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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 08-Feb-17 16:38:50

Q&A with nutritionist Jane Clarke

Food can be so much more than just fuel sometimes, as nutritionist Jane Clarke well knows. As well as giving her account of how food (and her Great Aunt May), helped her through serious illness, Jane will be answering all your questions on food and nutrition, too.

Add yours to the thread below by 12 noon on 22 February and we'll send them across for her to answer. You can find out more about Jane on her website,, which she created in order to help people who are ill, and their carers, find both enjoyment and nourishment in food again.

Jane Clarke

Q&A with nutritionist Jane Clarke

Posted on: Wed 08-Feb-17 16:38:50


Lead photo

Ask Jane all your questions about food and nutrition

I grew up in a family with food at its heart, especially when we were with my wonderful Great Auntie May. She was a marvellous cook, who made homemade jams, toasted bread on the fire and always packed a hamper for road trips with me and my sister. I still remember the taste of tea poured from the flask and drunk from melamine mugs.

It was my Auntie May, along with my mum and dad, who helped care for me when, aged 15, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition in which cells from the uterus spread to other parts of the body. One week in four for the next 10 years, I would be in agony and was often hospitalised and given morphine to help control the pain. My Auntie May would be there, bringing Chelsea buns and other tasty treats to my bedside, showing her affection with food that tempted me to eat when I just couldn't face a hospital dinner, and which made me feel 'normal' and not simply a patient defined by my condition.

Auntie May's example stuck with me when I chose my career. I qualified as a dietitian because I know how important good nutrition is for both helping to prevent illness and in aiding recovery. I also trained as a cordon bleu chef because Auntie May had passed on a love of cooking and sharing food with those I love. The eventual, drastic cure for my endometriosis was a hysterectomy at age 25. Years later, I fell in love at first sight with my daughter, who I adopted from India. When I learnt her name was Maya – so close to my aunt's name – it seemed even more certain that we were meant to be together.

I qualified as a dietitian because I know how important good nutrition is for both helping to prevent illness and in aiding recovery.

Auntie May sadly had a stroke and died after spending her last few years in a care home. I think of her often, especially when I'm with the people I advise at my practice. My aunt taught me that food is so much more than the calories, vitamins and minerals we consume. It's about sharing shepherd's pie and good times with our family around a table. It's about making a pot of homemade jam to bring a relative in a care home. It's about creating a delicious ramekin of cauliflower cheese that will tempt someone who has lost their appetite to have just one mouthful, or two, or three. It's about empowering ourselves to give our body the nourishment it needs. And, as anyone who has baked a cake with their grandchildren or shared a tea of boiled egg and soldiers knows, it's about bridging generations.

I hope you had an 'Auntie May' in your life, or can be that person for those you love. Each time I bake Chelsea buns, I say a little thank you for her recipe – and for her love.

What would you like me to talk about? Please, get in touch with your questions about nourishment, for yourself or someone you care for. Finding the right foods when we're going through tough times is empowering, and learning what to cook for people when they're poorly or in recovery from illness can help make their lives, and our society, better. Thank you for having me, Gransnet; I can't wait to get started.

By Jane Clarke

Twitter: @Gransnet

JaneClarke Wed 15-Mar-17 12:34:10


Hi Jane just joined . Iam 69 year old man and having problems with pain from statins tablets. Would a better diet/life style replace having to take them? I always been active but struggled with my weight. Oily

oil1947y I’m sorry to hear you’re having pains from statins. Definitely, I would suggest looking at your diet and gradually exercise the amount of exercise you do to see if losing some weight can help. Cutting back on calories doesn’t mean doom and deprivation. As a starting point, keep a food diary for a few weeks to help you assess your intake – even the act of writing down everything you eat and drink may prompt you to have less. Next, cut back on very sugary foods such as cakes and chocolate, and opt for naturally sweet fruit such as Medjool dates and figs instead. If you eat them in combination with protein – some nuts or Greek yoghurt, it will prevent a sugar rush. If your tastes are more savoury, opt for a crispbread or a few unsalted nuts instead of a bag of crisps. Swapping from refined white starches (white bread, pasta, etc) to wholegrains (rye bread, wholegrain rice) will mean energy is released more slowly into your body, so you feel fuller for longer.

Next, cut down on calorie-intense fattier foods, such as butter, cream, cheese and oil. Use a cheese slicer to give thin shavings of intensely flavoured hard cheese, such as mature Cheddar or Parmesan, rather than a chunk. Drizzle oil or use a cooking spray when frying, to reduce fat. Instead of fatty bacon and sausages, choose leaner cuts. And pack your plate with vegetables and salads for low-calorie flavour and goodness. Delicious meals might be a roast chicken with lots of roasted veg on the side; a simple omelette with herbs, spinach and tomatoes, or baked cod with a squeeze of lemon, with a salad on the side.

If your cholesterol levels return to normal, you may be able to reduce the amount of statins you need, or indeed stop taking them, under the guidance of your GP. Good luck.

JaneClarke Wed 15-Mar-17 12:35:00


Hello Jane, other than the obvious what should I do diet wise to help my insomnia? I have tried eating bananas and avoiding cheese and sugar too close to bedtime but am reaching a point where I need to try something new desperately

marblerun I would suggest herbal infusions, which you can sip at bedtime. Sedative teas include skullcap, blue vervain, valerian and hops, but you may also benefit from calming herbs such as chamomile, bergamot and lemon balm. (A few drops of lavender oil on your pillow can also work a treat.) If you like them, milky drinks also have a soothing effect. Earlier in the evening, a dinner based around a wholegrain starch, such as rice or pasta, can begin the relaxation process; avoid spices, as these can be too stimulating and disrupt sleep. It’s not a nutritional solution, but I find the sleep app Pzizz [] helps with my own insomnia. I hope this helps.

JaneClarke Wed 15-Mar-17 12:36:08


I wonder whether there are any foods that are particularly helpful when it comes to stress? It's so tempting at these times to just go for things you fancy which are inevitably sugar based but I was interested to know whether there are foods that can actually help with the condition as well as bringing comfort simply by eating?

Seasalt, you’re absolutely correct that our go-to comfort foods may not help us deal with stress. My advice is to avoid overly sweet foods, as these will give you an artificial ‘high’ as they flood your blood with sugar, followed by a crash in mood and energy as your body releases insulin to counteract the effects of the sugar. I’d also avoid caffeine at times of stress, as it can exacerbate anxiety. Instead, aim to boost the protein content of your meals (even a spoonful of crème fraiche or a grating of cheese on top of a vegetable soup can do it) to help stabilise blood sugar levels. The amino acids in proteins can also help the body produce endorphins, which can help stabilise moods. Stress can affect digestion. If your gut is complaining, then go more towards cooked vegetables and broths, rather than salads and raw fruit and vegetable smoothies. Herbal infusions such as chamomile and lemon balm are also renowned for their soothing affect. You may find that taking control of your eating, so that you feel empowered to look after yourself, is a first step to dealing with your stress.

JaneClarke Wed 15-Mar-17 12:36:40


Hi Jane. Is there any way I can adjust my diet to help with vision loss and AMD? Advice much appreciated. Thank you.

Nandea, Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects sharp, central vision so that we struggle with seeing fine details and may eventually cause a loss of vision. Research into what we can do to prevent our risk isn’t conclusive, although smoking is a major risk factor. The changes in the eye are largely down to free radical damage, so a diet rich in antioxidants that scavenge free radicals, may help to protect our sight. There is also some evidence to suggest that eating oily fish may reduce our risk of developing AMD.

When you have the condition, it appears that increasing your intake of the antioxidant nutrients vitamin C, plus the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, may help. Spinach, kale, broccoli and orange and red peppers are all rich in these nutrients. Cooking improves our body’s ability to absorb them, so you could try ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta, or a delicious Tuscan bean soup with peppers and curly kale. Steamed spinach with a squeeze of lemon juice would be a great side dish, too. Zeaxanthin can be found in greatest quantities in mangoes, oranges, nectarines, squashes and honeydew melons (what a lovely fruit platter that would be!). Despite their benefits, I wouldn’t advise only eating these options. A varied diet of colourful fruits and vegetables will increase your chance of gleaning a range of antioxidants that will benefit your whole body, eyes included.

JaneClarke Wed 15-Mar-17 12:38:07


seasalt I agree; some people say that they can't eat if they are stressed and then they lose weight but I always have a longing for biscuits or cake if I feel anxious and I don't usually keep any in the house for that reason.
It probably is the sugar.

My neutrophils are always on the low side due to medication. Do you have any tips for immune boosting foods which are easy to prepare please Jane?

Jalima, avoiding temptation is a great idea, but also consider what foods you do want to have in the house to nourish your body at the moments you need it most. I’m a big fan of freezing as it doesn’t impair the nutrient value of foods and means you can always have a wholesome meal to hand. You could make a big pot of immunity-boosting soup, like my Bright Green Pea Soup, and freeze half for a later date. Keep a pot of stewed apples in the fridge and you can add a spoonful to porridge, yoghurt or pancakes. They’re not too sweet and the fibre in them helps to balance the sugar they do contain; and when stewed, the pectin in the apples is easy to digest so it can help a stressed stomach. And frozen berries will make a delicious smoothie that’s packed with immunity-boosting antioxidants; adding a vegetable such as fennel, celery or spinach, will reduce its sweetness.

As I mentioned to seasalt, protein-rich meals can also help. Not only do they help to improve mood, they also provide valuable nutrients and help to satiate you, so you’re less likely to reach for snacks.

Jalima Wed 15-Mar-17 17:59:32

Thank you Jane, I will try the soup and we have apples and berries in the freezer - the DGD like making smoothies!

GeminiJen Mon 20-Mar-17 12:34:42

Another thank you from me, Jane. Like marmar2 I have a grandson who eats only a very restricted range of foods. I read your advice in detail and found your section on the vegetarian child particularly useful. I've passed this on to my daughter...She sends her thanks too smile

Gary47 Mon 20-Mar-17 13:31:18

Sugary foods are an antidote to cortisol which the body produces when its under stress. So its no wonder that some folk reach for the biscuit tin or head to Greggs for a sticky bun! Meditation and relaxation exercises area better, have a look at the Headstart website and they have an app you can download!

Good luck !

nannienet Mon 20-Mar-17 15:01:01

The best thing about being a Mother...........the feeling of being so proud of your children in the big and small things they do through their lives, as young children and adult children, and seeing that yes, you did a good job being a Mum and a Nannie and seeing that they too are doing a good job as Mums too. Happy Mother's Day to all GN members.