Vive La France

Did you know that French kids don’t get fat? They have the lowest levels of childhood obesity in the developed world and it’s the only place where it isn’t rising. Children aren’t educated about nutrition and taught to be anxious about food, they are taught the joy of food and learn to love it.

At 2013 July Brendas 6home, the family eats together so children develop a taste for real food, not fake ‘children’s food’. Kids don’t snack randomly but learn to wait. Parents don’t use food as bribes or rewards for good behaviour – it’s for pleasure and nourishment.


The French rarely buy ready meals or takeaways. Instead, they spend more than we do on real food, revelling in copious amounts of butter, cheese and cream. They consistently have the highest levels of saturated fat intake in Europe and the lowest levels of heart disease. It’s termed the French Paradox; how do they get away with it? But actually there is no paradox. Research, including a review last year by Cambridge University of 72 studies, reveals an “absolute lack of evidence that consuming saturated fat leads to heart disease“. Yet the old school dietitians still cling to the notion and only last month, Nigella Lawson was vilified in the paper for using coconut oil in her new cookery book. But the French aren’t doing something mysterious to cheat the death that their diet deserves; their diet does them good. They look at the British eating processed sugar and oil and think we’re mad.

The French government helps too, with tough policies designed to prevent commercial interests damaging the health of its children. Tax on fizzy drinks (Jamie Oliver is campaigning to introduce the same here), health warnings on TV ads for snack foods, incentives for fruit and vegetable producers, no hormone treatment of animals, no vending machines in schools, water only to drink with the children’s 4-course, freshly-prepared school lunches for which they have a 2 hour break! Sounds good to me.

Top tip: Like the French, learn to love real food.

(I wrote this month’s piece a few weeks ago and decided to post it as intended in spite of the recent terrible events.  It seems appropriate to celebrate the French at this time.)

Quotes of the month

Michael Pollan – Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

Zoe Harcombe – Eat food, mostly animals, quite a lot.


Real food

Real food

Which of these suits you will depend on your metabolic type but they both agree that you should eat food.  What do they mean?  We all eat food don’t we?  No.  They mean real food, not fake food.


Fake food

Fake food

Zoe’s tip for telling the difference is to think what you find in nature.

There will be fish in a river, not packets of fish fingers.

Real food

Real food



There will be apples on the trees, not cartons of juice.

Fake food

Fake food






You can dig potatoes out of a field, not bags of oven chips.

Fake food

Fake food

Jack LaLanne – If man makes it, don’t eat it.

Barry Groves – Civilsed man is the only chronically sick animal on the planet.

Zoe Harcombe – We’re the only species clever enough to make our own food and stupid enough to eat it.

And here’s a little rhyme I wrote:

When you go to the shops

If it comes in a box,

Let it stay on the shelf

For the sake of your health!


Food on the Move

I’ve been travelling the country this year doing Nutrition Talks for the staff of a company (so that they can enjoy the benefits of better energy, productivity and concentration throughout the day).

Keeping control of what you eat and drink is relatively easy in your own home, especially if your family shares your enjoyment of good food.  It can become a bit more tricky when you travel on business.

On the motorway, there is no end ofIMAG0495 unhealthy, processed snacks and meals readily available. Almost everything is full of sugar and vegetable oil and hardly anything is fresh. You have to search really hard to find a few things that resemble food. Instead of buying any if it, I took my own supplies. Cool bags are great. Lunch was a delicious salad with lettuce, sprouted mung beans, carrot, celery, avocado, a chicken drumstick and a hard boiled egg. I took a bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing too. The bottle is glass, like a half-pint milk bottle, with a lid that doesn’t leak and came from Lakeland Ltd – very useful.

In hotels and especially B&Bs, breakfast is often pretty good with muesli, fruit and natural yoghurt followed by bacon, egg, sausage and black pudding or porridge and kippers.  Take care to avoid scrambled egg which is usually overcooked which will have oxidised the cholesterol in the egg.  Less healthy items available include cereal, hash browns and baked beans (usually containing a lot of sugar).

The standard business lunch is a starchy nightmare best avoided: sandwiches, chips, crisps, unidentifiable brown deep-fried things.  At a pinch, I eat some salad garnish with the fillings from the sandwiches and leave a pile of bread on my plate.  Ideally, I find a nearby supermarket the evening before where I can buy cheese, carrots and celery for the following day.

Evening meals vary.  If there isn’t anything appealing in the hotel, find a nearby pub with a chef that uses local produce and actually cooks meals from fresh ingredients.


Top tip – on the road, a little planning helps a lot.

Food on TV

Perhaps it’s because of my professional interest, perhaps it’s because I love food, but I tend to notice the things (good and bad) that people eat on TV. I’m not thinking of cookery programmes which, curiously, I don’t watch. I’m thinking of people eating food incidental to the main theme. Take Gogglebox where families sit in front the TV scoffing biscuits, crisps and other processed, health-robbing snacks and drinks.

Then there’s The Big Bang Theory where an American guy with a brain the size of a planet tucks into takeaways most nights and whose standard order when eating out is a burger washed down with a famous fizzy beverage. He claims to know everything; doesn’t he realise how bad for him all this is?

My favourite in Inspector Montalbano. This Italian detective series is full of grand buildings, fast cars, beautiful scenery and fabulous food. We see the hero relishing dishes at restaurants, enjoying what his housekeeper makes and cooking for himself. He loves to eat and won’t hold a conversation when there’s food on the table. His eyes roll with frustration if the telephone rings when he’s just sat down. He totally celebrates the delights of good food.

Between the programmes come adverts. Of the edible products being promoted, I would advise against eating all but a tiny percentage. The pictures look wonderful – they know we eat with our eyes. To convince you of their natural goodness, they conveniently skip over the gulf between the healthy delicious dish you would enjoy if you made it yourself using fresh ingredients, and their finished product.

Dr Mercola has done a handy table of the characteristics of real food vs processed food products.  If you want to be shocked to your core by what happens to processed food, read Joanna Blythman’s Swallow This.

Top tip – eat like Montalbano

Dementia Fear

I am not a brave person; many things frighten me: IMAG0312injury – I was very fortunate to escape with only whiplash and bruises last year when someone drove across a junction and took the front off my car; cancer – of course; loss of mental faculties – for me the worst of all.

Currently in vogue, the carb heavy, low fat diet that has led to the obesity and diabetes epidemics has also been linked in new studies with Alzheimer’s (first referred to as type 3 diabetes in 2005).

"3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6" by Kubicki M., McCarley R.W., Westin C-F., Park H-J., Maier S.E., Kikinis R., Jolesz F.A., Shenton M.E. A review of diffusion tensor imaging studies in schizophrenia. J Psychiatr Res. 2007 Jan-Feb;41(1-2):15-30. PMID: 16023676. PMCID: PMC2768134.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

“3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6” by Kubicki M., McCarley R.W., Westin C-F., Park H-J., Maier S.E., Kikinis R., Jolesz F.A., Shenton M.E. A review of diffusion tensor imaging studies in schizophrenia. J Psychiatr Res. 2007 Jan-Feb;41(1-2):15-30. PMID: 16023676. PMCID: PMC2768134.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

What to do? Minimise sugar and cut down on processed grains. Eat some plant food at each meal. Vegetables are good carbs giving you vitamins, minerals and fibre; their antioxidants protect your brain. Berries contain antioxidants too plus other beneficial phytonutrients.  Celery, peppers and carrots contain luteolin which may calm inflammation in your brain.

FishYour brain is mostly made of fat so get plenty of omega 3s (eg from oily fish, chia seed or walnuts) and keep down your Nutsintake of damaged omega 6 (eg processed vegetable oil). Eat butter, olive oil, coconut oil and foods like nuts and avocados.

The spice turmeric contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Curcumin has been shown to boost memory and stimulate the production of new brain cells. For the B vitamin choline, eat eggs, meat, broccoliEggs and cauliflower. Choline may boost brain power and slow age-related memory loss. Red meat is an excellent source of vitamin B12 which is vital for brain function. When you’re short of B12, your brain actually gets smaller.

IMAG0057Other ways to keep your mental sharpness: physical exercise, standing up regularly to break continuous sitting, mindfulness, knitting, word or number puzzles, learning a language, making music, a stimulating career, social interaction.


Top tip – eat well for the sake of your brain


Quote of the Month

Time is a created thing.

To say, ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’

Lao Tzu



One of the reasons that people give for eating processed food products instead of making real food from fresh is the time that it takes.  Keep an eye of the adverts you watch and you’ll find that a theme running through many of them is that you don’t have time for anything and the thing they’re selling will solve that problem.  We’ve swallowed the myth that we don’t have time to feed ourselves well.  Set yourself free from that.  You can always make time for what’s important to you.

Holiday Food

I recently went to Norway on holiday, brilliantly arranged by the lovely people at Cockermouth Travel. As well as the breathtaking beauty of the place, I was struck by the slim, healthy build of the population and the fabulous food! Game stew was a highlight plus lots of fresh fish (they love their herrings) and vegetables. (OK there were fast food places for tourists in the town centre; you’ll find that everywhere in the world nowadays.)

Breakfasts were a feast of cold meats, cheeses, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and yoghurt. That’s a high nutrient breakfast to fuel the national pastime of walking up mountains, come rain or shine. Over here continental breakfast has been diminished to coffee and a croissant – not satisfying, not healthy and not continental.



More breakfast

More breakfast

And more breakfast!

And more breakfast!








Going on holiday is a great opportunity to reconnect with real food. You might go to more exotic places that I do. Perhaps you’ve sampled the delights of young coconuts or fresh bananas which I’m told are divine.

It’s a shame we emulate the Americans more than Europeans. We eat more processed food than any other European country. We also have the fattest population plus the resultant deteriorating health. The French and Italians love their food and you can enjoy locally grown produce, artisan breads, grass-fed meat and amazing cheeses. Food is a high priority for them. They spend money on good ingredients and take time cooking and eating. Meals are not rushed or gulped down alone in front of a TV or computer. There’s a strong social element with lots of talk and laughter round the table. Enjoy it while you’re away and keep it up when you come back.

Top tip – make good food culture a holiday souvenir to bring back home.

Quote of the month

What good fortune for men in power that people do not think.

Adolf Hitler

The ‘men in power’ these days include those who profit from the processed food industry.  Joanna Blythman has been undercover in the food industry to find out how true this is.  If we really knew what was in all the artificial food we’re eating and the damage it is doing to our health, we’d stop and go back to cooking from scratch.