Your Nutrition Questions Answered

The world of nutrition can be confusing — don’t eat this, always eat that; this is good for you, this is bad for you. With the internet a complete web of over-complicated — and even seemingly opposing — ideas and rules, it can be hard to know how to approach your nutrition. So, we asked our Instagram community to send us questions they really wanted to know the answers to. Here, nutritionist Sinéad Berry answers the most-asked questions.

What are your thoughts on protein powders as a way to up protein intake on a plant-based diet?

Protein is essential in our diets as we need it for the growth, repair, energy and maintenance of our bodies, especially for bones and muscles. In the UK, the daily protein recommendation for adults is to eat 0.75g per kg of our bodyweight. So, on average, a woman should have 45g per day (55g for men) — that’s about two palm-sized portions. The good news is that, in general, most people are usually eating more than this recommendation. There are certain times when you may want to increase your protein intake, such as if you’re pregnant, experiencing perimenopausal symptoms or if you’re doing intensive physical exercise. 

When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into amino acids (the building blocks), which it then reconfigures into any type of protein it needs. There are 20 amino acids and nine of these need to be obtained from the diet. Complete protein (which is mainly found in animal protein) contains all nine of these essential amino acids. Most plant-based proteins (such as legumes, grains, nuts and seeds) are considered incomplete, but eating a mixture of proteins throughout the day will provide enough of the essential amino acids we need. Remember that soy-based foods, such as tofu and tempeh, provide complete protein, as does quinoa. 

So, do you need to include protein powder for a healthy plant-based diet? In most cases, probably not, as long as you’re including a wide variety of protein sources in your diet. However, adding a scoop of protein powder to your smoothie is a great way to make it a more complete meal, leaving you feeling fuller for longer. If you do choose to use a protein powder, make sure to choose one that’s free from unwanted sweeteners and additives.

Click here for more ideas of the best plant-based protein sources and high protein recipes.

Where do I start with supplements if I follow a plant-based diet?

As I often say to clients, “You can’t supplement your way out of a poor diet”. In general, you should always focus on a healthy balanced diet to get the nutrients you need to thrive. 

When it comes to plant-based diets, a well planned and varied diet should provide nearly everything you need, although there are a number of important nutrients that may be difficult to get enough of, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, iron, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. So look out for fortified foods and consider taking appropriate supplements that will provide you with the essential vitamins and minerals that you may be getting less of. 

When choosing supplements, there are a number of great vegan multivitamins out there that include these specific nutrients; always check the ingredients and look out for ones that don’t contain additives and fillers. If you’re unsure or taking medication, always check with a healthcare provider first.

How important are calories really? Should we be paying attention to, or even counting, them?

Calories are used to estimate how much energy there is in what we eat or drink. This energy is essential for your body to function efficiently (to grow, move, repair, think, breathe). Guidelines suggest that women need 2,000kcal a day and men require 2,500kcal to maintain a healthy weight — any less and you may lose weight; any more and you may gain weight. But how many calories you actually need is personal to you and depends on many things such as your age, body size, activity level, or whether you’re breastfeeding. 

Calorie counting may be useful to give you an awareness of your overall energy consumption, and the simple idea that you’ll lose weight if you eat fewer calories than you burn makes sense on the surface. But there’s a lot more to healthy eating than just a number. How your body processes calories is unique to you and factors such as your metabolism or your gut microbiome may affect how your body responds to food. Your body may also not absorb the full amount of energy that’s released; and some foods require more energy to digest (such as nuts) than others. Remember that the number of calories in a food doesn’t dictate how nutritious it is. For example, avocados are high in calories but packed with goodness; and a donut is high in calories but has a very different nutritional value. The impact of cooking and processing is also something that a calorie count doesn’t consider. Ultra-processed foods have been through industrial processes that significantly change their structure, usually leaving them higher in calories and low in nutrients. 

So accurately counting calories is tricky, as well as time consuming; there’s also the potential for it to lead to restrictive or unhealthy behaviours where nutritious foods are being excluded because of their calorie content, or frequently inaccurate tracking tools are being used obsessively. Rather than focusing on counting calories, we should instead be considering the quality of our diet as a whole and aiming for a varied diet that is full of minimally processed, nutritious wholefoods.

How important is it to monitor your blood sugar if you don’t have a medical condition that requires it?

Blood sugar monitoring is a hot topic in the wellness world but the concept of using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is nothing new — for people living with diabetes, daily blood sugar checking is a necessity. For healthy people, there’s currently no robust evidence showing that monitoring your blood glucose leads to improved health. It’s perfectly normal for blood sugar levels to fluctuate throughout the day and if this is happening within a healthy range, there’s no need to worry about monitoring your blood sugar. 

That being said, well-regulated blood sugar levels may have a positive impact on everything from energy levels to mood, sleep and cravings, while also potentially reducing the risk of chronic disease. It’s also important to note that while our blood sugar levels may be affected by what we eat, factors such as stress, sleep and hormone fluctuations also have some impact. 

Find out more about blood sugar, and how it may impact your health day-to-day and long term, plus get tips for supporting healthy blood sugar balance in this in-depth article.

Does when you eat, or the timings between, your meals matter?

We know that what we eat may affect our health but now we also know that when we eat may also have an impact — there’s some evidence that large meals eaten late at night may be linked with obesity, whereas eating breakfast has been associated with a reduced risk (1). Evidence also suggests that meal regularity is linked with lower blood sugar responses, where eating every 3 to 4 hours (and avoiding skipping meals) may help with blood sugar balance (2).   

Modern life doesn’t make this easy though — our days are much busier and demanding, with long hours, night shifts, skipping meals, eating on the go, and jet lag all being common occurrences for many. This disruption of our natural circadian rhythms (our internal body clock that regulates everything from hormones to digestion) may affect our appetite and digestion, particularly impacting the hormones ghrelin (hunger hormone) and leptin (satiety hormone). Consistent meal patterns can help regulate these hormones and maintain healthy hunger cues.

Tuning into our body clock and eating when our body is more prepared to utilise our food may better support our health — eating food during daylight hours, when your body is more insulin-sensitive, may improve blood sugar control, protect your metabolic health and support healthy weight (3). However, our food choices and portion sizes are likely to have a larger impact on our health. Allowing sufficient time between meals may also support digestion and a healthy gut microbiome as it allows gut bacteria time to rest and repopulate, but more research is needed in this area. 

A one-size-fits-all recommendation about meal timing may not work for everyone — the best meal timing and frequency can vary based on individual health needs, lifestyle and preferences. It’s important to listen to your body and find a routine that works for you and your overall wellbeing. As research into meal timings and intermittent fasting continues, our current focus should be on achieving a healthy balanced diet full of variety. 

Find out more about time-restricted eating and intermittent fasting here.

Sinéad Berry

Registered Nutritionist (MSc, mBANT, rCNHC)



1. Lopez-Minguez J, Gómez-Abellán P, Garaulet M. Timing of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Effects on Obesity and Metabolic Risk. Nutrients. 2019;Nov 1;11(11):2624.

2. Alhussain MH, Macdonald IA, Taylor MA. Irregular meal-pattern effects on energy expenditure, metabolism, and appetite regulation: A randomized controlled trial in healthy normal-weight women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;104(1):21–32.

3. Sarah L. Chellappa et al. Daytime eating prevents internal circadian misalignment and glucose intolerance in night work. Sci Adv. 2021;Dec 3;7(49):eabg9910.

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