Quote of the month

 

For World Diabetes Day – not a day to celebrate

 

Western medicine will one day admit what has been known in the Orient for years. Sugar is the greatest evil that modern industrial civilization has visited upon the countries of the Far East and Africa.

Nyoiti Sakurazawa

The taste of sweetness, whereof a little more than a little is by much too much.

Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part I

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Don’t be S.A.D.

With National Chocolate Week in October, you might have been expecting a piece on the health benefits of chocolate. Fear not, I am writing one for you for Christmas but I noticed autumn arrive with shorted days and persistent rain so the immediate need is Vitamin D.

The sun is lower in the sky and the slanty light makes the views stunning across the hills early in the morning and the sea at sunset. The depth of the atmosphere are these angles means more absorption of shorter wavelengths including the beneficial UVB we need. Even leaving aside the fact that hardy Cumbrians can be seen out in shorts, T-shirts and sandals at any time of year, there simply isn’t enough UVB from October to March for our skin to make Vitamin D. The UV index has to be a minimum of 3. It’s only 1 as I write this with a forecast of 3 briefly over Wednesday lunchtime.

I’m keen where possible, on getting nutrients the way nature intended, from food. The best sources are fish liver oil, full fat dairy and eggs but you’re unlikely to get enough this way. This is where supplements can be helpful. Look for Vitamin D3; D2 is only half as effective. The strength might be labelled by weight in micrograms µg or by international units IU which relate to biological activity. For Vitamin D3, 1 µg is equivalent to 40 IU. So 25 µg capsules are equivalent to 1000 IU.

Vitamin D is fat soluble so it can build up and we each absorb it differently. The PHE recommend a dose of 10 µg / 400 IU which is modest. Some studies show that this is not enough and I take more. Your doctor can do a blood test to make sure you’re not overdosing. I asked for one in February and my level was fine so I’ll be supplement again each winter.

What about SAD (seasonal affective disorder)? A special lamp will compensate for the lack of light and has a beneficial effect but the wonderful Vitamin D even helps with SAD.

Top tip: Take Vitamin D supplements this winter.

Shapes and Colours

As I walk through town looking at the gardens, the flowers may be fading but the leaves are turning copper and gold and the apples hang red on the trees. Whatever the season, there are wonderful shapes and colours in nature. This is how our food should be too.

There are many types of fish and they’re fish-shaped, not oblong, battered or crumbed. It’s easy to add your own toppings if you like. Fresh meat will have been cut up into large joints with individual shapes or small pieces. There can be a world of difference between a bought burger and some mince to make your own and between chicken nuggets and a free-range drumstick.

Take a look at your shopping as it goes along the supermarket conveyor belt. Is it all beige? Is it all square? I wrote a little rhyme:

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

When you go to the shops

If it comes in a box

Let it stay on the shelf

For the sake of your health

 

Each type of food brings its own special nutrients. Eating the same things every day can leave you with deficiencies and makes intolerance more likely. Most people have loads of recipe books and eat the same dozen meals all the time. Mix them up: white meat one day, fish another, then red meat, perhaps an omelette, or have a boost with liver or oily fish. Have rice or quinoa sometimes rather than always potatoes. Challenge yourself to buy a wider variety of vegetables. Eat two types with each meal, different colours. If you have something starchy, pair it with something non-starchy eg carrots with green beans, peas with red cabbage, sweet corn with pak choi. It’ll be a feast for your eyes on the conveyor belt and your plate.

Top tip – buy some foods with shapes and colours.

Retire Healthy

If work’s been quiet that’s all about to change as schools start back and holidays finish. But for some of you work might be nearing its end with retirement weeks, months or only a year away. Are you ready for it?

When you’re young, you’re invincible (well that’s how it seems). You can take on the world and withstand any assault. Ambitions run high. You sacrifice your time, relationships and health to your career as you climb up the management ladder. One day you wake up and realise there’s more to life and start counting the cost. All around you middle-aged friends and celebrities are suffering diverse ailments or dying too young.

Reclaiming your health suddenly takes priority as you think of all the things you still want to do with the time you’ll have. Whilst life expectancy has gone up as drugs stop us from dying, I doubt you aspire to eking out your later years battling some chronic condition in a care home. If, however, you’re up to it, the world will soon be your oyster.

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Eating well to avoid cancer, heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s is like wearing a seat belt when you drive. It’s about risk reduction. Chronic health problems have increased as the national diet has deteriorated.

Add exercise, good sleep, happy relationships and time outside in the air and sunshine to lower your risk further. It’s never too late to start. Much of the damage of a miss-spent youth is reversible with some TLC.

The best time for positive action is always today.

Learn to eat well now, live well for longer.

Top tip – eat well and enjoy a healthy retirement.

My next course is at Lorton St Methodists, Cockermouth Wednesdays, 7:30pm, 20th September – 25th October.  Why not join us?  Book your place now and invest in your future.

 

Spend less; still eat well

The school holidays have started and while the kids rejoice, parents may worry how expensive the next six weeks might be. Food need not add to the pressure – you can eat well without spending a fortune.

A while ago, ITV ran a series Save Money Good Food. I’ve included a few of their tips here with some of mine.

Image result for food waste UK

The first way to save money is not to waste any of your food. A scandalous £12.5 billion of edible food is thrown away every year in the UK. Part of this is down to overbuying. Know what’s in your cupboard so you don’t repeat buy what you already have a home. We all love bargains and the BOGOF but when you buy a bargain and don’t eat it, you’re throwing your money straight into the bin. Do a bit of planning, shop with a list, cook in bulk, make good use of your freezer and learn to love leftovers (my favourite lunches).

When you pay for food, you don’t want added charges for labour. The super rich may employ private chefs but many ordinary people do too without realising. I’ve got a big downer on ready meals for lots of reasons and cost is just one. But even if you don’t go that far you might pop the odd packet of ready-chopped something in your trolley. Salad perhaps or some fruit for the kids. Ready chopped produce is 3 to 5 times more expensive. That’s 300 to 500% more. It takes less than a minute to chop an apple / carrot / onion / bit of lettuce. The more prep you do yourself, the lower the cost and the fresher the produce. By using it straight away you keep more precious nutrients and flavour. Plus you avoid eating something that’s been dipped in a chemical solution and packed in a modified atmosphere to stop it giving away its age by turning brown (see Swallow This by Joanna Blythman).

Fresh herbs soon wilt or dry up and die so why not plant them out to increase their yield 100 fold. See my Herb Garden post.

Cereal – a poor choice for breakfast

We only started eating cornflakes in 1922 so we clearly don’t need breakfast cereal from a biological viewpoint. Really it’s highly processed carbohydrate with good PR and marketing. It will put your blood sugar up, damage your health and cause weight gain. People think that the cereals with less added sugar are good for you. They aren’t as damaging as the high sugar types of course but the corn/rice/wheat itself will still be quickly broken down into sugar by your body’s enzymes. Ditch the box cereals and enjoy a good quality muesli or natural porridge oats (beware the sachets – see Oats so Expensive on Survival Guide for the Skint).

Better still go to work on an egg. Have it with own brand smoked salmon and you’ll feel satisfied right through to lunchtime and save more money and health damage by not needing to buy snacks.

Here are some other pieces I’ve written on breakfasts:

The Great English Breakfast

Eat a Good Breakfast

And what about the most nutritious food of all? It’s also one of the cheapest – liver. You can feed a family of four for £3.

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Sardines come second for nutrition. If you don’t like them on their own, here’s my recipe for sardine pate:

  • 1 tin of sardines in brine, drained
  • 2oz butter (that’s ¼ block or 50g)
  • 2oz full-fat cream cheese (¼ small tub or 55g)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper and some fresh parsley
  • Optional ½ teaspoon of French mustard)

Put it all in a bowl and mash with a fork until well mixed.  Serve with a crisp salad.

Enjoy the holidays and I hope you get better weather than the rain that poured as I wrote this!

Top tip – learn to spend less and still eat well.

Foraging

When I’m out in the woods doing field archery, I’m usually picking something to eat, much to the surprise of my companions. If they pluck up courage to accept a taste, they marvel at the citrus freshness of young wood-sorrel leaves and the sweet nectar you can suck from the base of red clover flowers. I can often be seen chewing on the stems of sorrel or wild grasses. Later in the summer, some woods will have wild strawberries and raspberries too.

Bilberry picking, 2016

Come the autumn, it’s time for blackberries and bilberries (which put blue berries in the shade, both as a super food and for intensity of flavour). These deserve a dedicated collecting trip. A couple of bags in the freezer lasts for months as a topping for Greek yoghurt at breakfast or the magic ingredient in a lilac smoothie.

With 75 % of the world’s food provided by just 12 plants and 5 animal species, it’s no wonder that food allergies, intolerances and digestive difficulties are increasing. Your body thrives on variety.

Urban lifestyles and screen addiction mean that few children can name trees and flowers and don’t know what can be eaten and, most importantly, what’s poisonous and shouldn’t be touched. Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) called these kids ‘nature-deficient’ and links this to the worrying trends in childhood obesity, ADHD and depression.

Although I’ve read more about foraging in recent years, I learned most of what I know as a child out with my parents and grandparents.  And we were always picking something for wine making including sticky dandelions, delicate gorse petals (ouch!) and foamy white heads of elderflower.  In the war our grandparents put dandelion leaves in salad – perhaps with the resurgence of stronger tasting leaves like rocket, today’s generation would again find them appealing.

Top tip – teach your children and grandchildren what you know.

Food, Exercise and Weight Loss

April was a chilly old month but now the days are longer, the leaves are out and you might notice your energy levels rising and the urge to get moving. Combined with good diet, regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. It boosts your metabolism and your mood, keeps everything flowing round your body, makes you strong and supple and keeps your heart healthy. However, it’s a minor player for weight loss (20%) compared to how you eat and drink (80%).

Energy balance (calories in vs calories out) has been heavily promoted by the food industry to keep the spotlight off their products. Coca-cola even funded a ‘science’ website (rumbled and disbanded) to falsely blame obesity on consumers’ sloth when it was their drinks’ fault all along. It’s a concept that’s resulted in thousands of people pounding treadmills week after

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week hoping to get slim. Aerobic exercise tends to increase appetite and people reach for the quick hit of a sweet snack/drink. “I’ve run so I’ll eat cake!” The truth is you can’t outrun a bad diet.

Simply reckoning calories doesn’t work because they don’t all have the same effect. What matters is the type of food you eat and the hormones your body makes in response. Every time you eat something sweet, you produce insulin. Insulin makes you store fat. And it stops your stored fat being released. This is the opposite of what you want.

Try strength training (sadly discouraged by some slimming clubs) followed by protein based snacks like cheese or a whey shake. You’ll increase muscle which burns calories even at rest, you’ll lose fat and you’ll gain the more svelte figure you want.  HIIT (High intensity interval training) is great too. Check with your doctor that it’s OK for you to do something this strenuous and remember to take rest days if you do these types of exercise.  With plenty of variety you’ll gain strength, stamina and flexibility.

So eat well to manage your weight and do some sort of movement every day for your health.

Top tip: Move and eat well.

CLANGERS for health

I bought his boook Staying Alive

Recently I went to see Dr Phil Hammond at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake. Hilarious as always, Dr Phil brought a serious message. The NHS is in trouble (we’d noticed) and the best way we can help is ….. to use it less. That means looking after ourselves so we need less medical intervention.

“Health care begins with self-care.”

He wants us all to drop CLANGERS. Honestly, I make enough mistakes without encouragement but here’s what he meant:

Connect

Learn

   (be) Active

Notice

Give back

Eat well

Relax

Sleep

Connect doesn’t mean social media. A spreader of love and kindness, Dr Phil’s Connect means face to face conversations, shared joy and hugs. He even got the audience hugging each other.  I’ve seen people gathered round a cafe table, each playing with their own device, isolated whilst in company. We’re losing the ability to connect to the people we’re actually with.

We hear about the troubling rise of depression and anxiety amongst young people and the toxic effect of Facebook. Our ‘always on’ culture make us unhappy and doesn’t allow us to relax.  Even some of the rich and famous are switching to the liberation of dumb ‘phones, choosing when to go on line, and finding a life where you live in the moment somehow less cluttered.

Find out what difference it makes to eat together as a family as a shared pleasure.  The Italians and French love their food and lead the way; meals can last for hours with chat and laughter.  Calm, relaxed eating even aids your absorption of nutrients.

A survey showed that 73% of people felt happier after spending time doing things with others. Science, too backs up the benefits of physical contact. It increases the production of the love hormone oxytocin which reduces cravings for drugs, alcohol and sugar. Very useful if you’re trying to give up highly addictive processed food.

Top tip – drop your CLANGERS daily!

The tour lasts until 8th July – check here to see if Dr Phil is coming to your area.

 

Spring and Sparkle

Have you noticed the lambs in the fields? I love to see them jump and play in the sunshine, full of the joys of spring. We should feel like this too.

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Watch people walking down the street and notice how few of them have a spring in their step or sparkle in their eye. People in the Western world are used to struggling along with low energy, aches, pains, excess weight and minor ailments. They think that not being ill is as good as it gets. Real wellness is rare.

When we think about energy use, we think of exercise. Another big drain is digestion. Yes, we use up energy when we eat! Ever fallen asleep after a meal? When you eat unsuitable food, your body can’t cope and keep you awake, so it shuts down all non-essential systems and you nod off. Inside your body’s working flat out. The fashion for processed food is robbing us of energy. It’s called ‘fast food’ because you buy it instead of making it from ingredients. The preparation part is certainly quick – but once you’ve eaten it, fast food is really, really slow. Your body has to work very hard to digest it. The process takes a long time and uses up lots of vitamins, minerals and enzymes and huge amounts of energy.

Contrast this with fresh, natural food. It takes time to prepare but is quicker and easier for your body to use so more of the energy is available for you to feel great.

Dead, processed food may be convenient but it won’t allow you to live as vibrant, healthy a life as you could be enjoying.

Top tip – have more spring and sparkle with fresh, natural foods!

Statistics

Statistics say that by now 59% of you will have failed to keep your New Year Resolutions. Well done to the 41% who are succeeding!

Wikimedia commons

Wikimedia commons

Common resolutions were to eat more healthily (22%), drink less alcohol (17%) and learn new things (12%). Losing weight came in at only 9%. Curious then that 48% of the population went on a diet.

The media were overflowing with diet ideas during January. Weight loss related TV programmes filled the evenings; everything from paleo, to 5/2 intermittent fasting to sleeping longer. Leaving aside their quirkier features (like drinking lots of champagne), diets that cut out nutrition left the volunteers feeling terrible. The plans that worked best cut out processed food and drink. I loved an idea one of the participants had – when she saw cakes or sweet things, she pretended they were just cardboard displays so she couldn’t eat them!

Most standard diets work by counting calories (or equivalent points). The deprivation usually gives some quick weight loss but also causes an increase in the production of hunger hormones. So what’s the chance of long-term success? 5%. 95% failure is not a good return on your misery. Don’t blame yourself; regaining weight is a natural famine-recovery response, caused by the diet.

My favourite show was ITV’s Sugar Free Farm. There, away from the temptations of the modern world, a group of celebrities ate fresh-cooked, organic, free-range food (plenty of it) but no sugar. They worked each day in the fresh air. Most of them lost weight, 3 of them around a stone in 15 days. Best of all, they felt fabulous. So for healthy weight loss, ditch sugar, cook your own meals from fresh ingredients and let your excess weight melt away.

Top tip – Don’t be a failure statistic, learn to eat well.