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Ask Sam...


Eggs and pulses

Is it true that eggs contain cholesterol? And how many eggs can I eat each week?

Eggs do contain a type of cholesterol found in many foods, called dietary cholesterol. Eggs, liver, kidneys and prawns are higher in dietary cholesterol than other foods.

But the cholesterol we get from our food has much less effect on the level of cholesterol in our blood than the amount of saturated fat we eat.

If you are eating a balanced diet, you don't need to cut down on eggs (or kidneys and prawns), unless your GP or dietitian has advised you to do this.

However, liver is also a rich source of vitamin A, which can be harmful in high amounts. So if you eat liver every week you might want to choose not to have it more often because the body stores vitamin A and levels can build up over many years.

If you need to reduce the cholesterol level in your blood, the most important thing is to cut down on saturated fat. It's also a good idea to eat more fruit, vegetables and fibre-rich foods such as oats and pulses.

Foods that are high in saturated fat include fatty meat, meat pies, sausages, hard cheese, butter and lard, pastry, cakes and biscuits, cream, soured cream and creme fraiche, coconut oil, coconut cream and palm oil.

Lots of people think that you should only eat a certain number of eggs a week. In fact, most people don't need to limit how many eggs they have, if they are eating a balanced diet, which means basing meals on starchy foods and having plenty of fruit and veg, some dairy products and some foods that are good sources of protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils. Remember that we should try to eat a wide variety of foods to get all the nutrients we need.

Eggs are a good source of protein, iodine and vitamins such as D and B2. Poached or boiled eggs are a healthier choice than fried eggs, because you don't need to add fat during cooking. To make healthier scrambled egg, you could use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk rather than whole milk, and if you normally add butter, use a little low-fat spread instead or some vegetable oil such as sunflower oil.

Do pulses and baked beans count towards my daily fruit and veg portions?

Beans and pulses can count towards the five portions of fruit and veg we should aim to eat each day, but they can only make up a maximum of one portion a day.

You need to eat three heaped tablespoons of pulses or beans to make up one portion.

Pulses and beans are a good source of protein and they are rich in fibre. They also contain iron, but they don't provide much of vitamins A, C or E. We need to eat a variety of fruit and veg to make sure that we get these and other important nutrients.

Tinned baked beans can be high in sugar and salt, so try to choose low-sugar, low-salt varieties when you can. If you buy tinned pulses, choose those without added salt if possible.

I have heard that nuts, peanuts and dried fruit may contain aflatoxins. What are they and do I need to stop eating these types of food?

Aflatoxins are a type of toxin found naturally in some foods, such as:
  • peanuts
  • nuts, such as pistachios and Brazil nuts
  • dried fruit, such as dried figs and apricots
Foods containing these, such as peanut butter and fruit cake, might also contain aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are produced by certain moulds that grow on foods in tropical and sub-tropical countries. They have been linked to liver cancer in these countries, where it's common for some foods that are an important part of people's diet to contain high levels of aflatoxins.

However, in the UK and the rest of the EU there are legal limits for aflatoxins in foods, to make sure that people take in as little of them as possible. Port health authorities and local authorities test food samples regularly to check that levels of aflatoxins are not above these legal limits.

The Food Standards Agency also carries out surveys to monitor levels of aflatoxins in foods that are more likely to contain higher levels, and advises manufacturers on how to keep levels to a minimum.

You don't need to stop eating nuts, peanuts or dried fruit. They contain important nutrients and so they can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

How much protein do I need each day?

Protein is essential for growth and repair of the body, and 15% of the calories we eat each day should come from protein. If you're eating a balanced diet you're probably getting enough protein.

Men need about 44 to 55g a day and women need about 36 to 45g protein each day.

Children also need plenty of protein to help them grow and how much will depend on what they weigh. As a general guide:
  • children aged 4 to 6 need about 15 to 20g protein each day
  • children aged 7 to 10 need about 23 to 28g protein each day
Most adults and children in the UK have more protein than they need.

The following foods are all good sources of protein:
  • poultry (an average portion of roast chicken breast contains 27g protein)
  • lean meat (an average portion of bolognese sauce contains 28g protein)
  • fish (a small can of tuna and an average portion of poached cod fillet each contain 24g protein)
  • cheese (an average cheese sandwich on white bread contains about 17g protein)
  • eggs (an average-size boiled hens' egg contains about 6g protein)
  • milk (a 150ml glass of semi-skimmed milk provides about 5g protein)
  • pulses (three tablespoons of boiled red lentils contains about 9g protein)
  • tofu (100g tofu contains about 23.5g protein)
  • bread (a slice of wholemeal bread contains about 3g protein)
Don't forget that you need a healthy balanced diet including:
  • meals based on starchy foods, such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes – these types of foods should make up about a third of the food you eat
  • lots of fruit and vegetables, also making up about a third of your diet – aim for at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day
  • some meat, fish, eggs or pulses
  • some milk and dairy products, such as yoghurt and cheese, choosing lower-fat varieties when you can
It can be harder for vegetarians, and especially vegans, to get enough protein. So if you're vegetarian, try to eat a mixture of foods that are rich in protein every day, and vary the types you choose. For example, you could eat:
  • pulses, such as lentils, beans and chickpeas
  • nuts and seeds
  • eggs
  • soya products, such as tofu, miso and soya drinks
  • mycoprotein, sold as QuornTM
  • wheat proteins, such as cereals, bread, rice and maize
  • milk and dairy products

Are nuts a healthy snack for someone with high cholesterol?

Nuts are a good choice of snack because they are rich in a wide range of nutrients and high in fibre. They are also a good source of monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce blood cholesterol levels.

So it's OK to eat nuts as a snack, as part of a healthy balanced diet. But remember, nuts are high in fat, so try not to eat too many. And it's a good idea to avoid salted nuts because they are very high in salt, which can raise blood pressure. Like high cholesterol, having raised blood pressure increases the chance of developing heart disease.

Eating foods that are high in saturated fat can raise levels of cholesterol in the blood. So try to cut down on foods such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, meat pies, sausages, hard cheese, butter and foods containing coconut or palm oil.

Choose foods that are rich in unsaturated fats instead, such as oily fish, avocados and sunflower, rapeseed and olive oils. Nuts can be a good alternative to snacks high in saturated fat. And don't forget that we should also try to reduce the total amount of fat we eat.

Variety is an important part of eating a healthy diet, and this includes snacks as well. Some other healthy snacks you might like to try include fresh or dried fruit, low-fat yoghurt, raw vegetables, fruit loaf with low-fat spread and currant buns (without icing).

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