Did you know that there is no such thing as a ‘superfood’? Or that how children and teens eat impacts their health and their risk of disease as adults? What about the fact that your sexual partner is partly influenced by your microbes? No? Thought not.

Dr Federica Amati, medical scientist, researcher and head nutritionist at ZOE has spent over a decade working in public health, with clients and her students often telling her: ‘Everybody should know this!’

Now, she’s written a book – Every Body Should Know This, published by Penguin – to help more people understand nutrition, and how they can lead a longer, healthier life through daily food choices.

We asked Women’s Health readers if they had any burning questions for Dr Amati about nutrition (you had hundreds!). From protein intake to losing weight, here, she explains seven things everybody should know about their diet...

1)You’re probably already eating enough protein – you don’t need to eat protein bars too

Protein requirements change throughout our life span with the highest requirement in infancy at around 1.5g/kg/day, and lowest in adulthood at 0.8g/kg/day, except for pregnancy and lactation (breastfeeding) which see an increased need.

The majority of adults who obsess about protein intake do not need to do so; the vast majority of adults in the UK and US eat around twice their daily need just by eating a variety of foods. Unless suffering from a malabsorption issue due to serious illness, we are generally exceptionally good at absorbing protein from food and making new proteins in our liver when needed.

All plants contain protein with all of the amino acids needed to build new protein, and most also consume plenty of animal protein such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs. My one piece of advice is to focus on eating high-quality plant protein from legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains instead of trying to achieve unrealistic g/kg/day goals that are often only useful to competitive athletes and bodybuilders. If you eat enough food throughout the day, you will be getting enough protein and can avoid adding ultra-processed high-protein bars and shakes that are likely to do more harm than good in the long term.

2) Women do not benefit from fasted workouts in the same way as men

Eating a meal with complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein and colourful plants that contain plenty of polyphenols, electrolytes and water is a great way to fuel a workout,’ says Dr Amati.

That might be a steel-cut oat porridge with frozen berries and seeds or a piece of sourdough toast with nut butter, sliced apple and plum. Overnight oat and chia pots with nuts, seeds and berries are great if you want something straight out of the fridge as is a kefir, nut butter, spinach, berry and banana smoothie.

3) What we eat and drink has a direct, measurable impact on our health and our baby’s future health

Breastfeeding increases our nutrition needs in every sense; energy, water, nutrients, protein, healthy fats and dietary diversity are essential.

Our bodies will naturally prioritise breastmilk production to provide enough protein, fat and carbohydrates for our baby so it’s important for new mothers to remain nutritionally replete for their own health as well as their baby’s.

Breastmilk is as nutrient-dense as the mother’s diet so making sure we eat a variety of nutritious foods throughout the day is really helpful. It also provides a new taste experience for our babies; garlic, spices, bitter vegetables – all of these flavours pass through breastmilk to our babies and help to train their palate for future foods. Lastly, exposing babies to allergens through breast milk (nuts, fish, shellfish, gluten, dairy, eggs) can reduce the risk of allergies later in life.

Pregnancy, breastfeeding and the first 2 years of life are a critical time for life course nutrition known as the first 1,000 days. It is a golden window of opportunity to optimise our diet and eat a variety of nourishing, whole foods that will benefit both mother’s and baby’s health.

4) Eating and exercising well in perimenopause is worth it – but fasting might not be right for you

There isn’t any evidence to suggest that fasting will improve menopausal symptoms or overall health for women in midlife. Time-restricted eating, which basically means eating your breakfast and dinner around the same time every day within a 10-hour window, has some evidence to support its helpful effects on mood, energy and hunger.

Everyone is different so it’s important to find a dietary pattern that suits you, your health history and lifestyle without overly strict or prescriptive fasting interventions that can impact your social and physical health.

5) Don’t avoid seed oils, nut oils, sunflower oils or rapeseed oils

The evidence is overwhelming that these oils are not harmful and they are better for long-term health and reduction of heart disease than cooking in animal fat or highly saturated fats such as coconut oil. The best oil for cooking and dressing food is extra virgin olive oil, but as it is not available to everyone, other seed oils are absolutely safe options.

6) There are certain groups of people who should use supplements

If you eat a varied diet and have an active lifestyle then there should be no need for supplements and any supplementation should be for a limited time until dietary and lifestyle improvements can improve any deficiencies.

There are some conditions where supplements are always recommended; this includes if trying to conceive and pregnant, if moving to a fully vegan diet, if diagnosed with a gut condition including Chron’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis as well as Coeliac disease or as a result of a colectomy. In the winter months, 10mcg of Vitamin D is also recommended. One of the supplements I most recommend is actually a fibre supplement as 9 out of 10 people are not eating the minimum recommended amount every day and this can help when learning how to introduce more plants to our diet.

7) Calorie counting for weight loss doesn’t work for most people

It also doesn’t help us improve dietary quality which is essential for long-term health. Instead of working out how many calories you need to lose weight, work out how to change the foods you eat to help you achieve your goal.

My recommendation is to focus on eating plenty of high-volume, nutrient-dense, lower energy density foods such as lots of leafy greens, beans and lentils, cauliflower and broccoli, courgettes and mushrooms, berries and whole fruits, at every meal together with a portion of high-quality protein from lean meat, eggs, oily fish, shellfish, tofu, beans, lentils and whole grains. Meal planning or using the same-sized plate to build your meal can help some people on their weight loss journey.

I also really recommend eating enough food, especially in the first half of the day, as it’s when most of us are physically active and it reduces the risk of feeling hungry later in the day. Eating very little food and feeling hungry then ‘eating’ shakes, bars and meal replacements is not a sustainable (or enjoyable!) approach. Try to eat breakfast and dinner around the same time in a 10-hour eating window and always move your body after eating; this can be a walk, dancing, a workout, playing with your kids or simply taking the stairs but it is really important for healthy weight.

As well as moving regularly throughout the day, which is essential, engage in some resistance training 2-3 times per week to increase and maintain muscle mass which is a critical metabolic organ. Lastly, avoid late-night snacking; it is almost universally unhelpful and can be avoided by making sure you don’t get to the end of the day feeling “hangry” due to a lack of whole foods.


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Dr Federica Amati is the author of Every Body Should Know This, £22, published by Penguin – out now.

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A Guide to Better Nutrition

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