Five healthy swaps for a healthy life

8th March 2017
Hannah healthy swaps

Healthy eating advice and messages in the media can be confusing. We’re sold simple solutions when the underlying problems are far more complex. Content Manager Hannah shares her healthy swaps for a more balanced life and diet…

Since joining the Cook&Count team I’ve realised just how complex the world of health behavioural change is! It’s hard to keep up with all the contradictory messages and diet advice that’s out there. I’ve always aimed to live a healthy lifestyle, my biggest weakness being a sweet tooth (maybe that’s where my surname comes from!).

I read a lot of health news as part of my role in the team, and it’s pretty overwhelming. One week “all natural” is best, the next “butter leads to type 2 diabetes”. Then we hear “sugar is the enemy” but “artificial sweeteners increase appetite”. It’s hard to know what advice to pass on to friends looking to improve their diets.

While making a real effort to read up on the science behind claims and avoid simple messages, I do believe in simple switches and small steps leading to big changes. It’s all about habit forming. So here are my top 5 healthy swaps:

1. Squash to water

As a teenager I could never seem to get used to the taste of pure water, but after a short period of conscious effort I’ve come to drink barely anything else. My trusty bottle of water goes everywhere with me. Sugary drinks aren’t so good for hydration, as after the water has been absorbed, some of it must be used to digest the carbohydrate. Find some more sugar reducing swaps, plus learn about how sugar is affecting our kids, on NHS Change4Life.

2. Refined to whole grain

I automatically buy wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice whenever I can. It baffles me why restaurants don’t often have the option of brown rice or pasta! Whole grains have more of the good stuff left in than refined grains. From vitamins and minerals to healthy fats, protein and fibre. It’s National Nutrition Month this March, so what better time to make the switch!

3. Milk to dark chocolate

I’m a big chocolate eater. I like to claim it’s for the iron and magnesium, but I really just like to end a meal on something sweet. It took a bit of getting used to, and it may be a little pricey, but 90% cocoa dark chocolate is now my top choice. Even 85% cocoa solids tastes a tad too sweet! And the sugar difference is surprising. While standard milk chocolate contains 56% sugar, some of the darkest chocolates contain just 7%. Here’s a nice infographic from examining the pros and cons of dark vs milk chocolate.

4. Step it up (swap the lift for the stairs and the bus for the pavement)

Walking, to me, is one of the most powerful tools for health and fitness. Few of us enjoy the gym, and walking is something everyone can fit into their daily routine. I know a number of people who’ve had huge weight loss success simply by increasing their step count. As a team we always try and take the stairs when we can! Check out the NHS 10,000 steps challenge to get walking more.

5. Watch your mood (swap snacking for sleep)

We all experience how tiredness and stress affect our mood and eating habits. When I’m low on sleep I’m always craving food to keep up my energy levels. It’s an obvious one, but the benefits can’t be overstated. Keep well rested to control your cravings! As it’s Sleep Awareness Week next month in the US, take a look at this video How much sleep we really need? from the National Sleep Foundation.

What are your healthy swaps? Download Coo&Count on iOS or on Android to see what changes you can make to your home cooked recipes to improve your health.

Ten top tips for a healthy lifestyle

5th January 2017

Just in time for the new year, Cook&Count app founder Deborah Wilder-Wood shares her ten top tips for a healthy lifestyle in 2017…

Over the last two generations our lifestyles have changed dramatically. We can’t ignore this anymore. 60 years ago food was scarce and we were trying to get our hands on as much as we could. Now there is a lot of food. Most of it is cheap, convenient, and calorie dense. There are also so many labour saving devices, technological advances and home deliveries that most of us are not moving around enough. If we want to lose weight and be healthier, we need to forget about dieting and permanently change what we eat and how much we move.

1. Say no to ‘Good and bad’

Stop punishing yourself! Feeling annoyed because you’ve eaten something ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ is not going to help. Most people are eating too much sugar and could do with reducing their intake. But the occasional treat will not hurt. We just need to remember that we are animals. We need to eat and we need to move. We can have our cake and eat it. Providing we’re active.

2. Cook at home

Cook your own meals from scratch, rather than eating ready meals and takeaways. It will be rewarding, more nutritious and it’s a great way of controlling what’s in there – no chemicals, lower or no sugar, and so on. Aim to eat at least 4 portions of veg and 1 portion of fruit a day. Do not count fruit juice and smoothies – they contain too much sugar.

3. Snack on veg

Snack on raw vegetables like carrots, celery, beetroot and radishes. And try other nutritious foods, in smaller amounts, such as fresh fruit, unsalted nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate (at least 70%), and grainy crackers. Do not starve yourself – if you miss meals your metabolism may slow down as your body tries to store all the nutrients because it doesn’t know when the next meal will come.

4. Physical Activity 5 x 30 minutes

Physical activity is not just for weight loss, it will help prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. It will help keep your bones and muscles strong and your mood good. Do at least 5 thirty minute sessions of moderate intensity physical activity a week. Moderate intensity activity examples are: fast walking; hill walking; swimming; dancing, cycling; vacuuming; mowing the lawn; or digging the garden. To make it achievable and maintainable, fit as much of it as you can into your daily routine, such as walking and cycling to work. Stick to your intentions by writing down what, when and where you’re going to do something. Don’t be overambitious. And make plans together with a friend so that you can’t wriggle out of it. Check out the NHS One You page for some more tips on getting active.

5. Limit booze

Stick to the recommended maximum 14 units a week for women and 21 for a man and make sure you have at least two days off a week. This limits can be tough because the alcohol content of many wines and beers has increased. And serving sizes too, with the standard size for a glass of wine now 175ml. Which means there are 2.3 units in a standard glass of wine with 13% alcohol! Take a look at the World Cancer Research Fund Alcohol Calorie Counter to find out the number of calories in your drinks.

6. Cut smoking

At the moment e-cigarettes are very popular, but as they are so new there’s little research into their long-term side effects. They are not approved or regulated and recent research shows that this kind of nicotine use could lead to heart disease. If you are using one that contains nicotine, make sure you gradually reduce the strength of the vapour. See it as a tool to quit smoking rather than replacing one dependence with another. Just because e-cigarettes are ‘healthier’ does not mean that they are healthy.

7. Take a break

Get out every day for a brisk walk, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t convince yourself that you’re too busy – a few minutes getting some fresh air, burning off some adrenaline and releasing some endorphins will make you feel more energetic, clearheaded and happier!

8. Ditch the scales

Give them to the charity shop, or take them round to a friend’s house and use them no more than once a month. Your weight is not about a number, it’s about how you feel and look. And remember that if you’re doing more exercise, you may be building more muscle which weighs more than fat.

9. Deal with stress

Stress isn’t always a bad thing – in the short term it can provide mental alertness, motivation and efficiency. Focus on the things that are within your realm of control. Live in the present and the future, there is nothing you can do about the past. When you do feel stressed, burn off the extra adrenaline by taking exercise.

10. Do a job you find fulfilling and challenging

Our work takes up most of our waking hours. If we don’t enjoy it, it will spill over into the rest of our lives and may lead us to become negative, demotivated and stagnant. Challenge yourself and be proactive about taking responsibility for your life. Do not say “I’ll try” or “I’ll see if I can”. You are already setting yourself up for failure. Say “I’ll do that” and then do it!

The Cook&Count app team wishes you a happy and healthy 2017! And for top tip number two, download Cook&Count app for free from the App Store and get back in the kitchen!

Honeymooning in hurricane season – Deborah’s JDRF fundraising cycle

19th December 2016
JDRF fundraising cycle

Our founder and CEO Deborah and her new husband Dieter decided to do something different for their honeymoon in Cuba, but as it was hurricane season things didn’t get off to the best of starts!


An unusual wedding gift


Dieter and I got married on 1 October 2016. Instead of the traditional wedding gift list, we decided to choose a challenge and ask for charity donations to JDRF. This is a cause close to our hearts because we understand how type 1 diabetes can affect peoples’ lives. Our son Solly got type 1 diabetes suddenly when he was 10. It has drastically changed his life, and ours too.

We want to do what we can to support the JDRF in their mission to find the cure for type 1. We decided to help by doing what we do best – cycling long distances and exploring! Yes, it was our honeymoon. And no, we weren’t going to do much lazing around on beaches. We had chosen to spend our honeymoon in the saddle, doing a tandem bicycle tour of southern Cuba.


Hurricane Matthew hits Cuba


The lead up to our challenge was … challenging. It was hurricane season in the Caribbean and Florida. Just as we were leaving the UK we heard that one of the biggest hurricanes for decades was heading towards Cuba and then on to Florida. So instead of spending the first couple of days relaxing on Caribbean beaches before our ride, we had a three day delay boarded up in Miami waiting for Hurricane Matthew to wreak havoc.

Eventually we managed to get to Cuba to start our cycle tour. The first morning we got straight on the bike. Riding long distances in 35C heat was not easy, particularly due to the lack of food, water and shade. The roads were in a very poor state and in many areas they had collapsed into the sea. Over long distances we came across only the occasional ‘cafeteria’ but all that was on the menu was rum, cigarettes and sometimes beer.

By the third day of riding we started to enter in the area that had been hit by Hurricane Matthew. While holed up in Miami we had been watching the news and social media to get as much information as possible about how Cuba had been affected and whether it would be safe to go there. It was shocking and saddening to cycle through an area of nearly 200km in which most of the houses had lost their roof and palm trees were strewn across the landscape like boxes of matches. Electricity was down and water and food was scarce. After five days we emerged from the destruction zone, dirty, tired and hungry. And we managed to complete the final few days cycling in relative normality.


The aftermath


Despite recent stories of Cuba changing so much, becoming commercialised and being overtaken by tourists, we saw no other tourists or travellers for days. In many places the horse and cart was still the most common vehicle. Where we did see cars, many were still the beautiful, colourful 1950s American cars that people imagine when they think of Cuba.

We rode 712km over nine days. It was much tougher than we imagined and we definitely feel like we earned the brilliantly generous donations to JDRF of over £2,000 that we’ve received. We are really grateful for all the support friends and family gave for this very important cause.


Why not plan a big fundraising adventure yourself? We highly recommend it! Few people had come across the idea of doing charity donations instead of a wedding list. But many people have so much ‘stuff’ these days. So instead of receiving yet more plates, towels and cutlery, why not put money to good use by supporting research to help find a cure for type 1 diabetes. We challenge you to a challenge!

Dieter and Deborah

Cook&Count2 launches at Diabetes Professional Care 2016

21st November 2016
Cook&Count 2 flyers and cards

Last week we attended the Diabetes Professional Care 2016 conference to launch Cook&Count2 (available now from iTunes) – the much anticipated update to Cook&Count.


It was great to meet a wide range of healthcare professionals all interested in diabetes care. And we heard talks and discussions on some controversial topics in the diabetes health world. We met current users and fans of the app, those interested to learn more, and other young businesses working to improve healthcare in the diabetes space.

Digital health tech for diabetes

Diabetes specialist consultant Partha Kar talked about the need for digital health tech in supporting those with diabetes. He emphasised the impossibility of random clinical trials in this area, with technology moving so fast that new digital solutions are obsolete by the time full scale NHS trials are complete. Partha believes anything that’s useful to patients is worth recommending – something we completely agree with.

Low carb vs low fat

There was a lot of promotion of low carb diets for those with diabetes. This included a particularly lively panel discussion made up of GP Ian Lake (who uses a very low carb diet as part of his own type 1 diabetes management), Trudi Deakin (X-PERT Health) and Arjun Panesar (Co-founder of All of the panel members were fighting in the high fat, low carb corner.

Here at Health Apps we’ve always promoted a balanced diet, including lots of vegetables – particularly leafy green ones – and reducing sugar intake. While we can see the benefits of a low carb eating plan for many people, it’s not something we necessarily promote ourselves. We want to wait until there’s more long-term evidence into its efficacy. And as Trudi says, everyone is different, so get some tailored advice from a medical professional.

Take home messages for Cook&Count2

We discovered that future versions of Cook&Count could be better adapted for different cultural groups (the UK government database is missing a few popular Asian and African ingredients!), discussed specialist and guest cookbook opportunities, and explored further how Cook&Count could be linked with other health and fitness tracking apps.


All in all we received lots of positive feedback and are looking forward to our next opportunity to share Cook&Count2! Click here to head to the App Store to take a look for yourself.



Dietitian Monika on Polish cuisine

7th November 2016
Dietitian Monika Jakiel-Rusin at table

Our dietitian Monika has been working on some brand new Cookbooks for the new Cook&Count app. As a dietitian, registered nutritionist in public health and a personal trainer, she has a wealth of experience in health and nutrition. Here she tells us a little about herself and her passion for healthy living and home cooking…

At home

My food journey began where I grew up, in a little village in central Poland, where natural food was an integral part of my childhood and my home. Our food was reared or grown locally or by us, and we ate what was abundant, affordable and seasonal. In Poland, food is at the centre of family, friendship and community: it’s about enjoying life! My time growing up in Poland was one of the biggest influences on my nutritional philosophy and is the source of my passion for sharing my love of natural, health-giving food with others.

My goal is to help people lead healthier lifestyles, and I believe that the easiest way of achieving this is through being generally more active and cooking from scratch. Cooking is a great form of physical activity. From my experience, I’ve learned that the more you do it the more you enjoy it and the more benefits you can get out of it!

I enjoy cooking and love spending time in my kitchen where I can completely relax and get lost in preparing enjoyable meals for my family and friends. Cooking and sharing food, for me, is one of the best ways of expressing love.

I try to lead a healthy lifestyle myself, so I can teach with authority by being an example for others. I love sport and in my free time I run, swim, cycle, and practise Pilates and yoga.

At work

My professional journey began with my BSc Honours degree in Diet and Health at Bath Spa University, followed by a Masters degree in Dietetics at the Medical University of Silesia in Poland. I have eight years’ experience in nutritional & dietetic counselling and within the sports industry.

My nutritional philosophy is to use nature as a guide. I encourage people to make the most of the harmony and balance inherent in natural, local, seasonal ingredients.

Balance and harmony are the pillars of my philosophy and clinical method. Harmony for me means all aspects of diet and lifestyle working together, efficiently. In turn, this helps us balance our commitment to our health with all the other demands of our lives.

The focus of my philosophy is on what healthy choices bring to life rather than what they take away. This approach allows changes in attitudes, tastes, and relationships with food and exercise to take place naturally, as a process of discovery. For me, creating a healthy lifestyle is a life-long journey, one that can be challenging, surprising, enjoyable and exciting. I would like all people to be able to find a huge joy in their food journeys.

We love Monika’s philosophy! Here at Cook&Count we’re all about healthy balanced diets, good home cooked food and knowing what we’re eating.