Nutrition Q&A with Thrive Expert Victoria Hamilton

nutrition questions - thrive magazine

Q&A WITH OUR THRIVE EXPERTS Meet Nutritionist Victoria Hamilton

Q1.Are nut milks healthier than dairy products?
Dairy products provide an assortment of health promoting nutrients as well as being a good source of protein. However, they can cause an inflammatory reaction in some people as dairy can be difficult to digest. Dairy is high in allergens and contains lots of large molecules called lactose which some people are intolerant to.

Nut milks on the other hand are much easier on the digestive system and, although not as nutrient packed as dairy, they still contain a high amount of calcium, magnesium and (with almond milk) the antioxidant vitamin E. So, whether nut milk is a better alternative for you really depends on how well you tolerate dairy. If you prefer to stick with dairy, goat’s milk is easier on the gut than cow’s milk, so people will often try this if cow’s milk is an issue for them. Goat’s milk is less inflammatory and contains a good supply of calcium, phosphorus and protein.

Q2. How and Why Should I Get More Zinc into My Vegan Diet?
Zinc is an important element in the body, especially for regulating the immune system. As a result, people with a zinc deficiency are more prone to colds and the flu. Zinc has many other roles in the body including carbohydrate metabolism, hormone production and wound healing so ensuring you have enough in your diet is important for staying healthy.

The best sources of zinc are beef, fish and chicken, but it is also found in vegan food. Legumes and beans such as tofu, lentils and black bean contain a high amount of zinc, but their skins also contain phytates which blocks zinc absorption in the body. An easy solution for this is to soak your beans overnight or buy a brand which has pre-soaked them for you and cook them thoroughly, as they will contain less phytates after this process. In addition, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemps seeds and chia seeds are also a great source of zinc and have the benefit of being rich in magnesium, B vitamins and iron as well.

Overnight oats offer a good serving of zinc, as do cocoa and coffee beans – raw cocoa being superior to thechocolate or cocoa powder version. As the bioavailability of zinc in vegan foods might be less than their meat counterparts, it is better to eat more than the recommended daily allowance of zinc from food to ensure that you get an adequate supply.

Q3. I’ve been reading that instead of 5 a day when it comes to fruit and veg we should be aiming for 10 – is this right?
The 10 a day recommendation was introduced in 2017 after research led by scientists from the Imperial College London found that those who ate 10 fruits and vegetables a day had maximum protection against disease and premature death. Eating 5 a day is still beneficial but if you can add more it will be even more health promoting. Try adding an extra portion of fruit and vegetables with lunch or if you have a snack, have a piece of fruit instead of your usual sweet fix as this will add to the count of portions of fruit consumed throughout the day.

Q4.What’s the healthiest oil to cook with?
When an oil reaches its smoke point during cooking, it breaks down and starts to release free radicals which cause damage to cells in the body. Therefore, when looking for a suitable healthy oil to cook with, its smoke point needs to be high enough that it will not be transformed into rancid oil which plays havoc in our bodies.

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and coconut oil both have high smoke points so are recommended as good oils to cook with. EVOO has the added benefit of being anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants so this would be my go-to oil for cooking, using coconut oil occasionally. Coconut oil has a higher smoke point than EVOO so is useful to use when roasting at high temperature (which it is best not to in any case!) but use in moderation as it does contain a high amount of saturated fat.

Q5. What vitamins do I need to take to support my immune system through winter?
I would only recommend taking vitamin supplements if you know you have a deficiency in that vitamin, or it has been recommended by a practitioner. Otherwise, eat immune supporting foods such as turmeric, ginger and garlic as well as plenty of healthy omega 3 fats found in oily fish and flaxseeds. Comforting chicken soup contains l-carnosine which helps protect your body from viruses and lots of fibre containing wholegrains, chia seeds and legumes will support your gut microbiome. To increase the bioavailability of the vitamins found in foods, combine these into lovely warms stews or soups. For example, turmeric is much more bioavailable if consumed with fat and black pepper, rather than on its own.

The one vitamin that is likely to be depleted during the winter months is vitamin D so if you are prone to infections, feeling unusually tired or experiencing low mood then get tested at your GP. If deficient, supplement with vitamin D over the winter months.

Huge thanks to #ThriveExpert Victoria Hamilton for answering all of your questions from December.

If you have any questions on any topic within nutrition, please email