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Every Tuesday - Britain's leading nutritionist, Jane Clarke, explains how to eat your way to health. This week she tackles dark circles under the eyes, the best breads and whether to eat eggs for breakfast:
For many years I have had dark circles around my eyes. Recently I have been told that certain foods could contribute to these. Is this true and what type of foods should be avoided? Louise Woods, Chelsfield, Kent.
Dark rings can be a sign of an iron deficiency anaemia. This is a terribly common problem — anaemia is the most common nutritional problem in the world — but is easily treated in the majority of cases by eating the right foods.
Anaemia is a sign that not enough oxygen is getting to the body tissues. There are several types of anaemia, but iron deficiency is the most common.
Our bodies need iron to manufacture haemoglobin, the red pigment which carries oxygen to the cells. Dark circles alone do not indicate anaemia, you will also suffer from constant tiredness, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, poor memory, frequent colds and infections, and pale skin.
It’s something that generally affects women more than men - partly because of the menstrual cycle. But it’s also because eating red meat, one of the richest sources of iron, is somewhat unfashionable — red meat is thought to be ‘bad’ for your heart and bowels.
In fact, if the meat is lean and good quality, it can be a perfectly healthy food and I still eat it. At this time of year my body starts to crave it - as if it knows it needs plenty of iron to help keep up with the busy demands of motherhood.
If you suspect you are iron deficient see your GP for a simple blood test and to eliminate other potential causes of anaemia such as an ulcer.
If you do lack iron, you might be prescribed iron supplements. It’s also a good idea to look at boosting your iron intake.
The best sources of iron are liver (although it is not recommended during pregnancy), lean red meat including venison, egg yolks, dried and tinned beans including baked beans, lentils and chickpeas (hummus is perfect).
Other good sources include soya mince, seaweed, fortified breakfast cereals, seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower, dark green leafy vegetables such as Savoy cabbage, dried apricots, figs, oatmeal, prunes, broccoli, asparagus, wholemeal bread and brown rice.
Unfortunately, the body doesn’t readily absorb iron from non-meat sources, but vitamin C will help.
The secret is to eat vitamin C-rich foods in the same meal - this means vegetables that are as fresh and as lightly cooked as possible, especially peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mangetout and broccoli, and fruits such as kiwis, blueberries, blackcurrants, papaya, oranges and mangoes.
Note that the tannin in tea inhibits the absorption of iron, so avoid having tea with a meal and for a good hour before and after.
Some people say that dark circles are a sign of food intolerance. But while food intolerance can explain some conditions - such as eczema and IBS - dark rings is not one of them.
If you’ve had these dark rings for years, it could be that age rather than diet is the cause. As we get older our skin becomes thinner. To some degree this process is controlled by our genes and family patterns, but it’s also influenced by things that damage the skin, such as smoking.
I’ve been trying to lose 4st for some time and I try to stay off bread, but it is my weakness. What would be the lowest calorific bread that I could have? I have a bread maker and if I could make some ciabatta it would be fantastic. I want to make bread that the rest of the family will eat. Rosey Davison, by e-mail.
Bread, even white bread like those delicious crusty French baguettes, can still be part of a weight-loss diet — the key is to avoid eating too much.
Choosing which bread to eat can make the difference. I don’t think many people realise that there are the same number of calories in a slice of wholemeal bread as in white — where they differ is in their satisfaction value.
Wholemeal bread, because it is higher in fibre, tends to swell in the stomach (especially if you drink water, too), leaving you feeling more satisfied and fuller for longer.
Eating white bread, meanwhile, can leave you feeling a little empty. The lowest-calorie breads on the market are only slightly lower than other breads, and are so unsatisfying that I really don’t think these are worth it.
You would be better off making a substantial wholemeal loaf, maybe adding pumpkin seeds, linseeds or oats to make it even more fibrous - one slice will be extremely satisfying and in the long run can help all the family stay well.
Unfortunately, ciabatta is not going to be the bread for you - this Italian bread can be high in oil, so it’s even higher in calories than a simple French-style baguette, or a white sliced loaf.
But remember that losing weight is about enjoying the foods that you eat - if you eat a slice of wholemeal bread when you don’t feel like it, you’ll eat it far too quickly and look elsewhere for satisfaction.
In my family food column in a couple of weeks’ time I’ll be talking about making bread, so look out for my recipes then.
The manager at my elderly care home has forbidden eggs because of the bad name it would give the home if anyone should become ill with Salmonella.
I used to have an egg at breakfast every other day (I’m 96) but since coming here in early June I’ve had only one boiled egg. There must be millions of folk in the British Isles having an egg at breakfast. What’s your opinion? John Spencer, Clitheroe, Lancs.
Oh dear, I do feel for you. It reminds me of when my 85-year-old great-uncle was told by his dietitian that he needed to drink less than his one sherry a night, as it wasn’t good for his health, when there was nothing wrong with him.
Not having any eggs seems such a shame — they’re incredibly nutritious, and rich in every essential amino acid (the building blocks of protein) the body needs.
Your care home is right to be worried about the food-poisoning bacterium salmonella. For the pregnant, small children, elderly and sick, salmonella can be extremely serious and fatal.
But there are things we can do to protect ourselves - eat only eggs with the British Lion mark on them, which means the egg has come from a hen vaccinated against salmonella. About 85 per cent of eggs in Britain have the Lion mark - the rest are imported.
I feel safe enough using raw Lion eggs to make mayonnaise, for instance, and I also give them to Maya, my daughter.
You’d be hard pushed to find eggs without the mark in major supermarkets - smaller shops are more likely to stock imported eggs. These can come from countries such as Spain, where there isn’t a vaccination programme.
Don’t panic when you see the word risotto — it doesn’t take hours to make (20 minutes max), and you don’t have to use fancy risotto rice — any shortgrain rice, even pudding rice, will do. The carbohydrate in the rice encourages your body to produce soporific (sleep-inducing) hormones.
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock (it’s fine to use a stock cube)
2tbsp tomato purée
2tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
250g Arborio or other short-grain rice
100g frozen peas
Freshly ground black pepper
50g grated fresh Parmesan cheese
fresh basil or parsley
Pour the stock into a large saucepan. Add the tomato purée, mix well and leave on a low heat. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion and garlic and fry until the onion is soft but not brown. Stir in the tomatoes. Add the rice and stir to coat all the grains in the red oil mix for about a minute.
Add the stock to the rice a ladle at a time, making sure each ladle of liquid is absorbed before you add any more. Stir in the peas and season with black pepper.
Add the Parmesan and butter. Leave to rest for a couple of minutes off the heat, then stir again adding torn basil leaves or chopped parsley, then serve.
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