Our journalist Neill Cobain shares his food diary

Many people believe keeping a food diary, a log of everything you eat, is a great way to learn healthier eating habits, to become more self-aware, and perhaps even lose weight.

Neill Cobain
Neill Cobain

Most of us do not realise how many calories we are actually eating throughout the day so for one week News Letter journalists Laura McMullan, Neill Cobain and Kathryn McKenna (honestly) kept a note of everything they ate and drank over the course of a week.

We asked top Ulster nutritionial therapist Jane McClenaghan. who has over 16 years of experience in her field, to assess their food diaries. Jane is the author of The Vital Nutrition Cookbook and her new book, Vital Nutrition was published recently. Here’s what Jane had to say about our trio’s food intake...

Neill Cobain, 32

Nutrionist Jane McClenaghan


Cappuccino - two sugars

Shredded Wheat- teaspoon of sugar

Coke Zero tin

Nutrionist Jane McClenaghan

Six inch sub from Subway (honey oat bread, turkey breast and ham, lettuce, tomato, pickles, jalapeños, sweet onion sauce.

Salt n Vinegar Snack a Jacks

Two medium sized oranges

7up free 500ml

Small home made brownie

Beef burrito


Cadburys mini roll

Coke Zero


Cappuccino - two sugars

Shredded Wheat- teaspoon of sugar

Small orange

Beef and horseradish sandwich

Tayto onion rings

Coke Zero 500ml

KFC- Two bits of chicken and chips


Shredded Wheat- teaspoon of sugar

Cappuccino- two sugars

Egg and watercress sandwich

Tayto Onion rings

Coke Zero 500ml

Spaghetti Bolognese

Two bits of garlic bread

Coke Zero tin

Cadbury’s mini roll


Shredded Wheat- honey

Cappuccino- two sugars

Caramel Square

Spicy chicken wrap with lettuce, sundried tomatoes, mayo

Coke Zero


Superberry smoothie from M&S

Shredded wheat- honey

Fajita wrap from Tesco

Tayto Onion rings

Coke zero bottle

Two peaches

Isotonic supplement

Home made burger and home made chips

Twirl bar


Two slices of Veda

Cup of coffee

Cinnamon swirl

Bread, olives and hummus

Homemade lamb rogan josh, chips, rice, naan bread

Two 330ml bottles of beer


Bacon bagel

Apple juice


Cinnamon swirl

Bread, olive, hummus, cooked meats - salami, chorizo

Chinese take away, chicken Pekinese, fried rice, curry chip, chow mien.

Tin of Coke

Jane says: With a whopping 96g of sugar, in his daily diet (that’s 24 teaspoonfuls), Neil is fast tracking his way to weight gain, and increasing his risk of serious health problems like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular issues, not to mention the effects on his teeth! The NHS suggest we eat no more than 30g sugar a day, so he is well above his quota.

As well as the obvious sources of sugar in Neil’s diet like the three spoonful he adds to breakfast, there are some hidden sugars lurking in the form of smoothies and his Chinese takeaway.

Neil might find it easier to slowly reduce his sugar intake, rather than cut it out completely at first. Reducing to one teaspoonful of sugar in coffee and slicing a banana onto his Shredded wheat inside of adding sugar will not only cut his sugar intake, but also give him an additional portion of fruit a day.

Apart from the salad in his wraps and sandwiches, Neil is severely lacking in his vegetable intake.

Essential for a healthy, balanced diet, there are some tasty ways for any vegetable dodger to enjoy these key ingredients.

It looks like he is a good cook, so adding some extra onions and grated carrot into his bolognese, replacing chips with sweet potato wedges and packing more vegetables into his curry will give him a much needed vegetable rich antioxidant hit. Spinach and finely sliced cauliflower are good in curry and can be easily disguised.

A good idea for Neil would be to cook a couple of extra portions of his bolognese and curry when he is making it, so that he has enough to do two evening meals. This might reduce the temptation (and cost) of too many takeaways.


McKenna, 26


Breakfast - Activia yogurt, glass of water and multivitamin plus small portion of Chorizo and scrambled eggs with coffee.

Lunch - Chicken soup with water.

Snack - Three squares of chocolate and cup of coffee.

Dinner - Beef stew with champ, mushrooms, tomatoes spring onions and peppers and large glass of water.

Snack: Tortilla chips with chive and onion dip and diluted juice.


Breakfast - Activia yogurt, glass of water and multivitamin with lemon tea.

Lunch - Tuna sandwich on brown bread with lettuce, red onion, low fat mayo with handful of gluten free salt & vinegar Keogh’s crisps on side and Diet Coke.

Snack - Three squares of chocolate and coffee.

Dinner - Pork and leak meatballs with mushrooms, chopped red onion and garlic with apple juice.


Breakfast - Activia yogurt, glass of water and multivitamin. One coffee.

Snack - Apple and coffee.

Lunch - Beef sandwich on brown bread with spring onions, lettuce and light mayo with water.

Snack - Two squares of chocolate and three teacakes.

Dinner - Thai chicken curry with Singapore noodles.

Dessert - Small portion of Key Lime Pie

Snack - Funsize Milky Way


Breakfast - Activia yogurt with chia seeds and fresh strawberries, glass of water and multivitamin with Caramel latte.

Lunch - Peppered mackerel fillet with rocket and spring onion and glass of water.

Snack - One square of chocolate and Mocha coffee.

Dinner - Roast chicken with garlic potatoes, half tin of spaghetti and glass of Coke Zero.

Snack - One Topic bar with glass of Coke Zero.


Breakfast - Activia yogurt, glass of water and multivitamin. One caramel macchiato.

Snack - Nature Valley oat bar with chocolate chips and water.

Lunch - Hot tuna wrap with cheese and red onion and Mocha coffee.

Drink - Coke Zero.

Dinner - Two courses at The Gallery. Split starters between two - bread and oils plus salt and chilli crispy squid.

Main - Sea bass.



Breakfast - Mushrooms, sausages and one slice of soda bread with coffee.

Multivitamin and glass of water.

Lunch - Caramel macchiato.

Dinner - Chicken in creamy sauce with green beans.

Drinks - Two glasses of Prosecco.


Breakfast - Coffee and Go Ahead breakfast bar, water and multivitamin.

Snack - Mocha from Costa.

Lunch - Tuna with chopped red onion, mayo and lettuce with handful of Keogh’s gluten free salt and vinegar crisps. Water and coffee.

Dinner - Spanish chicken with roast potatoes, mushrooms, and green veg with glass of water.

Dessert - Slice of chocolate cake and tea.

Jane says: It looks like Kathryn is running on empty a lot of the time as she ends to choose low calorie foods and eat small quantities - a yoghurt for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and a light evening meal. On day 1 her calorie intake is about 1250kcals. The recommended calorie intake for a 20 something woman is about 2000kcals, so perhaps this is why she is looking for sugary snacks and coffee between meals.

Kathryn could also do with increasing her fruit and veg intake as she is well below the recommended intake. Some small changes to Kathryn’s diet could make all the difference to her energy levels.

Our 20s is a crucial time of supporting bone health to reduce risk of osteoporosis in later life, so I would encourage Kathryn to focus on eating plenty of calcium rich foods like dairy products, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables, increasing her magnesium from foods like green vegetables, seeds and nuts, reducing fizzy drinks and getting her daily quota of vitamin D.

A great breakfast for Kathryn would be a natural yoghurt (full fat for additional fat soluble vitamins) with some berries, low sugar granola and a spoonful of chia seeds for some healthy fats. That should keep her going until lunchtime. Having a bowl of soup with her sandwich will increase her intake of vegetables and provide a nutritional boost to her daily diet.

Swapping her funsize milky way or Topic bar for some dark chocolate (containing at least 70% cocoa) and a few Brazil nuts will reduce her sugar intake and provide some additional selenium for immune support.

At dinner, I would encourage Kathryn to include some green leafy vegetables for a calcium boost - broccoli or kale (but not spinach as the oxalate in it inhibits calcium absorption) for a little additional calcium.

A couple of oatcakes with almond nut butter will give Kathryn an additional calcium and magnesium boost at bedtime if she is still hungry.


McMullan, 38


Breakfast: glass of pure orange juice, cup of coffee, slice wholemeal toast with one banana.

Mini Wispa

Spelga Low Fat Peach Melba yoghurt

1 Go Ahead Yoghurt Break

Lunch: Greggs egg and ham salad sandwich on brown bread.

Viscount biscuit.

Small glass of Sprite

1 Fox Glacier Mint

Half a scone (white choc and raspberry).

Dinner: Small tuna salad - lettuce, cheese, cucumber, tomato.

Cup of tea and slice of vanilla cheesecake


Breakfast: Coffee, pure orange juice, slice of white toast and jam.

Post run: Coffee with Mini Twirl.

Peach yoghurt.

Cup of tea and remaining half of scone.

Lunch: Cup of coffee and a Viscount

1 Mini Wispa

Go Ahead Yoghurt Biscuit.

Dinner: 1x Fish cake with small amount of salad.

Also a Muller Corner yoghurt.

1 Mini Twirl


Breakfast: Orange juice, coffee, one slice of white toast and jam.

Peach Melba low fat yoghurt.

Mid Morning: Packet of Minstrels, Low Fat Rhubarb Yoghurt.

Lunch: Weight watchers Meal: Shepherd’s Pie.

Afternoon: Coffee, Classic biscuit

Go Ahead Yoghurt bar.

Malteaser Teaser bar

Sandwich - brown bread with chicken and cheese. Ate three quarters.


0range juice, coffee and usual toast and jam. A low fat peach yoghurt.

Mid Morning: Rocky Bar. Peach yoghurt.

Lunch: Quiche and coleslaw.

Mid Afternoon: Coffee and a brownie.

Dinner: 1 large sausage roll from a hot food counter somewhere. Another late finish in work in my defence!


Breakfast: Coffee and toast with banana.

Post run: Spelga Low Fat Toffee yoghurt.

Mid Morning: Packet of Cadbury’s Buttons

Lunch: Brown bread sandwich with Taco Tuna salad.

Two Cadbury’s Oreo Bars

Half of a Go Ahead Yoghurt bar.

Dinner: Sausage roll time again.


Breakfast:Toast and banana and yoghurt.

Lunch: Sandwich with egg, ham, cheese and tomato.

1 small box of Malteasers

Dinner: Glass of coke with a chicken caesar salad, and a mini cheesecake for dessert.

Before bed: 4 x Lindts chocolates and 2 x Quality Streets.


Breakfast: 1 slice of wholemeal toast, 2 poached eggs, 1 grilled tomato, cup of coffee and pure orange juice (Pre 10K run)

Post run: 1 granola bar

1 Banana

Small scoop of strawberry ice cream with sprinkles

Lunch: Chicken breast and chips.

Spelga Crunch Corner

Dinner: Beans, wholemeal toast and egg.

1xFudge Bar

Jane says: Like Neil it looks like Laura has a sweet tooth. Although she is a runner, her daily intake on day one is 100g sugar - that’s 70g more than the NHS recommend us to eat in a day. Looking at Laura’s food diary it looks like she snacks a lot rather than eating proper meals - maybe because she is not eating enough at mealtimes.

To maintain and sustain energy levels and promote good recovery from runs, Laura would do well to eat low GI carbohydrates for slow, sustained release of energy and add a bit of protein into every meal to support muscle health and recovery.

Although Laura’s breakfast of orange juice, toast, banana and coffee sounds relatively healthy, this contains almost third of her daily sugar hit (31g). Adding some sugar-free peanut butter to her toast and cutting out her orange juice will cut her sugar intake and add a some protein to breakfast.

Low fat yoghurts tend to be packed with sugar, so a better choice for a mid-morning snack would be natural yoghurt with fresh fruit like berries.

It sounds like lunch is often Laura’s main meal of the day, so a good rule to follow would be to pack half her plate with vegetables, have a palm size portion of protein like fish, chicken, or eggs and about a fist-size portion of slow release carbs like brown rice, new or sweet potato or wholemeal bread. This will also add much needed vegetables to Laura’s diet. If she is choosing a ready meal, then adding some microwave steamed vegetables will at least boost her nutrient intake.

Quick and easy evening meals that would work well after a run for Laura could be a Spanish omelette with potatoes and vegetables and a bit of salad in the side or a quick stir-fry with chicken or meat, vegetables and noodles. Eating a proper meal will aid recovery time and help Laura make the most of they hard work she puts into her run-in sessions.

- Contact Jane McClenaghan through www.vital-nutrition.co.uk or @vitalnutrition on Facebook & Twitter.