Keeping healthy through times of stress are really important, leading UK Nutritionist Sarah Flowers shares her advice for a healthy diet.

We are constantly reading about food health scares and it is often hard to decide which way to go for the best. I am often asked what makes the healthiest diet, but a healthy diet is not so easy to pin down. Much depends on the individual. We are told to count calories as if that alone is enough to ensure good health, but it is not quite that straightforward.  In our quest for calorie counting, we have seen a rise in Frankenstein foods all claiming to be low calorie and low fat, therefore healthy. 99calorie bars ensuring you can have your cake and eat it, but you do need a chemistry degree to decipher the ingredients. A diet of real food is the first and foremost change everyone should make in their quest for good health.


The World Health Organisation have recommended we avoid processed meats due to an increase in cancer, however, the fault is not with the meat but the processed bit. Those who eat processed meats are also more likely to have a processed diet.  Meat is not unhealthy, it is what we have done to the meat that makes it poor quality. I would always opt for organic meat, the best quality you can afford. Meat is packed with protein, zinc, iron, B vitamins including B12. Saturated fat consumption is often cited as a reason to go vegan or opt for a low-fat lifestyle however, we are now seeing more evidence to suggest saturated fat does not cause heart disease or raise cholesterol.


Omega 3 is absolutely vital for our health. Omega 3 fish oil contains both docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It not only protects the heart and joints but is also anti-inflammatory and has been shown to help a number of conditions including depression, cognitive issues, joint health, heart health and more. Oily fish also contains some vitamin D, vitamin A, phosphorus, selenium, B2, calcium, protein, iron, zinc and iodine.

Dairy Products

Opt for dairy in its more natural state; full fat/whole milk, full fat yoghurts, natural cheeses. I tend to see more wheat intolerances in my clinic, but dairy can cause some health issues, for example, respiratory and recurrent ear infections can often be eased by eliminating dairy for a short term, but most of this can be resolved by improving our gut health. There are some fantastic dairy alternatives in the market but choose wisely as some are quite heavily processed and full of sugar and fructose.

Seed Oils & Margarines

We are seeing an abundance of omega 6 and 9 in our western diet which is very inflammatory. Seed, vegetable oils and margarines are man-made and something I would advise avoiding completely. Opt instead for a good quality olive oil or coconut oil and butter.

Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for us to watch the amount of sugar and carbohydrates we consume. We are seeing epidemic levels of diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s and inflammatory conditions, all of which can be attributed to a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates. The World Health Organisation recommends no more than 25g per day for an adult (much less for a child, depending on age), which roughly equates to 6 teaspoons per day. Pour this into a glass and you can see it is quite a substantial amount, but shockingly, some low-fat yoghurt desserts can contain more than the maximum set per day. Opting for real food does help dramatically.

Fruit and Vegetables. 

We are all told to fill up on fruit and vegetables. However, we need to put more focus on vegetables and less on the fruit.  Fructose is found in fruit. Eating a whole fruit means you are also eating some fibre, which slows the digestion of the fructose down and that is fine.  However, drink your fruit in fruit juice and you have no fibre, therefore a high concentration of fructose floods the liver (another reason why we are seeing a higher incidence of fatty liver disease). Suddenly your fresh orange juice in the morning contains more sugar than a glass of cola.

Wheat & Gluten

I am seeing more gut health problems in my clinic, most of which is eased once we remove wheat from the diet. So, do I think wheat is bad? To be honest, no, but I believe the processed wheat we consume now is very different from the wheat we ate years ago. It may be the wheat itself or the agrochemicals used, or a combination of the two. It could even be down to our fragile guts. If you suffer from digestive or gut problems, I do recommend you seek advice from your GP or nutritionist.

Gut Health

We are only just touching the surface of how our gut health impacts our health. Poor diet, stress, smoking and erratic eating patterns not only effects the production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid, but also plays havoc with our natural bowel flora. Good, healthy, bowel flora plays a vital role in the removal of cholesterol. It also helps balance blood sugars, helps us absorb and utilise antioxidants, impacts our skin health (especially acne), helps to control IBS, prevents candida, and, due to its immune boosting role, can even help prevent allergies. New research is also emerging to show how a healthy gut can even help with obesity, depression and auto-immune diseases.

To enhance the good bacteria, we need to include foods such as yoghurt, tempeh, kefir and sauerkraut – these are known as prebiotics. You can also include foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, artichoke, chicory root and seaweeds. A hydrating and alkalising diet will help to populate the bowel with “friendly” bacteria – vegetable juices are great for this, especially glutamine-rich foods such as beetroot or cabbage. We also want to include probiotics; the best is in supplement form.

Good Sleep

Sleep is a time for your body to do its housekeeping – restoring, rejuvenating, repairing.  Research has also shown that those who are sleep deprived have higher levels of inflammatory proteins in the blood, making them more susceptible to whole body inflammation, putting them more at risk of diseases such as heart disease. Lack of sleep also lowers the immune system. Sleep also plays a vital role in setting and consolidating our days activities and memories as well as learning from these experiences.

We are governed by our hormones. To get a good night’s sleep, our body converts serotonin into melatonin. Melatonin synthesis in the pineal gland is triggered by darkness which helps induce and maintain sleep. The production of Melatonin is affected by lack of nutrients as well as computer and TV screen glare, which is why we should not have TV and electrical screens in our bedroom. Research has shown that exposure to noise and light during sleep can suppress the immune system as well as disrupt natural sleep patterns. During sleep our body pumps out a growth hormone which is responsible for repair and rejuvenation of our cells.  It also helps regulate our other hormones such as cortisol.  When we are stressed our bodies produce more of the hormone cortisol.  This can have a negative effect on our health as well as our sleep. When you are sleep deprived, you upset your natural hormone levels, including Ghrelin, which is a hormone that sits in your stomach telling you to eat more, especially carb-rich and sugary food.  At the same time our leptin response falls, this is the signal that tells the brain when we are full, so we are constantly hungry – a reason why shift workers find it so hard to maintain a healthy weight.


We don’t realise how much stress we carry, how tense our body can be until we take time out.  Have you ever cuddled a loved one and suddenly felt your body relax?  Gone for a walk and taken a deep breath and come away refreshed.  The problem is these little bursts of relaxation are too few and far between.  Our days are full of stress and adrenal stimulation – work, money, family, social media, TV, computers and mobile phones.  We need to find time to learn how to unwind, to appreciate time, silence and just breathing. To relax.

Sarah Flower is a leading UK Nutritionist based in Exeter.  Author of 18 books including The Sugar Free Family Cookbook and the Low Carb Slow Cooker.  Eating to Beat Type 2 Diabetes is out in November 2018 and Part Time Vegan Dec 2018.  For more information visit