Ask the dietician

Should you use more olive oil ? Is it a good idea to cut back on carbs? Are vitamin supplements useful? What is the right amount of wine? We have the answers.

By Joan Wides, October 30, 2008
Olive oil is a source of monounsaturated fats which can help to lower “bad” cholesterol

Olive oil is a source of monounsaturated fats which can help to lower “bad” cholesterol

I use plenty of olive oil which is healthy but expensive - should I be using it in place of all other oils?

Olive oil is a healthy choice because it is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat which helps to lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol. Less expensive alternatives include rapeseed oil (canola in the US) which is also high in monounsaturated fats. Otherwise sunflower, soya bean, and corn oils are high in polyunsaturated fats that also help lower bad LDL cholesterol. Regardless of which oil you choose, try to use as little as possible since all oils provide about 99 calories per tablespoon.

Is it necessary to drink red wine every day to protect the heart?

Red wine (and in fact all alcohol) is considered to be protective against heart disease in men aged over 40 and post-menopausal women because it contains antioxidant plant chemicals. But many other foods besides red wine contain these, such as berries, green and black tea, fruit and vegetables. On the downside, alcohol is calorific, damaging to the liver in excessive quantities, and can increase blood pressure. So enjoy a light to moderate intake if you wish (3-4 units per day for men, 1-2 units per day for women with at least two alcohol-free days each week).

I dislike most fruits and vegetables. Can I get my five daily fruit and vegetable portions from juice?

A glass of fruit and/or vegetable juice (150mls) counts as only one portion of fruit and vegetables, no matter how much you drink. This is because you do not receive the same nutritional benefits from the juice as you do from the whole fruit or vegetable. Removing the juice from the whole fruit or vegetable reduces the fibre content and releases a type of sugar from the fruit or vegetable which can damage teeth, especially if drunk frequently.

Are some of my friends right to cut back strongly on carbohydrate foods?

Starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes, are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet because they provide fibre, vitamins, minerals and slowly released energy. This helps us to feel full longer, helping us to curb hunger between meals. Base your meals on starchy foods so that they make up about one third of your daily diet and keep the added fat to a minimum. Low carbohydrate diets tend to be high in fat; a high fat diet, and especially one high in saturated fat, increases the risks of obesity and heart disease. Low carbohydrate diets also tend to restrict fruit and vegetables so you may miss out on important nutrients these foods offer.

Should I be taking daily vitamin supplements for good health?

A healthy, balanced diet, based around a good helping of starchy carbohydrates (preferably wholegrain), plenty of fruit and vegetables, and a moderate amount of protein and dairy products, should provide all the nutrients you need without having to take supplements. Current thinking is that naturally occurring vitamins and minerals obtained from foods are the most effective.

In some cases, if amounts of a vitamin or mineral surplus to needs is taken, this will be excreted. But if these vitamins and minerals are stored by the body, such as Vitamin A or iron, excessive amounts can be harmful.

Supplements are a good idea for some including those with a proven vitamin deficiency, pregnant women (particularly folic acid) and older people without much exposure to sunlight (Vitamin D).

Is food eaten late at night more fattening?

This is a myth - your metabolic rate will be more or less consistent over the day and does not slow down at night, so you will not burn calories more slowly at night than during the day. You will not store fat if you eat a large meal in the evening instead of a number of smaller meals over the day, provided your calorie intake over the day is the same .

It is the total amount you eat in a 24-hour period rather than the times of eating that is important.

But if you skip meals during the day, then eat large amounts during the evening, you are more likely to be overweight than people who eat regular balanced meals. You may eat overlarge amounts because you are over-hungry and people tend to eat more at home as opposed to work anyway; you may drink alcohol which is an appetite stimulant or you may relax late in the evening and eat fatty/sugary snacks at the same time.

Last updated: 12:45pm, October 30 2008