Eat & move with Derval O'Rourke: My most-asked food questions answered

This week I’m taking you through my most asked food questions and the answers I find myself giving. Recipe-wise it’s my husband Peter’s salmon burgers plus a delicious tzatziki recipe that goes perfectly with them.

Eat & move with Derval O'Rourke: My most-asked food questions answered

This week I’m taking you through my most asked food questions and the answers I find myself giving. Recipe-wise it’s my husband Peter’s salmon burgers plus a delicious tzatziki recipe that goes perfectly with them.

The health and fitness industry is rife with misinformation. There are many nonsense nutrition myths out there that are engrained in our minds. These come from numerous sources and with the ever-increasing use of social media they tend to gain traction quickly.

One of my aims in this column is to provide accurate and evidence-based information to help you make informed decisions when it comes your health and fitness. The column will always have an element of my opinion but I’m cautious about the information I put out. As this is my approach I consult with Aishling O’Hea who is a qualified nutritional scientist from UCC. We combine my experience and love of health issues with her science degree.

With that in mind here are a few questions I get asked frequently and that Aishling and myself and find ourselves chatting through.

1) Should I ditch dairy?

Unless you have a medically diagnosed intolerance, dislike the taste of it or don’t agree with it for ethical reasons then no. Personally I consume dairy in a balanced way. I’ve always consumed dairy. I find milk really useful for post workouts plus I use moderate amounts of cheese. I love a good quality yogurt and you’ll nearly always find it in my fridge.

According to research dairy is associated with:

- A decrease or no change in risk for most cancers, eczema, fracture risk and inflammation.

- Improved appetite control, fat loss, weight loss and gains in lean muscle mass.

To add to these benefits it is packed with nutrition including calcium, phosphorus, protein, B12, iodine and vitamin D.

2) Are food intolerance tests reliable?

In short, this is not an evidence-based area of research. The IgG pin prick tests being offered in some shops or online are essentially not backed by research. They test for IgG antibodies in your blood and claim a positive result means a food intolerance. However, it doesn’t because most of us develop IgG antibodies to foods over our lives. It is an indicator of repeated exposures not clinical symptoms. Our preferred method is to keep a food and symptom diary to identify foods that might be causing your symptoms. Trial restricting these foods for a short period of time and then reintroducing them while monitoring symptoms.

Note: Food allergies are a serious and potentially life threatening condition and are not what we are talking about here. If you are experiencing unexplained symptoms then speak to your GP or another health care professional.

3) Is gluten free healthier?

I see a huge amount online and hear people talking about giving up gluten as they feel it is healthier to do so.

There has been no increase in the number of genuine allergies to gluten; there is a perception of it being healthier that’s driving this trend. A recent study in the UK showed 24% of gluten free shoppers did it to lose weight and 28% to increase their energy levels, neither of these health goals are evidence based.

Unless you have been medically diagnosed with coeliac disease there is no need to demonise an otherwise healthy food. Losing weight because you cut out gluten is probably because you’ve actually introduced restrictive food rules and decreased the amount of food you are eating overall.

It’s important to remember that being located in the ‘free from aisle’ does not automatically make a food healthier. Many gluten free foods are pumped with sugar and fat to make them palatable. If you consider that people are eating them out of the perception of health then this makes little sense.

If you are experiencing symptoms you think may be related to a gluten intolerance please speak to your GP or another health professional.

Be careful of following a diet trend without medical advice.

4) Are superfoods essential to be healthy?

Firstly, the term superfood is a marketing term not a nutritional classification. It’s used to sell products to people at a premium price. Yes acai berries, chia seeds and wheat grass may be loaded with nutrients but so are blueberries, pumpkin seeds and spinach. When reading claims like ‘Goji berries cure cancer’ please remember no one food is going to have major health effects. It’s your whole diet over extended periods that is key. Enjoy superfoods if you can afford them but don’t feel like you need an expensive food to be healthy and well. It’s extremely doable to eat healthy on a budget without forking out for for very expensive products.

5) Is organic food worth the price?

Anything labelled organic is bound by strict rules regulating the use of hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms. In an ideal world I would choose locally sourced, organic and seasonal vegetables/fruit but the reality is that is expensive and difficult to find. In terms of meats and fish I try to consume a balance and be conscious of sourcing.

The reality is I’m busy juggling work and home life, plus I don’t have an endless budget to spend on food. The research is ongoing into organic foods and their health benefits. Some is positive and some is not as conclusive.

I’ll continue to have a balance in my food sources.

Most of us are super busy and trying to live our best lives which makes it understandable that we can be susceptible to what often looks like quick fixes.

Try to get your information from reliable sources and be sceptical of things that seem to be too good to be true. You won’t go too far wrong if you remember the basics.



Martin is a clinical performance nutritionist, motivational speaker, CEO of the Mac-nutrition collective and founder of Mac Nutrition Uni. His instagram stories are very informative and highly entertaining. Be sure to check him out for all things evidence-based nutrition.

Peter’s salmon burgers

We recently went on holidays to Portugal and our daughter Dafne loved a salmon burger she got in a restaurant. Since we got home Peter has been experimenting with these and this is his recipe.

I love these served with some tenderstem broccoli, toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

Makes: 8-10 fishcakes

Nutritional information:

Protein – 13.7g

Fat – 7.2g

Carbohydrates – 0.5g

Calories -117

For the fishcake:

600g salmon darnes, chopped and skinned

1 egg

1 tsp fine salt

1 tbsp. dried dill

Ground almonds, to coat the salmon burgers

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Place the salmon, egg, dill and salt into a food processor and blend until combined.

Remove from the food processor, divide the mixture into 8-10 equal sized balls and then flatten into burgers.

Place the ground almonds onto a plate and coat each of the burgers in the nuts.

Transfer to the baking tray and cook for 25- 30 minutes until the top is golden and the burgers are cooked through.


This goes brilliantly with the fish cakes but is equally good with chicken or fish.

Feel free to change up the herbs to give it a different twist.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes: 1 small jar

Nutritional information:

Protein – 13g

Fat – 15g

Carbohydrates – 13g

Calories – 226

4 tbsp. natural yoghurt

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. lemon juice

¼ cucumber, seeds removed and chopped into small pieces

1 tsp dried dill

1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir well.


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