hour. Put on your trainers and get out there. Don’t let cancer beat you.

The running bug is still with me and I have booked races to run this year including three different 10km races and two more half marathons…..And I have been offered a charity place at this year’s Great North Run for Shine – how lovely is that? I will do my best to raise money and raise awareness of this wonderful charity.

So what are you waiting for? Get your trainers on!

If you’d like more information about how you can Smash it for Shine, take a look here.

Shine is the official charity partner of Virtually Geared, a virtual running company that will support you to reach your running goals – and send you a fancy medal once you’ve finished your challenge!

We currently have two places left to run for Shine in the 10 mile Great South Run in October 2017. If you’re interested in one of these places, drop us a line at fundraising@shinecancersupport.org.

 

Meet Jonathan!

There aren’t many jobs where having had cancer works in your favour, but here at Shine it strangely does. Today, our first ever Programme & Administrative Assistant, Jonathan, starts working with us and we couldn’t be more excited! We were delighted when we met Jon and found that he had both the skills and enthusiasm we wanted – and also that his own experience of cancer meant that he totally gets what our work means.

Jonathan grew up in Bournville, Birmingham (with the scent of Cadbury chocolate in the air!) going to drama classes, singing, playing the piano and building a huge Lego collection. He studied acting at university and is now based in Poole. Jonathan will be helping to ensure that everyone has a great time at Shine’s national events and that as many people as possible know about Shine’s work via social media. We asked Jon to write his personal experience of cancer so that we could all get to know him.  Read on to learn more!


What were you diagnosed with, and when?

jonathan-smith

Shine’s new Programme & Administrative Assistant, Jonathan

I was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour (pineal germinoma) in 2007 which had spread to my spine.

How did you find out that you had cancer?

Unquenchable thirst and un-ending trips to the ”porcelain throne” were my first strange symptoms in 2004. I was told constantly by my GP that I was a “healthy young man”. It was 2006, when my weight had dropped to below 7 stone and I’d begun to see double, that my GP finally referred me to eye hospital.

After identifying (and filming) a rare eye condition, the eye department sent me for a MRI scan which revealed a ”small benign lesion” pressing on my pituitary gland and optic nerve. A pituitary condition (diabetes insipidus) which was causing my water problems was also belatedly diagnosed.

On 27th March 2007, I woke up barely able to walk or speak, and emergency brain surgery finally revealed I had a malignant tumour.

What did you think and feel when you were diagnosed?

I had no idea what a “lesion” was or that it could mean “tumour” or “cancer”. I continued working for a year not thinking anything of it and just coping with the daily symptoms.

Everything changed following surgery as I understood that the tumour was life-threatening and what the treatment entailed. I always felt fortunate knowing that it was likely to be curable and I didn’t feel scared as I was determined to do everything to get through. But I was naive about what that would involve.

How did the people around you react?

People at work really supported me throughout the strange symptoms while I continued to work and once I began treatment. They took me out and visited when I was able and kept me sane.

My parents and family were there for me 100%. I moved in with my folks and there were times when they had to do everything for me. I reacted badly to medication and radiotherapy and changed so much with the hormonal effects and tiredness, but they were always positive that I’d return to my old self.  I know it was really difficult for them and my sister to see my anxiety and panic attacks but not once did I see them get upset or short-tempered with me. Legends!

What treatment did you have?

The brain surgery (an endoscopic third ventriculostomy) relieved the pressure on my brain. I was then put on high calorie drinks to increase my weight and strength in prep for six weeks of radiotherapy.  I was also on dexamethasone which caused my longest stay in hospital as I reacted badly to being weaned off the drug following treatment.

For a couple of years afterwards I still had regular tests to determine what hormones had been affected and I had six monthly MRI scans until 2012 to ensure the tumour was completely gone. Physiotherapy helped my walking and counselling helped me cope with the hormonal and emotional impacts of the illness.

How did you feel through treatment?

I felt in limbo after the surgery in March 2007 as I waited for radiotherapy to begin in July. I was determined to increase my weight but felt very apprehensive about the effects of the rays. Unexpectedly those three months also gave me time to sit back, to think, to appreciate the everyday things in life that you don’t notice when rushing about in work (I enjoyed the changing seasons). I felt really close to my parents as they cared for me day to day and I found comfort in creativity, drawing, writing and art.

Anxiety, tiredness, restless legs and other nervous system effects of medication and hormone deficiencies had the biggest impact. I became withdrawn, found talking very difficult, couldn’t tolerate loud noises, music, follow conversations or cope with any confrontations. During the withdrawal of dexamethasone I began to think my brain had gone AWOL as I had panic attacks and couldn’t cope with stimulus at all.

What happened after treatment finished?

It was tough getting my life back on track and returning to work, handling my new anxiety, energy and physical conditions and getting accustomed to being partially sighted. I developed techniques to manage the effects and to help me get used to my new day-to-day reality.

The support of friends and family was uplifting but my condition made it very difficult for me to socialise, and I felt pressure to return to “normal”. I felt a need to push myself, taking a new promotion within weeks of returning to work, which I wasn’t ready to cope with.

Starting a part-time Masters degree gave me something else to focus on and work towards other than just getting better. I was incredibly thankful that the medical profession were able to cure my tumour but also became very aware of my own mortality and that of people around me. I felt a responsibility to make the most of every second which also brings pressure.

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your treatment what would it be?

My advice to my pre-treatment self would be to value more the support of friends and family and to accept that you’re not going to be on top form when they see you; it won’t matter to them anyway. Oh, and to ditch the red paisley head scarf!

What excites you about working for Shine?

I’m really excited about joining with Shine to be able to contribute to others’ awareness of the help available through treatment, while recovering, and adjusting to the aftermath of cancer and also how it changes you. I appreciate how having cancer early in life interrupts everything, alters your outlook and future, and I also feel the unfairness of incurable diseases limiting lives that are just beginning. I’m motivated to make sure that others going through this are aware of all the great events and support Shine provides. I’m really looking forward to helping young people feel they’re not alone, that they can face this together, and to help them forget for a while the battles they’re having.

Any big plans for 2017?

2017 marks 10 years since my diagnosis. Although the tumour has left me partially sighted I’m enjoying better eyesight following a recent operation. I’ll also be testing a new drug to improve my hormonal jiggery-pokery. I’m making the most of moving from London to Dorset, where my parents and sister (and new nephew) live, and can’t wait for summer by the sea!

The lowdown on eating well

“Have you tried wheatgrass? How about kale smoothies?”

There is unlikely to be a cancer patient out there who hasn’t been on the receiving end of diet or nutrition advice – whether they asked for it or not. But what does “eating well” actually mean, and how can we do it? And does being healthy mean going raw or cutting out all the fun stuff (Gwyneth Paltrow, we’re looking at you!)?

Last month, we asked the members of our private Facebook group what questions they had about diet and nutrition and we were thrilled that registered dietician Victoria Francis took on the challenge of responding to them!  In her first blog for us, she’s answered 10 of questions and also given us a few healthy recipes (scroll to the bottom if you just want these).  Take a read and let us know what you think. Please do share the post – and share any yummy recipes you have with us as well!


1. You’re a registered dietitian. Can you tell us the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

The key differences are the qualifications and regulations imposed on the two titles.

victoria-francis

Guest blogger and registered dietitian Victoria Francis

Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals regulated by law and governed by an ethical code. This means that dietitians will always work to the highest standard, using the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease when advising people. Currently, due to a lack of regulation, anyone can practice under the title of nutritionist/nutritional therapist/nutrition advisor/ nutritional coach (etc., etc.!). There are many qualified nutritionists, some of who are also registered dietitians.  By no means am I suggesting you shouldn’t seek advice from a nutritionist – but you should check that they are registered with a professional body such as the UK Voluntary Register for Nutritionists.

Dietitians primarily work in a clinical setting in the NHS or the private sector in a variety of settings. Seeking advice from a Registered Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian is the gold standard and you can be assured that all advice discussed will be based on scientific evidence – not pseudo-science! Below, I’ve outlined the qualifications and registration with governing bodies the different nutrition titles need:

Dietitian
Qualification: BSc Hons. in Dietetics, or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or higher degree in Dietetics.
Governing body: Health Care and Professions Council

Registered nutritionist
Qualification: Undergraduate or post-graduate nutrition degree
Governing body: Association for Nutrition

Nutritionist/Nutritional Therapist/Holistic Food Coach
Qualification: None
Governing body: None

2. I’m looking for nutrition advice. How do I know that someone is legitimate and knows what they’re talking about?

To guarantee that the advice you receive is credible and evidence-based check what professional body people are registered with and what up-to-date insurance they have. In order to practice as a dietitian, a person has to be registered with the Health Care and Professions Council. Dietitians can also be found on the Freelance Dietitians website (www.freelancedietitians.org). This website lists all the dietitians registered with the HPC.

When looking for a nutritionist ensure they are registered with the UK Voluntary Register for Nutritionists (regulated by the Association for Nutrition).

3. So, what do you think about “clean eating”? 

Clean eating is facing a huge backlash in the media by health professionals who have a big issue with what it stands for and what it can create. The fundamental problem with clean eating is that it is not evidence-based. Food and health bloggers who promote clean eating tend not have any nutritional qualifications but rather want to share their own experiences. This isn’t science!clean-eating

The essence of “clean eating” is flawed as it suggests there is a single perfect way of eating which is essentially setting people up to fail. There are numerous “rules” such as the removal of whole food groups including dairy and gluten, which can lead to very restricted diets with likely nutritional deficiencies. Unless you have Coeliac disease you will not benefit from removing gluten from your diet. Many “clean eating” advocates advise you to replace sugar with “healthier alternatives” such as coconut sugar or maple syrup. To set the record straight: these are all sugar! The body will handle them all in exactly the same way. They are not a superior alternative, just a very expensive one!

Following a “set of rules”, for some people, can impact on their mental health. If they don’t conform to the rules then they feel that they have failed. If you want to eat healthier, reach your 30g fibre a day, reduce your sugar intake, etc. then go back to the basics. Its not sexy or new but it is realistic and achievable. Try to use fresh ingredients where possible, watch your intake of fat and sugar, and look at your eating habits. Aim for small realistic changes.

4. What are your thoughts on processed and fermented foods – especially processed meats and products like Actimel?

What do you think of when you hear the words “processed food”? Most of us think of unhealthy, high fat, high sugar and salty foods. While this may be true for some processed foods, there are many that provide good nutrition also.

Processed foods are “any food that has been altered from its natural state for either safety reasons (e.g. milk is pasteurised to remove bacteria), convenience or to preserve the availability of nutrients”. So breakfast cereals, cheese, milk, yogurts, bread, and tinned and frozen vegetables can all be called processed foods but do we don’t typically consider them unhealthy.

If we focus on red meat, there has been some recent guidance on how much we should be eating. The Department of Health has advised that people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day to cut down to 70g per day (or 500g per week). This is equivalent to two or three rashers of bacon, or a little over two slices of roast lamb, beef or pork, with each about the size of half a slice of bread.

Some fermented foods, such as yogurts, are sources of probiotics. The research into the health benefits of friendly bacteria from fermented foods is ongoing but evidence does show a healthy gut flora plays an important role in immunity and may offer protection against infections.

5. If you’re fighting fatigue and looking for an energy boost, what foods would you recommend (aside from sugar and caffeine!)?

Before we look at specific foods we need to first take a look at eating patterns. A slump in energy can be a sign that your blood sugar level has dropped a little. Eating little and often (e.g. three small meals with a couple of healthy snacks in between) can ensure that your energy and blood sugar levels are topped up. Try to eat something every 3-4 hours.

The foods you choose have a big impact on your energy levels and many of us fall for the “quick sugar fix” but when you’re looking for an energy boost you need the right balance of carbohydrates and protein.

When choosing carbohydrates, choose foods with a low Glycaemic Index (GI) such as lentils, oats, nuts, seeds, wholegrain bread, and brown pasta. These foods are broken down slowly by the body and their energy is released over a longer period of time whereas foods with a high GI (think sugar, honey, fizzy drinks, white bread, potatoes) are broken down quickly and the sugar released quickly. Protein is also known to be broken down slowly so adding protein to a carbohydrate snack/meal will ensure a slower release of energy

Good snack ideas include cheese and apple, a handful of nuts and fruit, a slice of wholegrain bread or oatcakes with hummus/nut butters/boiled egg, and Greek yogurt with fruit and sprinkling of seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower.

Also, make sure you stay hydrated! Dehydration is thought to be the cause of one in 10 cases of unexplained tiredness. Alcohol also dehydrates you. Aim for 6-8 glasses of fluid per day.

 6. A lot of people claim that sprouting foods like alfalfa and broccoli are extremely high in nutrients. Is this true?

Sprouting is the process whereby seeds germinate and are eaten either raw or cooked. Bean sprouts tend to be the first that come to mind when we think of sprouting but many foods can be sprouted including barley, wheat, spelt, rye, oats, lentils, peas, and pinto and kidney beans, sesame and sunflower seeds, almonds and broccoli.

These foods are all nutrient rich but are not always superior to their non-sprouted counterpart. Rather than focusing on sprouting seeds, a good starting point is to aim for your five-a-day and to include more plant-based foods in your diet where possible. This can be done by adding nuts and seeds to your salads or adding beans to your soups and stews etc.

7. If you’re looking to boost your iron intake, what foods would you recommend?

Iron is an important mineral, needed to make red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body.  Simple ways to boost your iron levels include:

  • Consuming iron rich foods such as red meat, fish, poultry, beans such as kidney or haricot, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals daily.
  • Adding a handful of nuts or seeds such to your bowl of cereal, your pot of yogurt or salads.
  • Ensuring you have fruit and/or vegetables with every meal as vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron. You could have a small glass of juice with your breakfast, a bowl of fruit salad after your meals or just an extra helping of leafy green vegetable such as kale with your meals.
  • Try adding haricot or kidney beans to your stew or soup to bump up the iron. A great tasty alternative to mashed potato is parsnip and cannellini bean mash.
  • Eating breakfast cereals are fortified with iron (except for muesli and granola).
  • Adding a boiled an egg or two to your breakfast for an iron boost. Or take a boiled egg for a snack later in the day

Some foods can make it harder for your body to absorb the iron in your diet such as tea and coffee (due to tannins), milk and some wholegrains. Try to avoid drinking tea or coffee at least 1 hour either side of your meal.

8. If you’re avoiding sugar, are alternatives like honey a good idea?

In a word, no.

“Sugar” loosely refers to several sweet carbohydrates such as monosaccharides, disaccharides or oligosaccharides. The sugar that you put in your tea or on your cereal is made up of two simple monosaccharide units (glucose and fructose) joined together to form the disaccharide sucrose. Honey similarly contains both glucose and fructose and has similar caloric content to sugar. Honey and maple syrup are often promoted as “natural” or “unprocessed” and therefore healthier or superior. But sugar is a natural product, made from sugar beet and sugar cane. The body does not differentiate between maple syrup, coconut sugar etc. and so all of them still raise blood sugar levels similarly to sugar.

Instead of searching for a “healthier alternative”, a starting point could be reducing the cereal-fruitoverall amount of sugar your currently use. You can do this by gradually reducing the amount of sugar you have in your tea or, if you like honey on your porridge, try adding stewed fruit instead.

9. What are your thoughts on raw food diets?

The principle behind raw food diets is that all foods should be unprocessed, unrefined and not heated to above 44c. The theory is that if the enzymes within foods are preserved, this will aid digestion and offer health benefits to your body. Foods allowed on a raw diet therefore includes whole foods such fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains and some pulses and grains. Raw diets are largely vegan, although some advocates do include raw unpasteurized milk, raw meat and raw fish.

So, does the evidence stack up? It is widely agreed that a diet rich in plant-based foods including fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and pulses, with less reliance on meat and fish, can offer protection against some diseases such as cancer and heart disease. BUT the evidence is scarce for choosing uncooked, raw foods only. In fact, we know that cooking increases the bioavailability of some nutrients such as lycopene (highest concentration in cooked tomatoes) and betacarotene (carrots).

Choosing a raw food diet could put you at risk of specific nutritional deficiencies including vitamin B12 (found mainly in animal products), calcium and iron, and protein intakes tend to be low on such a diet.

Coconut oil is often promoted on raw diets, but despite the recent health claims, coconut oil is still 90% saturated fat. Eating uncooked foods or unpasteurized milk/cheese should be avoided if you have a compromised immune function and, from a food safety point of view, eating uncooked foods can put you at risk of food poisoning.

Another fad diet? I think so! Take the sensible principles such as increasing your intake of plant-based foods but have an extra portion of pumpkin seeds sprinkled over your pan-fried salmon salad.

10 Do you have any tips on sneaking in your 5 a day?

Before we discuss how to reach your 5 a day lets remind ourselves what is classed as a portion.

The following class as a portion (80g):

  • 1 medium sized piece of fruit e.g. 1 apple/orange
  • 2 small fruits e.g. 2 plums
  • 80g beans and pulses such as chick peas, kidney beans
  • 80g fresh, frozen or tinned vegetables
  • 30g dried fruit

berries-and-porridgeThe obvious way is to reach your 5-a-day is to choose fruit or vegetables as a snack. As much as I know this, however, I personally like a biscuit with my cuppa…so I need to ensure my meals are packed with portions of fruit or vegetables. Here are a few tips:

  • Add chopped dates, apricots or stewed apples to a bowl of porridge. Add sliced strawberries to your bran flakes or banana to your Weetabix.
  • Make pancakes with added blueberries in the mixture.
  • Have chopped crudités with your sandwich at lunch such as cherry tomatoes (x8) or carrot sticks (1/2 medium carrot)
  • Serve all main meals (where appropriate) with a side salad
  • Add a tin of haricot beans or chickpeas to slow cooker meals
  • Mix mashed potato with a tin of cannellini beans for a Shepherd’s pie topping or mix mashed carrot and swede.
  • Try to have have three different vegetables with your main meal.
  • Bulk out your Bolognese mix with a good couple of handfuls of frozen vegetables (this means the meat goes further, you lower the fat, and you increase the fibre too!)
  • Make your own tomato sauce with fresh or tinned tomatoes, chopped carrots, courgettes, onions and herbs. Once blitzed no one will know!
  • Remember that soup is such a great vehicle for veggies.

If you are struggling for a healthy snack then below is a recipe for a fruit and nut bar that I like to make. The combination of whole grains, fruit, nuts and protein make for a healthy, nutritious and sustaining snack!

Nutritious nut, fruit and oat barbars

Ingredients
100g dates
50g semi-soft apricots (chopped)
50g walnuts (chopped)
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
150g oats
60g ground almonds
100g honey
100g low sugar/salt peanut butter

Method

  1. Heat dates in a saucepan with a few tablespoons water until soft and then mash (you may need to add more water)
  2. Heat honey and peanut butter gently in a pan and then add oats, almonds, apricots, walnuts and seeds.
  3. Add dates and stir well
  4. Spread into greaseproof paper lined baking tray and press down firmly
  5. Bake at 160 for @20 minutes
  6. Remove and leave to cool completely before cutting into squares


Midweek meatloaf

This meatloaf uses turkey mince instead of beef, so it’s a great choice if you are trying to reduce your red meat intake. The basic recipe was inspired by a recipe on the BBC Good Food website but I tweaked it to boost the nutrient content. I use whole grain oats and oatmeal to increase the fibre content and whole grains and more tomato puree (an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene) than originally suggested.

Ingredients
500g turkey mince
1 large onion
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp tomato puree
Dried oregano
75g old fashioned oats
25g oatmeal
1 egg, beaten

Method

Pan fry onion and garlic cloves in rapeseed or olive oil until soft (5 minutes). Then combine with all other ingredients and place into a prepared loaf tin (greased or use greaseproof paper). Cook at 180C (160C fan) for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with green vegetables and potatoes.

Victoria is a freelance dietitian who splits her time between NHS work, her private practice and bringing up her young family. She firmly believes that when it comes to diet and nutrition there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. She works with clients to help them achieve their diet and lifestyle goals, using evidence based nutrition advice!

For more information about her services see her website here.  You can follow her on Twitter here or on Instagram here