Dr Hazel Wallace is a practising GP with a special interest in nutrition, and a qualified personal trainer. We sat down for a 10 minute chat with her
What do you think is the cornerstone of a healthy diet?
Balance – as much as I hate using this word as I feel it has almost become a diet phrase in itself, having a diet which includes all food groups in moderation is key. There is no perfect diet, and no cookie-cutter approach that will suit everyone but opting for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, healthy fats from nuts, seeds and olive oil, and protein from lentils, beans, eggs, lean meats and fish, is a good place to start. Having a slice of cake or a bar of chocolate does not make a diet or a person unhealthy, just like having a green juice doesn’t make someone instantly healthy. We need to look at our diet as a whole, so that it is sustainable and also enjoyable!
Have you got any easy food swap suggestions?
One thing I try to encourage is reducing red meat consumption. We eat far too much of it here in the UK and Ireland and there is now evidence to say that red meat, in particular, processed red meat, may be linked to colorectal cancer if it is consumed in high amounts. Little things like swapping half your beef for lentils when making a chilli or bolognese can make a big difference.
Which foods should we eat once we are over 50?
Your diet doesn’t need to change once you hit 50. As we get older we are at greater risk of conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis (particularly in postmenopausal women). However my view is that we should be bullet-proofing our bodies before we hit 50, 60 or 70 so that we are less likely to develop these conditions in the first place. We know that fibre is very beneficial for heart health, as is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, healthy fats from olive oil and oily fish, and being more mindful of our salt and saturated fat intake.
What do postmenopausal women need to consider in particular?
After the menopause, getting enough calcium and vitamin D is particularly important for bone health. Try to include 2-3 portions of calcium-rich foods every day, such as a small glass of milk, small yoghurt or matchbox-sized portion of cheese. Plant-based sources of calcium include fortified plant milks, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh, and leafy green vegetables such as kale. Vitamin D is also very important for bone health. It is made in the skin in response to sunlight but we can also get some from our diet in red meat, oily fish, eggs and fortified cereal. In the winter and the spring, it is recommended that we all take a Vitamin D supplement here in the UK.
What do you have for breakfast on a busy day?
If I know I’m going to be busy I will make it the night before and it’s usually overnight oats made using porridge, yoghurt and flaxseed, topped with peanut butter and berries – quick, easy and delicious!
What’s your go-to healthy meal to cook for friends and family?
A big chickpea and tomato stew that everyone can help themselves to, served with garlic baby potatoes or crusty bread to mop up the excess
sauce. Garlic is my favourite ingredient, so I’ll add it to everything. I get my recipe inspiration from so many places – my Irish upbringing, my mum and grandmother, places I’ve travelled to, the seasons, and dishes I’ve loved in cafés and restaurants.
Do you have a favourite cookbook?
Yes, the Avoca Café Cookbook. Avoca is a traditional Irish café and restaurant business in Ireland, with wholesome dishes made from fresh ingredients. It makes the most incredible salads and quiches, as well as breads and scones.
What are you passionate about?
Nutrition and physical activity as under-utilised preventative treatments in medicine! I want doctors of the future to prescribe 5-a-day and step count targets. I would love to have a dietitian/nutritionist and personal trainer attached to every general practice to help to tackle lifestylerelated diseases. I like what Jamie Oliver has done with kids’ school dinners and I would like to do the same overhaul in the medical world.
How do you think healthy eating will evolve in the next few years?
I’m hoping that fad diets will soon die out but I think that’s just wishful thinking on my part. I think technology will be big in the health and fitness world with more apps being developed to help track our behaviours. I wish more people knew that there is no one bad food that we need to cut out – one week it’s fat, then it’s sugar, next it’s gluten. We are always searching for the key to the perfect diet and I highly suspect that the answer isn’t one nutrient or one food. The best advice I’ve ever had about healthy eating is that “superfoods are just normal foods with really good PR” from dietitian Catherine Collins.
Find out more…
The Food Medic for Life by Dr Hazel Wallace is published by Yellow Kite. Hardback, £20. Photography by Ellis Parrinder.