words by Kathleen Flemming

How Healthy Are You Really? We ask expert Nutritionist, Amanda Ursell, to analyse 4 healthy British girl’s diets, living in 4 different countries

Ever wondered if you would be healthier living somewhere else in the world? How do our diets in the UK compare to those of women living abroad? Four British girls, one living in London and 3 abroad, sent Hip and Healthy their food diaries so we can see if where we live affects our diet and lifestyle. Acclaimed nutritionist, Amanda Ursell, gives her opinion on each diet and provides ideas on how they can be improved.

Victoria is a 28 year old corporate lawyer living in London

Due to the nature of her job, Victoria spends long hours at the office and often eats at work or at restaurants. She tries to run home (8km) several times a week as well as walking to and from the station each day.

Breakfast: 1 slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, pear, skinny latte

Lunch: mushroom soup, bread, packet of low fat baked crisps, handful of blackberries

Dinner: prawn salad, steak and salad, chocolate pudding

Snacks: dried mango, banana

Drinks: water, 1 glass of wine, 1 glass of champagne

What do you think of your diet? I try to eat healthily, but sometimes it is difficult due to working long hours and I often have client lunches or dinners. As a result, I am not always able to prepare my own meals and frequently eat at my desk. I try not to drink alcohol during the week, but I will have a glass of wine if I go out with clients. On the weekends, I eat out Friday and Saturday nights and normally I have a few drinks.  Due to the fact that I spend a lot of time in the office, I try to fit in exercise several times a week such as running home from work in the evening.

Amanda says: As a one-day ‘snap-shot’, I feel that Victoria is doing well with her diet. She is getting 100% of her ‘five a day’ of fruit and vegetables and is eating from a wide variety of food groups. It is important that the soya milk Victoria uses is fortified with calcium, needed for strong bones and to try to include another calcium-rich food like a yoghurt, fromage frais, or another latte to keep intakes up to the 700mg a day target. It’s good to see a young woman eating lean red meat, which is rich in iron, a nutrient many women in this age group are eating too little of. This can lead to sub-clinical anaemia triggering stress, tiredness, poor quality hair and generally low moods.

Emily is a 26 year old freelance writer living in Sydney, Australia

Emily has been living in Sydney since November 2012. Before moving to Sydney, she was living in London and working as a PA to a CEO. She now writes freelance for various publications and websites in the UK and Australia. She walks, swims or does yoga several times a week.

Breakfast: ½ avocado, 2 scrambled eggs, 1 slice of sourdough bread

Lunch: a big green salad with halloumi cheese, chicken, carrots and pine nuts, yoghurt and honey

Dinner: pan fried fillet of white fish with quinoa and mixed vegetables (broccoli, kale, sweet peppers)

Snacks: apple

Drinks: 1 flat white coffee, water

How has your diet changed since living in Sydney? As the summer in Sydney is so hot, I don’t have the same cravings for carbohydrate heavy meals like pasta. There is a wider range of produce available in the supermarkets and markets and everything seems much fresher. As a result I buy a more varied mix of fruit and veg. I also choose to eat more meat than in the UK as there is a lot of grass fed meat available. I cook more from scratch as I have more time in the evenings due to not having a long commute to work.

Amanda says: I love Emily’s ‘three-solid meals-a-day’ approach to her diet. So often young women skip meals and then over do things with too many catch-up calories later in the day. Emily has a lovely balance of food groups, including plenty of fruits and vegetables and also reveals that she has plenty of variety in these, which is important to get a really good range of super nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I’m not a pro-meat lobbyist, but again, as with Victoria, it is good to see a young woman not giving up meat in the belief that it is ‘bad’ for you. Lean red meat eaten three times a week or so can be a great boost to the diet, providing not just iron, but important minerals like zinc as well, which we need for a robust immune system.

Helen is a 29 year old contract manager living in Washington DC, USA

Helen has been living in Washington DC for the last year. Prior to this, Helen was working in London as a contract manager for the same company as she works for in Washington. She tries to fit in an early morning gym session most days before work as there is a gym in her apartment block.

Breakfast: 2 slices of toast with peanut butter and an orange juice

Lunch: dim sum

Dinner: fillet of white fish, couscous, broccoli

Snacks: cheese after work

Drinks: black tea with milk, water, green tea and a glass of wine

How has your diet changed since living in Washington? The biggest difference is that I eat less bread, as bread in America is awful. In London I ate bread with every meal and I used to snack on toast in between meals. I also go out for lunch more in Washington as we don’t have a kitchen in our office. In London, I never used to drink alcohol during the week but I normally have a glass of wine in the evening here. However, in London I would drink quite a lot at the weekend, which I don’t do here. In Washington, I also do more exercise because I have a gym in my apartment block and another gym down the road. The gyms here are amazing and so I am really enjoying going.

Amanda says: I like Helen’s peanut butter breakfast start to the day. It is good for a range of minerals including iron and calcium along with ‘good’ oils. These, along with the protein it contains, helps to make it a filling choice on, what I hope, is wholegrain bread. To help boost Helen’s iron intake, it’s worth adding a glass of orange juice to her lunchtime or evening meal as the vitamin C it contains helps to absorb iron more easily. This is important because Helen’s foods look a little on the low side of this vital mineral. It would be a good idea to have some fruit after the dim sum to help reach her daily goal of five a day of fruits and vegetables. I like the fact that Helen has ‘evened’ out her alcohol intake and is not binge drinking at weekends anymore. One small glass of wine a night is fine and is better than have a big on-slaught in one go.

Kathleen is a 28 year old yoga teacher living in Nicaragua

Kathleen has been in Nicaragua for 9 months, living and working at a small hotel on the Pacific coast. Before living in Nicaragua, Kathleen was living in London and working as a lawyer for a financial services company. She teaches yoga several times a week and surfs about three times a week.

Breakfast: big bowl of fruit salad (papaya, banana, watermelon, pineapple, passion fruit), yoghurt with honey, freshly squeezed orange juice

Lunch: big bowl of lentil soup, 1 slice of homemade whole wheat bread with hummus, banana

Dinner: vegetable tagine (chickpeas, onions, carrots, tomatoes and raisins with Moroccan spices), bulgur wheat, green salad and hummus

Snacks: fresh banana and mango smoothie

Drinks: green tea and water

How has your diet changed since living in Nicaragua? There is very little processed food available where we live in Nicaragua so we make everything from scratch. In London I was lazy and I used to buy bottles of tomato sauce and cans of soup instead of making them. Here, I also eat different fruit and vegetables, as generally the only produce available is locally grown (papayas, mangos, avocados). I hardly ever eat sweets or chocolates as they don’t sell decent chocolate here and imported foods are really expensive. My lifestyle is also very different in Nicaragua as I no longer sit in an office all day surrounded by tubs of Marks and Spencer chocolate mini rolls (it was always someone’s birthday!). Now I am on my feet teaching yoga, cooking meals for the guests or doing things around the hotel. I do less intentional exercise like going to the gym but my lifestyle is more active.

Amanda says: Kathleen’s diet sounds as though it has been de-junked and is much healthier now compared to her London version. I do however feel that adding some yoghurt will help at breakfast time, by providing some much needed calcium to the diet. Other good ‘natural’ foods for this crucial bone-building mineral include sesame seeds, steamed tofu, dried figs and green beans. Apologies for banging on about iron, but if Kathleen avoids meat deliberately, it is important for her to be sure to have good vegetable sources each day. These include dark green vegetables, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, peanut butter, tahini paste, dried apricots and dried figs.