The 5:2 diet – have we finally found THE diet?



The 5:2 diet, otherwise known as ‘the fast diet’ has become very quickly the talking point of recent times. There is a vast quantity of popular diets, but this one really does seem to be the best so far. Speaking as a nutritionist, i’m not interested in fad diets that make bold claims about quick weight loss, especially those which involve some form of food restriction and make no mention of physical activity. However, this diet falls very much in line with all that I agree with – no food item restriction, no ‘fast’ results (though it does prove to be constant in terms of weight loss – and that at safe levels), no insistance on eating certain food products/groups. Not only does it also promote exercise as part of the diet, but it provides nutritional and health information on their website ( Plus, it was created by the respected Dr Michael Mosley (along with the journalist, Mimi Spencer), the well-known Doctor and BBC presenter on such programmes such as ‘The truth about exercise’ and ‘Eat, fast and live longer’ – programmes that are unbiased and evidence based.

What the diet involves:

The 5:2 diet involves two days of ‘fasting’ in the 7-day week, to which there should be at least 1 non-fasting day between the fasting days. The term ‘fasting’ they use isn’t actually a complete fast, but a day of seriously reduced calorie intake (500kcal for women, 600 for men), whilst the other 5 days are free to eat anything you want in the quantities you wish. Suggested meals for the fasting days include scrambled eggs and ham for breakfast, and vegetables and salmon for dinner.

What this diet is based on:

This diet came out of a trial that Dr Michael Mosley did upon himself whilst working on a fasting programme on horizon (link below). He at first was sceptical, found the diet to prove rather interesting. Christianity, as well as Islam and other faiths speak of fasting as a discipline, which can be enjoyed as part of a normal lifestyle, so this idea is not a new fad. The idea of intermittent fasting has been looked at in terms of aiding chemotherapy success in cancer patients, where fast for 2-4 days before the treatment has shown to slow the rate of tumor growth. This research was mainly carried out in rats and mice, with limited work on humans, and therefore cannot be taken as reliable in anyway. Long-term studies of intermittent fasting should of course be taking place, and are taking place according to Dr Michael for us to get a realistic idea of long-term effects.

Dieting should involve two things – calorie restriction, and increased physical activity (assuming one is eating in accordance with NHS guidelines on a healthy lifestyle – Calorie restriction should be at 1200-1400 calories per day for the duration of weight loss, and then gradually increasing it when at your desired weight. Physical activity should be around 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity (where you can’t sustain a conversation with someone) or 75 minutes of high intensity. Recent research has also shown that the same results can be reached at a level of 10 minutes ultra-intense exercise spread over 3 days, where your heart rate is about 90% of its working capacity (i.e. cycling at a high resistance at your very hardest for six 30-second bouts, 3 times a week). The whole aim is to re-program your psychology towards food and physical activity.

A quote from their website:

“For people in good health intermittent fasting should be no problem. There are, however, certain groups for whom intermittent fasting is not advised. Type 1 diabetics are included in this list, along with anyone suffering from an eating disorder. If you are already extremely lean, do not fast. Children should never fast, so this is a plan for over-18s only. Pregnant women should eat according to government guidelines and not limit their daily calorie intake. If you are on medication of any description, please see your doctor first, as you would before embarking on any weight-loss regime.”


Eat, fast and live longer –

BBC interview with Dr Michael Mosley about the diet –

Article by Mimi Spencer about the diet –



Slimming world – is it good for me?




Slimming world is a whole-world diet – it combines all the different elements of diet programmes into one large package – meal plans, recipe cards, ‘free foods’, ‘healthy extras’, exercise regimes, classes and online content. It seeks to put you in control, stepping away from giving you a target and telling you what you can/can’t eat and allowing you to make the choices you want. The suggestion is to eat when you are hungry, until your appetite is satisfied – that means eating as much as you want, when you want, with no restrictions.

What the diet involves:

Food and drink

The aim is not to be told what your target weight should be, nor what you should/shouldn’t eat, but allows you to eat anything you want at any time, to quell you hunger until it is satisfied (any time, day or night). They have no calorie counting etc, and have a large database of useful recipes. They do however have a list of ‘free foods’ and ‘healthy extras’. ‘Free foods’ are those to which they recommend eating to satisfy your hunger, and say you can eat as much of these items as you like. ‘Healthy extras’ are similar, but are those which they recommend to give you a higher micronutrient intake (e.g. calcium in milk). The following lists are examples of foods in these two categories.

Free Foods – Potatoes, honey-roast ham, meat, pickled onions, beetroot, swede-topped cottage pie, leeks, bacon, eggs, baked beans, spaghetti, various fruits, pasta, toffee, soy sauce, etc.

Healthy extras – porridge, reduced-fat cheddar cheese, mozarella cheese, shredded wheat bitesize, wholemeal bread, sugar-free muesli, alpen light cereal bars, semi-skimmed milk, etc.


They have a ‘Body Magic’ programme that guides you through how to increase your exercise/movement in a daily basis, at a rate that is suitable for you, whether its slow and steady over a long period, to regular high intensity classes.

Good points:

The plan has many great points to it. Firstly, there is much to be said for a social network associated with dieting and exercise (this can of course can be easily achieved by making a friend at an exercise class, going for a run with a friend, the support of friends/family in eating differently etc). Motivation is one of the biggest factors in diet and exercise, and the more we are motivated by those going through the same thing, or simply supporting us, can be hugely influential. The large database of recipes is a great resource, particularly as it can be hard to come up with meal plans when eating differently to what you are used to/other family members. The lack of pressure they put forward is also great, as it removes a lot of possible guilt/failure from building up when you don’t achieve targets. The exercise plans are also fantastic in that they recognise that we are all at different stages, abilities and health conditions, and to take you from where you are is the most important factor in building your health through exercise.

Health warnings:

As this diet does not specify any foods to omit from your diet, nor does it recommend eating specific foods/food groups, there are no specific health warnings. However, there is much to be said for their ‘free food/healthy extra’ lists. Living a healthy lifestyle does indeed mean no restriction on what you can eat, but it does mean eating a balanced diet of all food groups, and ensuring that you are taking in adequate quantities and varieties of fruits and vegetables to keep your micronutrient intake high. It also involves doing a good level of moderate to high intensity exercise (though this is variable depending on age and disease state). The list of free foods are mainly comprised of fruits and vegetables, which is a very positive list of things to consume when you are hungry. However, the list comes without education on the benefits/drawbacks of consuming certain foods. Potatoes and pasta for example are high carbohydrate sources, and can be detrimental to health if consumed at large quantities over a long period. This is due to their high glucose content, sending your body into a dramatic hormone release to reduce sugar levels, then bring them back up again. A constant battering of these high carbohydrate foods can result in the onset of Type II Diabetes and Heart Disease. Also, if you want to lose weight, the key is to have a slightly lower intake then your output. For example, if you want to lose a stone, then you should reduce your calorie intake (as a rough estimate of food intake) to about 1200-1400 calories per day, whilst exercise 3-4 times a week at a moderate-high intensity, and this over a long period of time (at a rate of a couple of lbs a week).


It is a relatively safe diet and exercise program, that does things on a slow, casual basis. One drawback would be the financial investment you have to make to the program, and as  the diet program is long-term, so would your financial contribution be. The speed and intensity of the diet/exercise program is down to you, with support and advice from specialist consultants in the classes/online. I would advise you talk to a nutritionist/GP before undertaking their meal plans, as eating as much as you like of certain foods can carry health risks, not to mention a probably slowing of achieving your target weight.


Should those who are more proactive in health get NHS priority?

ImageYesterday, controversially, the think-tank Demos made a statement regarding health and the NHS. They believe that, according to the high cost to the NHS of preventable non-communicable diseases such as type II diabetes and heart disease, as well as smoking and the overconsumption of alcohol, the NHS should be given power to differentiate priority in terms of treatment and GP appointments. They state that those who make a conscious effort to live a healthy lifestyle as deemed by their Tesco clubcard records and gym memberships should be given priority over those who do not.

We live in an era of great medical advancement, and thus our people are living longer. This is a wonderful thing for us all to enjoy, but it does increase the pressure of the NHS as to who priority must be given to, especially as resources are becoming increasingly thin.

The NHS has been the best thing that has happened to the British people for decades – to have free health care for all is essential, and though it has its flaws, we all gratefully recieve what it has to offer when we or someone close to us becomes ill.

The ironic thing with this statement from Demos, is that those who live a healthy lifestyle tend to need the NHS less. Diseases such as type II diabetes, heart disease, obesity and some cancers are preventable by changing ones lifestyle (in the most part). However, to mark one as living a healthy lifestyle according to their clubcard record and gym membership is somewhat of an arbitrary, and quite frankly, useless gauge of identifying a persons lifestyle. Tracking someones clubcard record gives little evidence of what they actually consume – for you may be part of a large family, where one person eats just a small percentage of what was on the food bill, you may eat at a restaurant, at another house, purchase food from a different supermarket, or in its simplest of failings, forget to use the clubcard when purchasing the food. Gym membership also appeals to a small handful of us, and of that handful, only a small percentage use it regularly, for the rest of us sit in guilt for not using the gym whilst we are being charged for the privilege (at an extortionate rate might I add).

In conclusion, I do believe that something needs to be done as NHS resources are thin – but surely encouraging those who aren’t living a healthy lifestyle to eat better and exercise more regularly would be of better value? For a start, I would encourage all medical professionals to understand the effects of diet and exercise on disease and not just look to an easy, quick fix of some pharmaceutical products.

What are your thoughts?

Read more about it here:

The Dukan Diet – it works, but is it good for your body?



The Dukan Diet is a diet designed by the Frenchman Pierre Dukan, a nutritionist and specialist of Food Behaviour. It is a long-term diet complied of four phases, lasting over a year. The idea is to bring man/woman back to the primitive diet we had when we were cavemen, hence it involves a list of 100 foods – 72 from the animal world, and 28 from the plant world. These foods only are to be adhered to at the times determined in each phase, and are all considered those which you can ‘eat as much as you like’. They are low in lipids (fats) and carbohydrates (sugars). Exercise is heavily recommended as part of the diet. Oat bran is required to be consumed every day of the diet at the given quantities.

What the diet involves:

phase 1 (attack phase) – Lasting 5-10 days depending on your tailored plan. This phase eliminates ALL foods except those on the accepted list of 72 foods of the animal kingdom (thus protein only – meat, fish, eggs, etc). You must also eat 1.5 tablespoons per day of oat bran. This is your only source of carbohydrate in this phase. You are required to drink at least 1.5 litres of water each day, and do a minimum of 20 minutes exercise. It is common to have health side effects in this stage, as well as hunger pangs.

Phase 2 (cruise phase) – A similarly short period of time until you achieve your ‘target’ weight. It consists of a mixture of pure protein days and vegetable + protein days in a cycle of either 5 protein then 5 protein + veg, or 1day protein then 1 day protein + veg. Again, it is necessary to consume oat bran each day, this time at 2 tablespoons per day. 30 minute exercise per day is preferred in this phase.

Phase 3 (consolidation phase) – Now a time to re-introduce other foods back into the diet as you have achieved your target weight. It is to maintain your new weight in a more controlled manner. For each pound you have lost, you are to stay in this phase for 5 days (you lost 10 pounds – therefore you need to be in this phase for 50 days). You must adhere to the following rules precisely in this phase: 1 portion of fruit per day, 2 pieces of wholegrain bread per day, 40g of cheese per day (NOT goats cheese/camembert/roquefort), 2 portions of starchy products per week (NOT whiterice/potatoes), pork/lamb once a week, 2 ‘celebration’ (whatever you want) meals per week, 1 pure protein day per week. Again, 2.5 tablespoons of oat bran per day in this phase.

Phase 4 (stabilisation phase) – You can eat whatever you want for 6 days of the week, but you MUST continue on with 1 day of pure protein (plus oat bran). Keep exercising regularly, eat 3 tablespoons of oat bran everyday, stick to ‘light’ products, eat slowly, try not to take seconds, and drink plenty of fluids. If you start gaining weight, you are to increase your pure protein days to 2 days a week to keep you on track.

Good points:

– It’s not a crash diet (though the attack phase is similar)

– It pays attention to some strong recommendations (plenty of water, consummation of oat bran, eating lean protein)

– it works, PROVIDING you stick rigorously to the plan.

– Oat bran really is a very good food item – it lowers the risk of diabetes, lowers the absorption of cholesterol and thus reduces the chance of heart disease, it is high in fibre and thus is important for gut mobility, satiety (feeling fuller for longer) and bulks out food.

– It recommends exercise

Health warnings:

Cutting out whole food groups is never advised – we need all food groups for health, but of course all in their respective percentages. To have a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for a short time (1 week for instance) is effective, but any longer than this and there will be health risks associated to it.

Fruit is an essential part of our diet. To not consume any until phase 3 is not healthy, and leaves you missing out on a large array of polyphenols (characterised by colour) which have numerous benefits for health and reducing disease risk.

It puts across the message that in order to live ‘healthily’ you must follow a certain plan. A healthy lifestyle does not require the exclusion of any food items at any time, but a correct balance of the different food groups, with a weight towards fruits and vegetables, good quality protein (meat, fish, beans, pulses) and water. Other products such as dairy products, chocolate etc are to be enjoyed but at a much lower intake.

The diet does not take into consideration the requirement for fat, nor provide teaching on the science of what different types of fat do to the body, and how we can enjoy them as part of a healthy diet.

There are health repercussions when consuming purely protein foods for a day or more – many have reported health issues during the attack phase. Also the diet can be difficult to maintain as it can go on for a very long time – thus many do put back on the weight they lost in the attack phase, some increasing past the weight they started with.

A diet such as this can be very costly, particularly the purely protein attack phase! Also it can be awkward when cooking for a partner/family/friends.


Of the diets which are out there, it is one of the better, more health orientated diets. However, i would not recommend it to anyone for the reasons above. It is desperately important to be aware of what different food items do to the body, for good or for bad, and thus going into a diet without an explicit knowledge of this can be dangerous. Please do consult an accredited Nutritionist or health professional before embarking on a diet.


Dieting – good or bad?


All of us feel the pang of needing to diet, especially after a long hard winter that we get all too often in the UK.. But what is the truth about dieting? Are they right? Are they good for our body? Do they work? Is there another way? Can we lose weight whilst eating everything we want?

This series of posts is designed to look at the truth about various popular diets that are out there – the good things, the bad things, and my verdict as a nutritionist as to whether I would recommend them or tell you to steer well clear of them.

The basic fact that we all know, is that everything comes at a cost. It’s just the way of life, and sadly, this is all too true of health. We know we want to be, nay, need to be fit, yet we also know that in order to achieve this, we need to be active. The knowledge of knowing what we should do and the actual reality of doing it are often two worlds away, and an incredibly complex mix of physiological needs and psychological notions. For if we know we need to exercise in order to get fit, we have to overcome every part of our conscious and no doubt our subconscious that despite the weather, despite our emotions, despite the stresses and strains of life, we need to get moving. And not just moving – we need to stretch ourselves so that we can’t hold a conversation, we need to push our heart to beat somewhere in the realm of 50-80% of its maximum ability (220 beats per minute minus your age).

Also our body is ridiculously complex. Of the millions of cells we have, there are thousands of processes happening in each one every second, cell death, cell life, and yet nearly all entirely without our conscious awareness. It is utterly incredible in every way. Thus a simple aim of losing weight or gaining fitness or eating well are never simple aims with simple solutions. There is an unknown depth of detail that occurs every moment of every day and when we try and change our lifestyle, our body reflects this in numerous utterly complex ways – ways we have a long way to go in understanding.

So as we look at each of these diets, bear in mind their complex effect on the body – some for its benefit, but many for its detriment. If we are to live a healthy lifestyle, we must treat our body with respect, and deal with the fact that the slower the change, the better it is for our body.

Diets we are looking at:

Dukan diet

Slimming world

Weight watchers

The GI diet



Children’s health – early years to adulthood

Following on from my previous post about children’s health, this post covers the remaining years of childhood through to adulthood. There is a great demand upon the body in this phase due to growth, and then extra demands as puberty comes in to play. The following covers points of particular importance for this growth phase, but do note that a well-balanced diet with plenty of exercise is crucial. Iron is also absolutely essential, particularly for females. Iron can be found in red meat, liver, shellfish etc, and is almost always fortified in cereals.



It is largely unknown quite how important bone health is, ESPECIALLY during growth. Each person has a ‘peak bone density’ – around the age of 30 you have stored up as much bone strength as possible, then from this point onwards, bone starts to deteriorate. Very slow at first but as the years go on, the rate of deterioration increases. For women, the big drop happens after menopause, whereas men decrease more steadily. The lower the peak bone density, the less bone you have to play with – i.e. you will have a lower bone density as time goes on compared with someone who had a higher peak bone density. So what does this mean practically? Its desperately important to build bone up to the age of 30 through the following nutrients and a lot of exercise which stresses and strains the bones encouraging growth and reformation. The better the bone state, the lower the risk of bone conditions later in life (osteoporosis).

Calcium – essential component of bone
(Milk, dairy products, seeds, green leafy vegetables)

Vitamin D – essential for the building of bone, strengthening of muscles, whole variety of whole body benefits.
(Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna)

Magnesium – influences bone formation
(Bran, dark chocolate, seeds)

Fluoride – assists in development of bone and teeth, stimulates new bone formation and protects existing bone.
(Grape juice, spinach, tinned tomatoes, toothpaste!)

Protein – collagen in bone.
(Red meat, beans, pulses)

Negatives to bone formation:

– Phosphoric acid in fizzy drinks – reduces absorption of bone.
-Skipping breakfast
– Anorexia/bulimia
– Smoking
– Crash dieting

Children’s health – from pre-birth to the early years


We are deeply aware of how important the issue of obesity in children is, yet we may not know the specifics of why this has occurred and what we can do about it. In the UK, almost 1 in 3 children under 10 are classed as overweight or obese, with similar numbers in the teenage years. Things have gone too far and its time to turn back the clock. The thing is, it is becoming increasingly obvious that health starts from the earliest of ages, not only in terms of what they learn to cook and eat, but also in what their mother ate whilst they were still in the womb. So if I were to have a child, what should I be doing to ensure they are of optimum health for as long as they live?


As an adult yourself, keep fit – it has been recorded many times that obese women have higher birthing complications than those of normal weight. Eat well, make sure you consume plenty of fruits and vegetables etc as a normal healthy diet. It is also recommended that those who are trying for pregnancy should be taking 400mg folic acid per day right through to the end of the first trimester – this is to prevent neural tube defects in the developing foetus (where the neural tube doesn’t close properly)


Continue taking 400mg/d folic acid to the end of the first trimester. Eat a well balanced diet and stay fit, also avoid alcohol and smoking – both can be detrimental to the developing foetus. A chap called Dr. Barker discovered a link between the environment of the womb and the weight outcome of the baby, and therefore health risk later in life. He discovered that the nutritional input of the mother had very specific effects on the foetus by acting as ‘cues’ – literally switching on and off certain genes in the foetus such that the baby is prepared for an environment outside the womb as it has inside the womb. Therefore PLEASE eat a well-balanced diet, plenty of fruits and vegetables, wholegrain products where the option is available, lots of water, good quality meat (though keep the red meat intake low), low salt and sugar, and a good intake of polyunsaturated fat (found in oily fish such as mackerel,salmon and tuna).

First 6 months:

Exclusive breastfeeding is the current recommendation from the World Health Organisation. This of course is assuming that there are no complications to breastfeeding, but they advise persisting for a good while as it can take a number of attempts to first latch on before the baby takes it up. If complications do persist then make sure you are well-informed with the different types of formula milk – do consult your midwife/health advisor for this (the inclusion of galacto-oligosaccharides is crucial for the development of gut health, though most formulas tend to include this now). Do NOT give any other liquids to the child in this period.

6 months – 24 months:

Continue to breastfeed, whilst introducing other liquids and more solid foods. Bring in as much variety as possible as it is important to give a child a wide a palate as possible. The more variety the better, though it may take many attempts for a child to first take up a food. Do keep persisting, as this is a normal process and they do take food well once they decide they like it! There are also some great follow-on formulas available on the market.

The early years:

Continue to give a child as much variety as possible, as they start to take more solid foods their range can become much bigger again so do keep things steady. Also it’s desperately important to include your baby/child as part of your normal mealtime. There is MUCH to be said for eating as a family around the table – a time to socialise together and strengthen the family unit. At this early stage of growing they need all the nutrients they can get, so keep things varied, particularly the fruits and vegetables they eat – the more colours the better as each colour contains a different polyphenol in which contributes to health and protection from disease.

More on the later child and teenage years in the next post…