Food Allergy?

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Consumer confusion

The vast majority of people claiming that they have a food allergy may at worst have a food intolerance. Often it seems that the patient has decided to eliminate a food from their diet based on one bad experience. For example, someone may eat some cheese, later develop a headache, and then conclude that the cheese is responsible for causing their headache. In other cases people eliminate foods from their diets because another family member suspects that he or she has a food allergy, or because they have read a magazine article and decided that the symptoms described relate to their own.

A 2001 survey, commissioned by the Flour Advisory Bureau, revealed that more than 40% of women have eliminated specific foods from their diet over the last five years – increasing concerns amongst health professionals that the fashionable fad for cutting out foods like wheat, could be putting women at risk. Two thirds of the women who admitted to eliminating foods had received no information on how to replace the nutrients they were losing and almost half had taken no advice whatsoever about making such wholesale changes to their diet. Worryingly, a quarter of women admitted to eliminating a food in order to lose weight, not even because of any adverse reaction to the foodstuff.

Furthermore, 66% of the women who admitted to eliminating foods, also said they had received no information on how to replace the nutrients they were losing and 46% had taken no advice whatsoever about making such wholesale changes to their diet.

While women are now far more knowledgeable about their own health than in previous years, it seems there is considerable confusion and misinformation regarding nutrition and diet. The survey revealed that 90% of women had no idea what that difference between a food allergy and intolerance actually is – although the disparity is enormous and the implications for treatment are completely different.

Professor Tom Sanders, Department of Nutrition & Dietetics at King’s College London, believes that unless you suffer from the very rare condition of coeliac disease (a serious allergic reaction to gluten, the protein contained within wheat), cutting wheat out of your diet is extremely unwise:

“Many women believe they have a food allergy or intolerance but in reality numerous studies have shown that only 1-2% if the population suffer from a food intolerance and only 0.3% suffer from Coeliac disease. Cutting out wheat is almost always an extremely bad idea – at best it will lead to mental and physical underperformance but at its worst this type of fashionable fad will set women on the slippery slope towards an eating disorder. The quality of a diet is all about what you include not what you cut out.”

Dr Judy Buttriss, Science Director at the British Nutrition Foundation added: “Elimination diets are only used by health professionals for very short periods of time, with the specific intention of isolating a problematic food through a process of carefully re-introducing foods over no more than two weeks. This very controlled diagnostic process has been misapplied by unqualified individuals who now preach elimination diets as a long term dietary solution for everything from weight-loss to intolerance. Women should be extremely cautious of any diets like these and especially wary where they are given no advice on how to replace the nutrients they will be losing with alternative foods. Tablets or supplements are not an alternative to a balanced diet.”

The scale of the problem

Studies have repeatedly shown that about 20% of adults and 28% of parents suspect that they, or their children, suffer from adverse reactions to foods. When tested using blinded food challenges, where neither the researcher nor subject knows what food is being tested, only 1.5% of adults and 6% of infants are found to suffer from an adverse reaction to any food.

This means that slightly in excess of 0.1% of the population (excluding coeliac disease) suffer from an adverse reaction to wheat – be it an allergy or an intolerance. This illustrates the dangers of self-diagnosis, which may serve to distract attention from the real cause of a person’s health problem. Unfortunately, self-diagnosis or diagnosis by discredited tests is becoming very fashionable.

Food Allergy or just an Intolerance?

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People often confuse the terms ‘food allergy’ and ‘food intolerance’ as the same condition. In fact the differences are vast. Food intolerances will not trigger a life-threatening immunological response, but may trigger symptoms such as migraines, bloating or skin rashes, and in some cases can worsen the effects of conditions such as asthma, eczema or migraines.

A food allergy, however, is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by the immune system and is far more serious in nature.

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According to the Food Standards Agency a food allergy is an abnormal response to a food mediated by the immune system. The food allergen is seen as ‘foreign’ by the immune system and initiates an immune response and the production of immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE binds to mast cells in the mouth, nose and gut and causes the release of histamine which is responsible for inflammation and the other symptoms of allergic reaction.

True food allergies, such as wheat allergy, often produce quite violent reactions, from swelling of the lips and tongue (oedema) or a red rash to, in extreme cases, fatal anaphylaxis Additional symptoms can include asthma and urticaria (hives). Reactions tend to be quick with only small amounts of the allergen required. A simple blood test can detect the presence of IgE.

Bread-SkullFood intolerance

Food intolerance is not mediated by IgE but can result in uncomfortable symptoms. However, the reaction can be delayed and usually requires much larger amounts of the offending food. The most common adverse reactions to food relate to EGGS, PEANUTS, MILK, SOY, NUTS and SHELLFISH but media attention has focussed on adverse reactions to wheat and wheat based products. Wheat allergy has also been confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which can be caused by stress, poor diet and a chronic lack of dietary fibre.

Coeliac disease is a rare but serious condition characterised by damage to the small intestinal wall due to intolerance to gluten, a protein present in wheat flour. It is mediated by the immune system, but not by IgE.

GP’s are worried about this problem

A survey conducted in 2002 found that 90% of GPs agreed women are putting themselves at real risk by adopting unhealthy eating patterns without medical or qualified nutritional advice.

GPs believe that self-diagnosis and self imposed diets can lead to problems such as nutrient deficiency, osteoporosis, mental retardation and immune problems.

‘Elimination’ diets and other fashionable fads have become increasingly popular with women who want to lose weight. More than 40% of women have eliminated specific foods from their diet over the last 5 years, believing that they suffer from some kind of allergy or intolerance GPs are concerned that this dangerous practice of self-diagnosis is leading to unhealthy and un-informed changes to women’s diets. Over a third of those questioned in the survey pointed the finger towards the ‘questionable’ and ‘potentially harmful’ advice given to women by unregistered nutritionists.

They also blamed celebrities for the development of this worrying trend towards self-diagnosis of food allergy/intolerance. Celebrities such as Geri Halliwell have publicised their diets, claiming that eliminating food types such as wheat, dairy or fat has helped to keep them in shape.

The survey also found that:

  • 87% of GPs believe there is an urgent need to improve women’s understanding of the risks and dangers associated with long-term elimination diets.
  • 43% of GPs have seen an increased trend towards self-diagnosis of food allergies and intolerances amongst their female patients.
  • 1 in 5 GPs thought self-diagnosis was dangerous and likely to lead to unhealthy and un-informed modifications to diet.

One of the GPs who took part in the survey said that some patients in this situation feel they have been driven to such lengths because they feel appropriate professional guidance is not available.

Another GP felt that as elimination diets are an increasing area of patient interest, they should be given greater priority in the NHS, and one even felt that it would be useful for a national body to pass judgement on heavily promoted diets to guide GPs in the advice they give to patients who request an opinion on a specific diet.

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Additional information

In 2003 independent research by Datamonitor backs up FAB findings that there is a very large discrepancy between the number of people who believe they suffer from a food allergy and official figures from government, research scientists and clinicians. Datamonitor, found that 1 in 3 people believe they have a food allergy, but according to official figures from the Food and Drink Administration (FDA) in the US, in reality less than 2% actually do.

Go into any restaurant or supermarket and you will inevitably see at least one fellow diner or customer scrutinising the menu or shelves and stating that they have a food allergy. It has become almost a mark of individuality for people to avoid certain foods because they are ‘allergic’. However, there is a huge discrepancy between the 1 in 3 people claiming to have a food allergy and the official FDA findings that less than 2% actually do. Self-diagnosis is in part to blame for this huge discrepancy, with vast numbers of people eliminating nutritious food types from their diet without visiting their doctors in order for their ‘allergy’ to be properly diagnosed. Adding to this problem is the fact that many doctors are inadequately equipped to diagnose and treat ‘true’ food allergies.

The trend towards self diagnosis is worrying because it means that by eliminating certain food types, up to one-third of people are unnecessarily depriving themselves of nutritious food substances. Parents who ‘diagnose’ food allergies in their own child may unknowingly place the child at risk for nutritional deficiency. Whilst the allergy rate amongst children is slightly higher than it is among adults (approximately 6%), a far greater percentage of children are misdiagnosed as having a food allergy. In addition, research shows that most children will outgrow their allergies; this fact is often overlooked, however, with the result being that children continue to avoid certain food types well into adulthood. The general public has become more health-conscious and better informed about food safety issues, which has in turn led to increased self-awareness of the possibility of a food allergy.

This rise in inaccurate self-diagnosis has been heightened by the fact that physicians have been unable to diagnose food allergies adequately due to insufficient diagnostic tests. One major obstacle is the lack of reliable diagnostic tests for detecting allergies and the fact that existing tests are often based on subjective parameters. The current gold standard is the food challenge test, which entails placing various foods, some of which are suspected of causing a reaction, into an individual opaque capsule. The patient then swallows the capsule and are monitored to see if a reaction occurs. This process is repeated until all the capsules have been swallowed. In a true double-blind test, the doctor is also ‘blinded’, the capsules having been made up by another medical person, so that neither the patient nor the doctor knows which capsule contains an allergen.

Further reading

Adverse Reactions to food, The British Nutrition Foundation, Blackwell Science. ISBN 0-632-05547-2.

Anderson, J.A. (1994). Milestones marking the knowledge of adverse reactions to food in the decade of the 1980s. Annals of Allergy, 72, 143-154.

Armentia, A. et al (1990). Exercise-induced anaphylactic reaction to grain flours. Annals of Allergy, 65, 149-151.

Armentia, A. (1992). Wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Annals of Allergy, 69, 464 (letter).

Baur, X. & Posch, A. (1998). Characterized allergens causing baker’s asthma. Allergy, 53, 562-566.

Baur, X. (1999). Baker’s asthma; causes and prevention. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 72, 292-296.

Bock, S.A. (1987). Prospective appraisal of complaints of adverse reactions to foods in children during the first 3 years of life. Pediatrics, 79, 683-688.

Bock, S.A. et al (1988). Double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge (DBPCFC) as an office procedure: a manual. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 82, 986-997.

Bock, S.A. & Atkins, F.M. (1990). Patterns of food hypersensitivity during sixteen years of double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges. Journal of Pediatrics, 117, 561-567.

Bock, S.A. et al (2001). Fatalities due to anaphylactic reactions to foods. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 107, 191-193.

Bousquet, J. et al (1998). Scientific criteria and the selection of allergenic foods for product labelling. Allergy, 53, 3-21.

Bruijnzeel-Koomen, C. et al (1995). Adverse reactions to food. Allergy, 50, 623-635.

Burks, W.A. et al (1988). Atopic dermatitis: clinical relevance of food hypersensitivity reactions. Journal of Pediatrics, 113, 447-451.

Burks, A.W. et al (1998). Atopic dermatitis and food hypersensitivity reactions. Journal of Pediatrics, 132, 132-136.

Castells, M.C. et al (1999). Exercise-induced anaphylaxis (EIA). Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, 17, 413-424.

Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (2000). Adverse reactions to food and food ingredients.

Dohi, M. et al (1991). Food-dependent, exercise-induce anaphylaxis: a study on 11 Japanese cases. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 87, 34-40.

Guinnepain, M-T. et al (1996). Exercise-induced anaphylaxis: useful screening of food sensitization. Annals of Allergy, 77, 491-496.

Hide, D.W. & Guyer, B.M. (1983). Cows milk intolerance in Isle of Wight infants. British Journal of Clinical Practice, 37, 285-287.

Host, A. & Halken, S. (1990). A prospective study of cow milk allergy in Danish infants during the first 3 years of life. Allergy, 45, 587-596.

James, J.M. et al (1997). Wheat a-amylase inhibitor: a second route of allergic sensitization. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 99, 239-244.

Jones, S.M. et al (1995). Immunologic cross-reactivity among cereal grains and grasses in children with food hypersensitivity. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 96, 341-351.

Juji, F. & Suko, M. (1994). Effectiveness of disodium cromoglycate in food-dependent, exercise induced anaphylaxis: a case report. Annals of Allergy, 72, 452-454.

Katsunuma, T. et al (1991). Wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis: inhibition by sodium bicarbonate. Annals of Allergy, 68, 184-188.

Kushimoto, H. & Aoki, T. (1985). Masked type 1 wheat allergy: relation to exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Archives of Dermatology, 121, 355-360.

Lehto, M. et al (2003). Humoral and cellular responses to gliadin in wheat-dependent, exercise induced anaphylaxis. Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 33, 90-95.

Majamaa, H. et al (1999). Wheat allergy: diagnostic accuracy of skin prick and patch tests and specific IgE. Allergy, 54, 851-856.

Matsumoto, T. et al (1996). Systemic anaphylaxis after eating storage-mite-contaminated food. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, 109, 197-200.

Matsumoto, T. et al (2001). Anaphylaxis to mite-contaminated flour. Allergy, 56, 247.

Merget, R et al (2001). Baker’s asthma due to xylanase and cellulase without sensitisation to alpha-amylase and only weak sensitisation to flour. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, 124, 502-505.

Palosuo, K et al (2001). Wheat w-5 gliadin is a major allergen in children with immediate allergy to ingested wheat. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 108, 634-638.

Parnell, N.D.J. & Ciclitera, P.J. (1999). Review article: coeliac disease and its management. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 13, 1-13.

Romano, A. et al (1995). Diagnostic work-up for food-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Allergy, 50, 817-824.

Rudd, P. et al (1981). Anaphylactic shock in an infant after feeding with a wheat rusk. A transient phenomenon. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 57, 794-795.

Sampson, H.A. (1983). Role of immediate food hypersensitivity in the pathogenesis of atopic dermatitis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 71, 473-480.

Sampson, H.A. (1997). Food allergy. Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 1888-1894.

Sampson, H.A. & McCaskill, C.C. (1985). Food hypersensitivity and atopic dermatitis: evaluation of 113 patients. Journal of Pediatrics, 107, 669-675.

Sampson, H.A. & Scanlon, S.M. (1989). Natural history of food hypersensitivity in children with atopic dermatitis. Journal of Pediatrics, 115, 23-27.

Sampson, H.A. et al (1992). Fatal and near-fatal anaphylactic reactions to food in children and adolescents. New England Journal of Medicine, 327, 380-384.

Schrander, J.J.P. et al (1993). Cow’s milk protein intolerance in infants under 1 year of age: a prospective epidemiological study. European Journal of Paediatrics, 152, 640-644.

Varjonen, E. et al (1995). Skin-prick test and RAST responses to cereals in children with atopic dermatitis. Characterization of IgE-binding components in wheat and oats by an immunoblotting method. Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 25, 1100-1107.

Varjonen, E. et al (1997). Life-threatening, recurrent anaphylaxis caused by allergy to gliadin and exercise. Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 27, 162-166.

Varjonen, E. et al (2000). Antigliadin IgE-indicator of wheat allergy in atopic dermatitis. Allergy, 55, 386-391.

Vichyanond, P. et al (1990). Wheat induced anaphylaxis. Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology, 8, 49-52.

Williams, A.J. et al (1987). An unsuspected case of wheat induced asthma. Thorax, 42, 205-206.

Young, E. et al (1994). A population study of food intolerance. Lancet, 343, 1127-1130.

Yunginger, J.W. et al (1988). Fatal food-induced anaphylaxis. Journal of the American Medical Association, 260, 1450-1452.
Niestijl Jansen et al (1994). Prevalence of food allergy and intolerance in the adult Dutch population. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 93, 446-456.

Novembre, E. et al (1988). Foods and respiratory allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 81, 1059-1065.

Palosuo, K. et al (1999). A novel wheat gliadin as a cause of exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 103, 912-917.

Palosuo, K et al (2001). Rye g-70 and g-35 secalins and barley g-3 hordein cross-react with w-5 gliadin, a major allergen in wheat dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 31, 466-473.

Are you on a low-carb diet?

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Over the years there have been numerous diets put forward – all offering miracle cures and quick fixes. The only way to lose weight is to either reduce your energy intake or increase your energy output through exercise.

The net effect is to ensure that output exceeds input. Diets that limit energy intake will achieve weight loss but it is important to still eat a variety of foods and chose a balanced healthy diet.

Many ‘diets’ reduce the number of calories simply by cheating and removing a food group. These elimination diets typically remove carbohydrates like bread due to a mistaken belief that foods like bread are fattening.

Forget faddy diets, get healthy

Faddy diets have been around as long as conventional science. Recent examples include the Hay Diet, the Atkins Diet, the South Beach diet and the Zone diet. All work by either removing or limiting intake of carbohydrate. Typically promoted by alternative health practitioners and image conscious celebrities, these so called ‘miracle diets’ only offer quick fixes.

Based on psuedo-science these diets have done more to promote the cause of their advocates than they have at tackling the weight of the nation.

Weight gain tends to be gradual and the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to lose the weight slowly and steadily. With elimination diets, the weight loss tends to be rapid. With such quick fixes the metabolism goes into starvation mode, and over time the body becomes less efficient at losing weight.

Nutritional information for Bread

Vitamins and Minerals

Calcium and Bone Health

Flour, particularly white flour, is rich in calcium, essential for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Six slices of white bread every day will provide around 20% of the recommended daily calcium intake. Bread is one of the best sources of calcium in our diet.

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is vital to the structural integrity of the bones and teeth. It also has a role in metabolic processes within the body. A lack of dietary calcium can lead to osteoporosis in which the bones become porous. Osteoporosis usually affects the whole skeleton, but it is most commonly causes breaks (fractures) to hones in the wrist, spine and hip. After the age of 35 years bone loss can increase as part of the natural aging process. It is extremely important that women at risk eat a calcium rich diet, take plenty of exercise and also make sure they are eating enough vitamin D (assists in the absorption of calcium into the bone).

Bread Rolls

The fortification of flour contributes to 14% of the total calcium intake and in the absence of this fortification it would be assumed that these intakes would fall below the recommended nutrient intake (RNI). The current RNI for calcium is 600mg a day for children and 1000mg a day for an adult.

Top calcium providers Amount of calcium in mg / per 100g of food
White bread 100mg
Brown bread 100mg
Wholemeal bread 100mg
Semi-skimmed milk 110mg
Cheddar cheese 720mg
Fruit yoghurt 160mg
Tinned salmon 91mg
Spinach 170mg
Kidney beans 71mg

Iron Status and Bread Consumption

Flour is one of the main sources of iron in the diet, which is an important mineral, essential for healthy blood cells and good circulation. Bread is an excellent source of iron. The major source of iron in the UK is from cereals including wheat flour and other cereal based products which together provide almost 50% of the daily iron intake. Intakes from iron have been declining for some time and there is particular concern that nearly 25% of women have dietary intakes below the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI). The clinical affects of iron deficiency include general lethargy and anaemia and if untreated can result in severe long-term effects on mental and physical status and development. The current RNI for iron is 14.8 mg/day for women and around 10 mg/day for men.

Top iron providers Amount of iron in mg / per 100g of food
White bread 1.6 mg
Brown bread 3.2 mg
Wholemeal bread 3.5 mg
Peanut butter 2.0 mg
Dried apricots 3.4 mg
Broccoli 1.0 mg
Watercress 2.2 mg
Spinach 2.1 mg
Kidney beans 6.4 mg

B Vitamins

B vitamins thiamin and niacin help the body release energy from carbohydrate and help ensure the skin, eyes and nervous system remain healthy. Over a third of our daily requirement of thiamin comes from cereals and flour-based foods such as bread. Bread is also a good source of niacin, another B vitamin.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is present in wholemeal flour and added at higher levels to some breads. More general fortification in other flour is presently under consultation by an expert committee advising the Department of Health. Folic acid helps protect against neural tube defect in unborn babies and is an essential nutrient for pregnant mothers.

Selenium

Selenium is a trace element found widely in the environment. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK, good sources include brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs. Selenium is present in fish (0.32mg/kg), offal (0.42mg/kg), brazil nuts (0.25mg/kg), eggs (0.16mg/kg), bread (0.053mg/kg) and other cereals (0.02mg/kg). The UK reference nutrient intake (RNI) for selenium is 0.075mg a day for men and 0.06mg a day for women (COMA values). You should be able to get all the selenium you need from your daily diet.

Selenium is an essential trace element, which is necessary for the functioning of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which protects against intracellular oxidative damage. In essence selenium functions as an anti-oxidant and can help protect the body from oxidative damage caused by stress, pollution and aging. Selenium has been claimed to reduce the incidence of a range of cancers, although the COMA report on Nutritional Aspects the Development of Cancers (1998) considered there to insufficient evidence for such a link. Research in this area continues.

The selenium concentration of plants is determined by the content and availability of the element in the soil in which they are grown. The selenium content of plant foods therefore varies from country to country.

Concerns have been raised that selenium intakes in the UK are falling. In previous years the UK milling industry used more wheat sourced from North America. North American wheat contains slightly higher levels of selenium than UK wheat. However UK wheat still contains more selenium than European grown wheat. Since the UK now uses mostly homegrown wheat – this is reflected by slightly lower levels of selenium than US wheat. The trend towards using UK rather than North American wheat coupled with the fact that there has been a decline in the consumption of cereals and wheat based foods such as bread (both good sources of dietary selenium) would result in slightly lower intakes of selenium in the UK.

Additional Nutrients

Fibre – wheat is an excellent source of fibre and wholemeal flour, which contains the whole grain including the bran and germ. Brown and white flour also contain fibre. For a healthy, balanced digestive system it is important that we eat enough fibre. All bread contains a significant amount of dietary fibre, although wholemeal bread contains three times as much as white bread.

Protein – flour is a good source of protein and is low fat, unlike some sources of animal proteins. Protein is essential for growth, maintenance and repair of the body.

Carbohydrates – the majority of carbohydrates in flour are complex carbohydrates that we all need to give us energy. We need to eat more complex carbohydrate – rich foods to replace some of the fat in our diets, for example nutritionists recommend we eat six slices of bread a day. According to the British Nutrition Foundation’s Balance of Good Health, we should be eating 50% of our energy intake as carbohydrates.

Fortification

Flour is a natural and wholesome food.  By law, white and brown flour is fortified with calcium, iron, thiamin and niacin (see table below). Because it is made from the whole wheat grain, wholemeal flour already contains these vitamins and minerals, although white and brown flour contain more calcium because of fortification.
Calcium carbonate (E170) is added to all brown and white flour products in the UK and has been a legal requirement for almost 5 years. This is carried out to ensure that vulnerable groups receive enough calcium in their diet. On average 20% of the UK dietary calcium intake is accounted for via bread and flour products. Other legally required additives in bread include iron and B-Vitamins.

The following table shows the nutritional value of an average selection of flours:

g/100g except where stated Strong White Plain White Brown Wholemeal
 Extraction Rate % (approx) 75 75 85 100
Protein % variable depending on whether strong or weak flour 11.5 9.4 12.6 12.7
Fat 1.4 1.4 1.8 2.2
Carbohydrates 75.3 77.7 68.5 63.9
Fibre (englyst) 3.1 3.1 6.4 9.0
Calories (kcal) 341 341 323 310
Iron mg/100g 2.1 2.0 3.2 3.9
Thiamin mg/100g 0.32 0.32 0.39 0.47
Niacin mg/100g 2.0 1.7 4.0 5.7

McCance & Widdowson (6th Edition)

The nutritional composition of white, brown and wholemeal bread is compared in the table below:

White Brown Wholemeal
Carbohydrate % 49.3 44.3 41.6
(of which sugars) % 2.6 3.0 1.8
Protein % 8.4 8.5 9.2
Fat % 1.9 2.0 2.5
Dietary Fibre % 2.3 4.7 7.1
Calcium mg/kg 1100 1000 540
Iron mg/kg 16 22 27
Thiamin mg/kg 2.1 2.7 3.4

(Source: MAFF)

Please keep off the grass

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In a spring where you would be better off planting rice than any other crop, it will be with some trepidation that some farms will be waiting for the waters to subside and the fields to dry out to see what state their grassland is in.

Some fields maybe that badly damaged that a total reseed will be necessary but hopefully many of them would be in a reasonable enough state to recover from the floods but could maybe benefit from a bit of a refresh. Overseeding an existing pasture will not only give a boost to yields but will also help to re-establish a good ground cover making it less susceptible to poaching and damage by stock when grazed.

Overseeding can be done either with a drill or by broadcasting. In either case, the existing grass should have just been cut or grazed so as to give the minimum competition to any newly sown grass.  Most grass seed suppliers have a specific overseeding mixture in their range, normally consisting of a mixture of Italian, Hybrid and Perennial Ryegrass with a clover option and will normally come in a 10 kilo pack. The seeding rate will be governed by the state of the existing grass and the amount of ground cover there is. Badly damaged swards may need up to the full 10 kilos per acre whereas 6-7 kilos may suffice if there is still a reasonable amount of grass there.

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Drilling is pretty self explanatory but if broadcasting is the preferred method then going over the sward initially with a chain harrow will help to loosen up some soil to give something for the seed to be broadcast into. Having broadcast the seed,  the field should be rolled so that the seed bed is firm, problems with seed establishment is in many cases down to fluffy seed beds and it is often very noticeable that the best take is in the tractor wheelings!! A Cambridge roller is the best option as it will not only press the seed into the soil but the shape of the rollers will push some soil over the seed burying it slightly and giving a good seed placing in the bed.

Whilst not a permanent solution, an overseeding will help to extend the length of the ley and means that the field doesn’t have to be taken totally out of production and last until until the end of the normal rotation.

Sugar Beet

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As food is one of life’s necessities you would think that it is important to know at least a little of where it comes from? Not so in the younger generation and the youth of today, to the extent that the majority of them don’t know where items such as milk actually comes from and would probably answer with “the supermarket” if they could be bothered to raise more than a grunt to a common sense question.

As a child of the 80’s we didn’t have the kind of “tool kit” that today’s kids have – mobile phone, tablet, games console etc and so we were always outside and naturally exploring what there was around us. I have always lived in semi-rural and rural locations with plenty of wide-open space to go at, today’s youngsters are kept in urbanised isolation with their electronic gadgets and double glazing which has resulted in them becoming a sickly generation and putting a strain on the health system – kids who have an active outdoor life are invariably less prone to sickness as a result.

Education is the key folks

Education of the younger generation in the simplistic workings of food production is one of the ways that we can turn the consumer’s viewpoint towards supporting the farming industry in our own country. The children don’t need to know or understand the differences in the types of wheats grown, all they need to know is that it comes from a field, affected by the weather and goes through several important processes to become bread & cereals which grace their tables on a daily basis.

My son is autistic and so his understanding of things is harder than that of most children. To conquer that we kept it simple with 3 steps : Beet – Sugar – Frosted Flakes!  He watched the beet being harvested in the fields around the house, and loaded into the lorries to go the beet factory.

We showed him a bag of sugar alongside a piece of beet that was split open to give him just the association of the two. Finally we showed him the sugar next to his breakfast cereal of frosted flakes to link all three together. If he can understand it then I am sure that most children can?

Education is also good!

I would whole heartedly support the education of children on a simplistic level by having a visit to a farm and Open Farm Sunday is the perfect opportunity for this, there is so much to learn and fun to be had. I will be visiting again this year, and would encourage non-farming parents to take their children too, it’s a great and valuable experience.

Support local organic produce, we do!

bbq1Here in Canada, after what seemed like an interminable winter followed by a very unsettled spring, June arrived bringing a searing heat-wave and the long, sunny days that we have all longed for. At last, millions of householders dusted off the garden furniture and long-forgotten Barbie with their optimism soaring for those long-planned outdoor celebrations.

Strawberries and cream, seaside excursions, al fresco meals on the patio, countryside picnics, and kids cooling off in an inflatable pool in the garden, are all memorable events to treasure.

Suddenly the trees and hedgerows burst into bright green life and the smell of new mown grass and scented petals concoct a heady evening cocktail of perfume as the garden celebrates the advent of Summer. Overhead, acrobatic swallows, having made their incredibly long, annual trip to our shores, are frantically busy raising a whole new generation! All this epitomises some of the best things about summer in the British Isles.

Back in early spring while we still needed warming, hearty, food to see us through the cold days, the Christies kitchen printed organic recipes using, wherever possible, locally sourced ingredients. Now, with summer entertaining in mind, we are ready to cool the temperatures and look at vitamin-rich organic recipes that are no less nutritious, but lack the calorific stodge of the winter food. All the following recipes can be adapted to cater for larger or less amounts.

We all have our favourite sources when it comes to buying our food. It might be a supermarket, it might be our tried and tested local shops – we may even have chosen to go ‘Organic’ and buy only food that displays The Soil Association logo, thereby assuring ourselves that the product meets stringent production criteria.

If you are unsure about what the word ‘organic’ means, it is food and meat that has been raised and grown without chemical fertilisers, insecticides or pesticides. In the case of animals and poultry kept and reared for meat, the animals are given more time to develop slowly and fed a healthy natural diet, untainted by meat by-products or fast-growth hormones.

Why eat organic?

The benefits of eating organic food, which tends to be more expensive than non-organic–unless you grow your own, are obvious once you try it. Organic produce may not be so perfectly shaped, or totally unblemished as inorganic, but the flavour is fuller and there’s peace of mind in knowing that you are consuming healthy fruit and vegetables devoid of a coating of insecticide on the skins.
If you eat meat, it’s good to know that generally calves and piglets stay longer with their mothers and there is the assurance that although ultimately they will be killed for the table, they have longer in which to live pleasanter and more natural lives than those animals which are intensively reared.

organic-food

Many people don’t have the necessary amount of land to be able to cultivate their own organic vegetables and even if they do, lack of time often prevents them from growing salads, herbs and vegetables – especially, taking into account the need for a regular supply of these throughout the changing seasons.

One way around this problem is to locate an organic farm within your own area and ask to be included in their vegetable box scheme. This means that every week a selection of seasonal produce will be delivered to your door. The vegetable box scheme usually extends to fruit as well, and if the farm also has a shop, you can request organic items from the shop to be included with your weekly delivery.

I have had personal experience of the organic box scheme for about five years and for me it works well. Okay, so I do grow some vegetables, and lots of herbs but if, for instance, I have grown a great crop of potatoes that might last three or four months, I just ask the farm not to include potatoes in my weekly box. Last year our red onions were marvellous, there were mountains of runner beans from just three wig-wam supports, and the elephant garlic was so elephantine I asked that none of these items be included in my box until further notice. The farm responded by putting in the box other kinds of salad and vegetables that I hadn’t been able to grow myself.

Increasing numbers of us are growing at least some of our own food if we have space in our gardens or access to an allotment. This is easy now due to the huge selection of magazines, books and television programmes that help us to see how to do it.

man-shoppingOne potato, two potato, three!

Many people begin with a few potatoes, then find themselves planting up gro-bags with tomatoes and lettuce, Spurred on by success they dig over another plot for salads and the more enjoyment they get from harvesting their own food, the more sense it seems to make to grow even more. If space is a problem, even potatoes can be grown in deep containers, tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets, and salads in raised beds.

Many people are now switching to organic food and happily, unlike the bad old days of ten years or so, ago, the choice is endless. Supermarket chains have been forced to think far more deeply about the food they provide and where it comes from. Also, very importantly, the methods used in its production whether in terms of agriculture or the human issues involved such as fair wages for producers and labourers, abroad. Faced with these concerns they now devote more and more space to Organic, and Fair Trade produce as popular demand spirals upwards.

Organic farms provide seasonal selections of home grown vegetables and this is good news because our bodies are programmed to respond well to the foods that grow within their own boundaries of the changing seasons. Yes, you can buy strawberries in January but they are imported and however big and mouth-wateringly juicy they appear, nothing compares with strawberries grown in your own plot or even a large pot, with the warmth of the summer sun to ripen them to perfection. Ever grown them and then picked and savoured one ripe fruit in late afternoon after the sun has warmed it throughout the day? It’s incomparable.

That’s because you are eating fruit that has matured and ripened within our British seasons. It’s matured to give us a proper sweet, luscious strawberry, not a strawberry that’s been intensively farmed, drenched with pesticides and slug deterrents, picked and packed hundreds of miles away, lingered for days at airports or ferry terminals and then finally appears in a British supermarket in a punnet labelled ‘Fresh Strawberries’!

Food miles!

Can you live without strawberries in winter to help save the planet?

In your winter vegetable box you can expect lots of staple root vegetables like, swede, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beets. There will also be red and green cabbage, celery, Brussels sprouts, onions, cauliflowers, garlic, and leeks. You may get imported tomatoes until after Christmas, but their juicy fruitiness tends to diminish along with keeping-quality until they vanish altogether from your box until the new salad season. Peppers, courgettes, and fruit are usually sourced from organic growers abroad, and this is where we have to confront another very important issue.

Currently, around 90% of organic fruit and vegetables are imported. This means that although we love to include peppers, courgettes, squash, and mangoes in our favourite recipes, the planet pays a high price for these being flown from the country of origin to Britain. Air travel is bad news for the globe because of the CO2 gases produced during the flight. It’s a tricky issue. We may like to eat organic and we probably have the best interests of the planet in mind, but if we truly stick to our environmental guns it would mean giving up many favourite foods that are flown in to our island, and only buying those that our climate would normally be capable of producing throughout each season.

Are we prepared to do that? If we are, it means boycotting produce that has cost the planet too much in the way of CO2 just so that we can have lettuce, cucumber, peppers, courgettes, strawberries and mangoes on our tables in winter. Interestingly, there’s a theory that humans are healthier when eating only those foods that the successive, indigenous seasons provide. These foods all contain elements that we need to see us through the prevailing weather. In summer it’s warm and we enjoy lighter foods such as fresh, colourful salads enlivened with dressings of zesty lemon and lime, and cooling fruits to follow. But in winter and early spring when the days are short and cold we need to build ourselves up against seasonal illnesses like colds and flu, so we need to eat lots of vitamin rich foods like calabrese, kale, cabbage, sprouts and potatoes. Our fruit can be the orchard fruits, carefully stored, or made up into pies, and crumbles for the freezer, whole fruits packed into freezer bags for use in preserves and pies or home-made ice-cream – Yes, just the way it used to be – or so my mother tells me!

We have to accept that the further our food travels, the more its vitamin and mineral content diminishes over the miles.

vegetables

Keeping it local

Farmers’ Markets are another source of fresh British produce which is gaining popularity. If you visit one in your area, you can be sure of top quality food that has been picked at ultimate freshness and not been transported hundreds of miles on a plane before it reaches your kitchen! You can talk to the farmer or producer about the food you are buying and choose your purchases minus the hustle and bustle of your average superstore. You will even be offered a tasting of some items.

Once you get to know the face behind the counter and become a regular customer you’ll find not only that your particular preferences will be happily catered for, but that you’ll also be able to chat to the grower or producer about the local scene, the weather forecasts (nobody knows what’s coming better than a farmer), political stuff, family stuff, and, if you are lucky, gossip as well! This method of sourcing your food is far removed from the faceless, remote retailing structure of chain supermarkets.