Eat Smarter


Prunes have suffered something of an image problem in the past, due to their well-known role in treating constipation. But the benefits of prunes, or dried plums, go way beyond your digestive health.

  • Bone strength. A 2022 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating five or six prunes a day helped women past menopause to preserve bone mineral density in their hips, which could translate to a lower risk of osteoporosis and fewer bone breaks. And it is not because of calcium. The researchers speculated that the daily handful of prunes lowered inflammatory chemicals that contribute to bone breakdown.
  • Blood sugar. Despite being fairly high in carbs, prunes do not cause a substantial rise in blood sugar levels. The fibre in prunes slows the rate your body absorbs carbs after a meal, and prunes also appear to increase levels of adiponectin, a hormone that plays a role in blood sugar regulation.
  • Heart health. A number of studies has found that prunes benefit your heart. Eating prunes and drinking prune juice improved levels of HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, decreased ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol and lowered blood pressure. It is thought that the combination of fibre, potassium and antioxidants is what makes prunes heart protective.

World Osteoporosis Day is 20 October. For more information on bone health, visit

1 Thing You Can Do Today

Shed a tear or two

When you are watching a sad movie, listening to a sad song, or remembering a sad event, how easy is it for you to have a good cry? If you rarely cry because you are uncomfortable, seeing it as a weakness or a loss of control, you could be missing out. Crying, it turns out, is a healthy response, and can benefit you in many ways:

  • Releases stress. We carry around a lot of stress and when we cry in response to this, our tears contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals. Researchers think crying can reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body, which in turn may reduce stress.
  • Can improve mood. A surprising finding, but crying may lift your spirits and help you feel better. It is all down to the hormone oxytocin and feel-good chemicals called endorphins that are released when you cry, which, incidentally, can also help reduce pain.
  • Soothes your emotions. One study found that crying can have a self-soothing effect. Self-soothing is when you are able to regulate your own emotions and calm yourself. The study explained that crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps people relax.

While crying can be a healthy response, if continuing sad thoughts are causing you distress, seek support from your doctor or mental health professional.

How to Talk About Candy with Your Children

It is Halloween at the end of this month, and for anyone with children, that can mean candy. Lots and lots of candy.

It is a tricky situation: you do not want your children eating too much sugar (and all those artificial additives). And yet you want your children to grow up seeing food as a source of joy, not shame.

You know from experience that if you deny yourself a certain food, you end up craving it. We tend to want what we cannot have.

So how should you handle it?

Registered dietitian and producer of Nutrition for Littlies, Alyssa Miller, says there is nothing wrong with sweet food. It is just an intense source of instant energy.

“In the end, we want to raise conscious eaters, who know how foods affect their body and how to eat all foods in a way that makes them feel good,” says Miller.

She says to keep focusing on how foods make us feel instead of warning your children they will be sick if they eat too many Halloween lollies, say something like, “My belly gets a little upset when I eat too much candy, I think I will have a few tonight and save some for another day.”

If – or when you eat candy, stop yourself from saying things like “I’m being bad tonight” or “I’m going to have to go to the gym tomorrow.”

Remember: no food is “bad”, and eating is not something that should ever be punished.

When You Eat Matters More Than You Think

What you eat is important, no question. But what about when you eat? We shine a light on how the timing of your meals can affect your health.

The time of the day you eat most of your food can affect your weight, appetite, chronic disease risk and your body’s ability to burn and store fat.

It is called “chrononutrition”, and it is an emerging area of research that looks at how the timing of your meals affects your circadian rhythm.

Do not eat too much, too late

People whose largest meal is in the evening may be heavier and have bigger blood fats and blood sugar after eating, found a 2020 review of studies published the Journal of Neurochemistry.

But before you get too alarmed, this does not mean you have to skip dinner or go to bed hungry.

“Nothing bad is going to happen if you eat a balanced dinner earlier in the evening, or have a small protein-rich snack to quell hunger pangs before you go to bed,” says dietitian Abby Langer.

“Your body knows what to do with the food you consume in the dark, trust me.”

Alan Flanagan, author of the 2020 study, agrees, saying it is more about thinking about total energy distribution throughout the whole day.

“In people with impaired glucose control [higher than normal blood sugar levels] the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of greater distribution of total daily energy earlier in the days,” he says.

“When over 35 per cent of energy comes later in the day, that’s pretty consistently associated with increased BMI, body fat percentage, and cardiometabolic risk, in particular diabetes risk.”

Other studies from 2022 supported these conclusions, finding:

  • People were significantly hungrier than they had a late-eating compared to early-eating schedule.
  • Later eating caused people to burn less fat and fewer calories, and pushed their fat cells to store more fat.
  • Earlier eaters had greater improvements in their blood sugar, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity (a marker of diabetes risk) and lost more weight than later eaters.

Making it work for you

It is not practical for many of us to eat our largest meal in the morning, so how can you optimise your health without too much disruption?

  • Do not skip breakfast. This does not mean you have to eat as soon as you get up, but try to eat the majority of your calories during the morning and afternoon.
  • Aim to eat dinner earlier in the evening. Avoid sitting down at 10pm to eat. Instead, if you are a late eater, start by moving your meal at least one hour earlier than usual, aiming to eat dinner no later than two to three hours before bed.
  • Lighten the load. Make dinner a meal that is chock full of vegetables rather than carbohydrates, and switch to eating most of your carbs (bread, pasta etc) to earlier in the day when you are more sensitive to insulin. You will still gain benefits even if you can only do this for four or five days a week.

Can You Pass This 10 Second Test?

It will give you clues on your longevity and future quality of life.

This test is a powerful predictor of mortality, according to its creator, Dr Jonathan Myers, a professor at Stanford University, USA.

One in five people cannot do it.

The test? Stand on one leg for 10 seconds.

You have three tries to achieve it.

Why does balance matter?

Many people take their balance for granted, until it is taken away by eye or ear conditions, or general ageing.

Yet it turns out it is a vitally important clue to your health, now and into the future.

In 2022, a team of researchers from Brazil, Finland, USA, UK and Australia published research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

They reported that inability to pass the 10 second balance test was associated with a twofold risk of death from any cause within 10 years.

Without good balance, you are more prone to falls. And falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide.


How to improve your balance

If you tried the test and found it hard, do not worry. Balance can be improved through simple and low-cost balance training.

Balance is strongly related to strength. The stronger your muscles, particularly big muscles like your legs and core, the better your balance is likely to be.

Physiotherapists recommend these exercises to work on your balance:

1. Start by changing your “base of support”. That is, the surface you are standing on, for example:

  • balance on one leg
  • balance with your feet one in front of the other, like you are standing on a tightrope
  • stand on something unstable, such as cushions, a foam mat or wobble board.

2. Add a change to your visual input

While trying any movement from point 1, try closing your eyes, turning your head or moving your eyes from side to side or up and down. This will challenge your vestibular system or inner ear.

3. Add dynamic movement

While doing 1 and 2, try movement such as:

  • moving your arms, legs or torso
  • holding weights in your hands or as ankle weights
  • combine more complicated movements like walking along an imaginary tightrope