No Substitute

The choice of coffees is dizzying in cafés these days. Not just flat white, cappuccino or Americano but many varieties of milk with which to make them. The supermarket range of milks has grown hugely too. Here’s a look at their nutrition.

Whole milk is rich and creamy with such high quality protein, good fats, high bio-availability minerals and vitamins and digestibility, it rates even better than steak. Dairy appears to protect against heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

Jersey gold top is creamier still and hasn’t been homogenised so the cream rises to the top – remember the blue tits pecking through foil bottle tops?

Unpasteurised milk is available from farms around the country and still contains its enzymes and beneficial bacteria. It might reduce children’s risk of suffering from eczema, hay fever and other allergies.

Organic is the gold standard for animal welfare and lack of chemicals.

Reduced fat milk contains good protein, lots of B vitamins and plenty of calcium and phosphorous. It is usually fortified with synthetic vitamins A and D because the natural vitamins are lost with the fat. However, without the fat, it is harder for your body to absorb the vitamins and the calcium.

A common mistake is to think skimmed milk helps weight loss. I call it the skinny latte fallacy. It’s the natural sugar in milk that could cause weight gain so less milk is a better strategy.

Goats’ milk is similarly nutritionally to cows’ and its A2 casein causes fewer allergies than the A1 protein found in most cows’ milk.

Lactose-free milk is really useful if you’re intolerant to the sugar in milk (lactose). In South East Asia and Southern Africa 90% are lactose-intolerant but in Northern Europe it’s only about 3%. This problem has been exacerbated now that most of the milk available is pasteurised which destroys the enzyme lactase you’ll find in raw milk. Another option might be to use the fermented milk kefir which contains hardly any lactose.

Filtered milk has longer shelf life. This comes at the loss of health-beneficial good bacteria. You can make up for this by eating live, natural yoghurt or kefir.

Long-Life milk has been ultra-heat-treated to sterilise it. It’s very handy for a weekend away camping if you don’t have access to a fridge, as is powdered milk.

Flavoured milks are a bit like runny ice cream with their added sugar, flavouring and other chemicals, so don’t ever think of these as healthy. The best I found on sale were from Shaken Udder. My grandfather used to make us milk shakes using Jersey gold top, a few strawberries or cocoa powder and a bit (not a lot) of banana in a blender.

Milk substitutes are helpful if you have allergies. They’re white and they pour but they’re not milk. Most of them have more than 5 ingredients and are therefore classed as ultra-processed. They may have synthetic vitamins and minerals added and most have low protein and fat but you can use other foods to make up for what milk would have provided.

Nut milks generally contain only ~2% nuts and might have more added sugar than that – check the label. It’s easy to make your own. Just soak some nuts in a glass of water overnight. In the morning, rinse well in a sieve and put in a blender with some fresh water. Whizz. That’s it. You can strain out the pulp if you prefer.

Oat milk and rice milk have little to commend them nutritionally and are mainly carbohydrate or as Dr Unwin calls it “soon to be sugar”.

Soya milk has high protein content but this has only a partial set of amino acids. Its calcium comes with the anti-nutrient phytic acid which blocks calcium absorption. I do not recommend consumption of unfermented soya in any form, including milk.

Coconut milk is good for fat and flavour.

Hemp milk is a new one on me and provides some excellent fats.

Top tip – You’ll only get the full nutritional benefits from the real thing but with so many types to choose from, you’ll always be able to put something white in your coffee.

Eat Yourself Well

I’m about to deliver an Eat Yourself Well day for The Create Escape in Milnthorpe, Cumbria.

They run lovely days, each on a special topic like pottery, creative writing, photography, chemical-free cosmetics – plus a cookery demonstration followed by a 2-course lunch, in a delightful farmhouse with an entertaining double act from hosts Angela and Debs.

Some questions I’ll be asking are:

  • how well are you now?
  • how well do you want to be?
  • how high is food in your priorities?

Helen Gerson said there are only two root causes of chronic disease: Deficiency and toxicity.

She was talking about non-infectious things like T2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, aches, pains, digestive woes, skin problems, lack of energy.

Food can boost your health or damage your health.

You can do yourself good by stuffing in lots of untainted goodness.  Think back to the 70s – meat and two veg, cooked at home.  It simplifies your shopping, it’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s satisfying, you can make it tasty and you’ll feel so much better.I fear that marketing is now the number 1 factor governing what we buy rather than the effect on our bodies.

Manufactured food is much more profitable than home-cooked food so it’s thrust under your nose all day long. Sadly it has lower or damaged nutrients and often contains health damaging chemicals. It’s addictive by design, leading to over-eating and leaving many people over-fed and undernourished. If you buy anything with an ingredients list, read it. Avoid sugar, sweeteners, vegetable oil and anything with more than 5 ingredients.

The good news is that you can easily choose to take care of yourself with a quick trip to the butchers and the green grocers.

Your body will say, “Thank You” when you eat yourself well.

TOP TIPS

  • Food is not just fuel. Think about goodness rather than calories.
  • Eat natural, local and seasonal: fresh vegetables and fruit, grass-fed, free-range meat, non-farmed fish, natural fats.
  • Minimise sugar, vegetable oil and processed food.
  • Drink water to quench your thirst.
  • Buy real food, cook with love, eat with gratitude and enjoy!

What would I recommend off these promotional flyers?

Just the eggs on the first one and the beef, chicken and cheese on the second.

Something Soothing for a Cold

Mother always said, “Go out with wet hair and you’ll catch a cold”. Well I came back from the swimming pool without drying it and, sure enough, a few days later, I succumbed.

More recently, research has found that breathing cold air affects how well your defence mechanisms deal with invading viruses, making it more likely you’ll catch something. The Common Cold Centre in Cardiff has experimented on some poor volunteers. The evidence is equivocal but it seems that blood vessels in the nose and throat contract when you are cold and wet which reduces the number of white blood cells available to protect you. That short period of time when your defences are lowered can be enough for the viruses around us to take hold.

I saw it off fairly fast with a combination of rest, bouncing and this concoction:

  • Lemon juice – source of vitamin C and antioxidants
  • Honey (½ tsp) – complex and mysterious with anti-bacterial healing properties, honey is still sugar so use in moderation.
  • ½” chopped fresh ginger root – it’s anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral.
  • 3 cloves – anaesthetic properties (ever popped one by your gum for toothache?) They’re also anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and expectorant.
  • 1 tsp coconut oil – it’s anti-bacteria, anti-fungal, anti-viral and soothing.

Pour on boiling water and let it steep for a minute or two to make a tasty, soothing drink.

And the bouncing? It speeds up the flow of lymph around your body. Use an old-fashioned skipping rope or go gentle on your knees with a trampoline.

Top tip – Mum was right; it’s worth spending time drying your hair and getting bundled up with a hat and scarf before going out in the cold.

Quote of the Month – a Calorie is not a Calorie

 

It’s extremely naive of the public and the medical profession to imagine that a calorie of bread, a calorie of meat and a calorie of alcohol are all dealt with in the same way by the amazingly complex systems of the body.

Professor David Haslam

Chairman of the National Obesity Forum

He’s absolutely right –

           – which makes it puzzling that the National Obesity Forum is completely hung up on calories. The main detriment of drinking sweet drinks (sugary or zero Cal artificial) is not the calories they contain but the fact that they make you hungry – and particularly hungry for junk foods.

Soup to cheer your lunchtime

Salads are out and we want a warming soup to cheer our lunchtime.  Luckily it’s easy to make your own with hundreds of recipes on the internet in every flavour you could wish for.

Home made soup is cheap, delicious, nutritious and fresh. It’s good for your health to eat a wide variety of foods and soup is a good way to ‘hide’ those you’re not so keen on and wouldn’t eat on their own. Use your imagination and be a bit free and easy when creating your soup.

My standard recipe goes something like this:

(All ingredients should be cut small before they go in the pan.)

Cook an onion in butter until transparent.

Add a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, a carrot and couple of sticks of celery and cook for a couple more minutes.

Add 1/3 tin of tomatoes, handful each of cabbage stems and cauliflower leaves (for the waste-not-want-not generation you can save these earlier in the year; just wash, chop and pop in the freezer), stock or bouillon to cover, a squirt of tomato puree, salt, pepper, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried parsley (or fresh if you have it in which case you’ll need about 1 tbsp).

I often add saved ‘juices’ from beef stew for a richer flavour. You could even cut up cooked meats to put in. Deli counters often sell cheap mixed offcuts.

Bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes, add some green beans and peas. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Tip in a small (300g) tin of mixed pulses. Use a stick blender to whizz it smooth. Freeze in portions for use on other days.

Following my principle of plants, protein and fats, to make a more nutritionally rounded meal from this almost all carb soup, skip the bread and serve with a slice of cheese.

This one’s pumpkin.

Pumpkin Soup

Just chop the flesh of a 2-3lb pumpkin into cubes, put in a large saucepan with 3/4 pint stock, salt, pepper, fresh thyme and parsley.  Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add a tin of mixed beans and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Whizz with a stick blender then stir in a 1/2 pint tin of coconut milk.  That’s it!

I’ve also looked at what’s available to buy.

As far as possible, try to avoid unhealthy ingredients like sunflower oil, sugar and MSG that are so often used in manufactured food products. Look out too for misleading labels on products containing only tiny amounts of the most appealing bit yet naming it in big letters splashed across the front. (This applies to food, shampoo, you name it.) Always check the ingredients list on the label, they appear in order from most to least.

‘Fresh’ cartons and pouches – found in the cold aisle. The New Covent Garden veg based soups look pretty good but the Smoked Haddock is mostly potato and with only 5% fish has a disappointing nutritional profile for a fish chowder. Similarly, Naked’s Vietnamese Fiery Beef Pho contains no beef, just beef stock (only 5%) plus loads of spices to give it flavour.

Tins – most supermarkets sell a huge array of tinned soups including own-brand and many manufacturers. Usually these have a dozen ingredients (excluding water and any added vitamins/minerals). The best I found was Crosse and Blackwell’s Roast Chicken and Vegetable which has all real food ingredients in respectable amounts, as has Baxter’s Super Good Pea, Broccoli and Pesto soup.

Free and Easy soups – are useful if you have food allergies/intolerances.

Packet soups – can be useful at the office or if out and about but you don’t want your flask tainted with last week’s lunch.  They usually have about 17 ingredients but this varies widely. Surprisingly, Batchelor’s Minestrone Slim a Soup, at a whopping 27, contains 10 more than their Minestrone Cup a Soup. Batchelor’s Chicken and Leek is another misleading name with only 1% chicken. The Morrisons Golden Vegetable with Croutons is one I used to have sometimes but nowadays, for the sake of my health, I prefer to cook than buy.

Top tip: Get soup making.

Real Food Rocks

Saturday 20th July dawned (just about) dark and wet. It didn’t look good for Real Food Rocks at Brathay, Ambleside. The promise of sessions with some of the country’s leading food and exercise visionaries had more than doubled expected ticket sales and bookings had to close at 700.  David Unwin and his wife Jen organised the event, bringing top quality speakers and vendors (check out the Horned Beef Company and Hunter & Gather avocado oil mayonnaise), music and family fun. Was it a gamble holding a prestigious nutrition event in the lake district in summer?

I arrived early and got a seat in a room already almost full, to which were added a couple of dozen standing, more sitting on the floor and some listening to Dr Michael Moseley from outside through the open window. This set the pattern for the day but I managed to squeeze my way in to hear Ivor Cummins, Jenny Phillips, Dr David Unwin (an award-winning GP from Southport who is putting his diabetic patients into remission with diet) and Emma Porter whose low-carb recipes I am enjoying very much.

Here are just a few of the key messages from the day:

Michael Moseley

The Mediteranean Diet (the real one with lots of fats and oily fish, not the one on the NHS website which looks suspiciously like the standard, bad dietary recommendations) helps with severe depression.

Disappointingly, he told us that when his son did medicine at university recently, in the 5 years there was nothing at all on diet or exercise due to lack of time!!! The students organised their own study group. Change is coming as a grass roots movement but the NHS is as hard to turn round as a tanker.

Michael’s wife Dr Claire Bailey (GP) demonstrated fermented food for good gut health. There are as many brain cells in your gut as the head of a cat. Michael said they have a smart cat.

Commenting on exercise, he revealed that the 10k steps a day is not evidence based but came from Japan and was started by a company that makes pedometers!

Ivor Cummins

Ivor talked about ‘healthspan’ rather than lifespan. Bad lifestyle choices can rob you of your health as many as 10years too early. Good lifestyle choices can increase your healthy time by 10years.

Choosing to address your diet, exercise and stress can give you 20 extra quality years.

David Unwin

David spoke affectionately about the many different animals he has owned from the mallard ducklings he nearly killed with a vitamin deficient diet of porridge to a cow.

He was told he must feed the cow magnesium so that it would not have fits because cows really need to eat wild flowers like buttercups not just nitrogen-rich green grass (see the Horned Beef Company). This turned out to also be the remedy for a patient’s severe fitting which had been not helped by drugs. Modern medicine often fails to consider nutrition even though we know how to look after livestock.

Emma Porter and Dr Ian Lake

Emma and Ian spoke about real food and carbohydrate restricted diets for type 1 diabetics so that less insulin is needed. (This must be done in partnership with your doctor.) Other results are boundless energy, weight loss, mental clarity, better teeth and stable blood sugar. Dr Ian Lake pointed out that although the short term results are fabulous, there are no long-term studies of a low-carb diet. However he said we do know for sure that if your follow the usual high carb guidelines you will come to a sticky end. Emma and Dr David Cavan have written The Low-Carb Diabetes Cookbook – it’s not just for diabetics.

Jenny Philipps

Jenny spoke about metabolic health. Her key messages were quality (real food), intermittent fasting and using David Unwin’s sugar equivalent infographics to choose low impact foods. If you are metabolically healthy, you’ll be fine eating the odd piece of cake. If your health is poor, it’s very important to avoid high sugar foods.

And the dodgy weather?  The sun came out, the scenery glowed and a good day was had by all.

Top tip: Real Food Rocks!

Eggstraordinary!

Happy Hens, Great Eggs

Eggs nutritional gold in their own little packages.
They're good value, easy to prepare, versatile, 
satisfying and delicious.  We certainly eat a lot of them
36 million a day!


Does anyone remember the slogan 'Go to Work on an Egg'?
The original Tony Hancock adverts are on YouTube.
It's much sounder advice than breakfast cereal ads today.

There was a time when we were advised to eat fewer eggs;
now the Food Standards Agency says they're good for
everyone, even raw.
The British Lion mark was launched in 1998 and shows when
hens have been vaccinated against salmonella.

So what’s in them?
  • Protein - including all the essential amino acids
     and against which all other 
    protein sources are measured.
  • Fats – including mono-unsaturated
    and essential long-chain omega 3 fatty acids.
    They famously contain cholesterol
    but this will not affect your blood levels.
  • Vitamins - A, B2 (riboflavin), B5, B9 (folate), B12
    and D.
  • Minerals - rich in selenium, phosphorous and iron.
  • Other - choline (the only other food rich in this essential
    nutrient is liver)
    - lutein and zeaxanthin (needed by your eyes).
    
How good your eggs are depends on how the hens
have lived.

Could you keep your own hens?
If that’s not an option and you haven’t any
hen-keeping friends, buy the best of what’s available
Organic eggs are the most expensive at ~30p each.
They have the best animal welfare standards and are 
always free-range.  Hens are naturally inquisitive
creatures, happier when free to forage outside.

Free-range eggs have better animal welfare than hens
kept inside and a superior nutritional profile with double
the amount of vitamins and omega 3 fats.


Sainsbury’s sells woodland eggs from hens free to forage
among trees as wild ones would.

Barn eggs come from hens kept inside, up to a maximum
of 6000, with space to move around.  They eat only the
food provided.

Omega 3 eggs have feed supplemented by flaxseed
oil and/or fish oil.

The cheapest eggs come from hens in cages.

Beware marketing tricks – is the idyllic farm in the picture
a real farm?  Each egg has a number stamped on it
where it came from.
When factory hens are crammed together there’s a greater
likelihood of disease so they get daily antibiotics.  This
adds to the danger we’ll lose the use of these
life-saving drugs one day.

14 year old Lucy Gavaghan's petition resulted in a huge,
national shift away from hens in cages.  Barren, battery
cages are now banned under EU law, so all Lion Marked
eggs come from enriched cages.

Caged hens are fed just on grains without all the good
plants and little critters they would grub up if they were
outside.
Having said that, even cheap eggs (~12p each) are
good for you and far better than many of the processed
foods for sale.

Local farm eggs are often for sale in your local butcher's
or supermarkets and could come under any of these
categories.  You might see signs on country lanes too.
Some of these eggs are superb but if they do not bear
the Lion Mark there are no guarantees of quality.

Find out more at egginfo.co.uk

Top Tip – Eat eggs laid by happy hens!

Breakfast Cereal

A good day depends on stable blood-sugar so what you eat before work, sport or just life is really important. Although introduced only very recently, most people now start the day with a bowl of cereal. When I looked into snack bars in March, I noticed the cheery image cereal companies use to entice us to eat ultra-processed, recreational food first thing in the morning. Here’s one of Dr Unwin’s award-winning diagrams showing how badly even the blander types affect your blood-sugar.

(Similar pictures for other foods are available on the Public Health Collaboration website.)

The lined up spoons of sugar do not represent sugar added as an ingredient or even carbohydrate content; they show what happens to your blood compared to eating that much sugar. Note that the serving size is 30g (except for porridge) so if you have more than that, the effects will be greater. Anything frosted or with flavouring like honey is going to be even worse. None of these include any sugar you might put on top.

Dr David Unwin has been leading the UK in offering his diabetic patients dietary advice coupled with tailored medication. He has saved his practice £10,000s and some patients are in complete remission. He realised that added sugar in food isn’t the only problem. Our bodies quickly break down processed starches into simple sugars so he coined the phrase ‘soon to be sugar’. In terms of your blood levels, that means the difference between a slice of bread and some glucose is about 15 minutes in your stomach. All of us can benefit from reducing these foods (diabetics need to consult their doctors to keep their medication matched to their intake).

The Boxed Bunch

Surprisingly, the worst on David’s pic.

Most of the boxed cereals are made of the same things – processed grains, sugar, flavourings and added vitamins and minerals (not all in a highly bio-available form). Of those shown here, Corn Flakes and Coco Pops have the worst effect on blood sugar. A quick rise in blood sugar will be followed by insulin production leading to a crash. Peaks and troughs spell disaster; it’s no good getting weak and shaky after only a couple of hours.

Shredded Wheat prides itself on being made only with whole wheat. It’s true that it doesn’t have any added sugar or chemicals. You’d think that makes it a good bet but it’s still highly processed ‘soon to be sugar’. The diagram shows 4.8 teaspoons of sugar equivalent for 30g. One Shredded Wheat weighs 22g which is equivalent to 3.6 tsp so a typical breakfast of two is equivalent to 7.3 tsp.

Some people I know swear by Bran Flakes. They do have the most fibre and, close to Special K, a relatively lower impact.  But at 4 or 5 tsp of sugar equivalent, that’s still a lot.

Many people find that they get hungry before 10am after a box-cereal breakfast. I used to and gave it up 15 years ago.

Muesli can OK but check the ingredients or make your own. Dried fruit is a concentrated source of sugar to watch out for. Granola is generally worse as it have been sweetened. Also it’s sometimes cooked in vegetable oil which is an added problem.

The best I found was Rollagranola which you can buy on line here. Or again, you can make your own using coconut oil, proper oats, lots of nuts and seeds and no sugar or a little drizzle of maple syrup.

Here are a couple of granola recipes from Cookie and Kate and Libby at Ditch the Carbs. (You’ll have to ignore the many ads but there are excellent videos and explanations of why breakfast cereals are so terrible for our health.)

 

Breakfast of Champions

To keep feeling good throughout the day, experiment eating food in a more natural state and include protein and fat rather than eating carbohydrate on its own. I encourage people to eat some fresh plants with each meal too.

Many people find they fare well on porridge.  Natural oats release more slowly than the processed sachets and they are far cheaper. You can replace some of the oats with protein and fat as Joe Wicks does using ground flax seed, chia seeds, desiccated coconut and almond milk, topped with natural yoghurt. You could use ordinary milk, coconut milk or a dollop of cream and add some berries.

Now that it’s summer, try Jon Gabriel’s light but satisfying plain yoghurt mixed with nuts, seeds, protein powder and fruit.

Eggs are very nutritious and versatile for breakfast.  You can have them boiled, fried, poached, or as an omelette.  Most people used to ‘Go to work on an egg’.  Even as recently as the 1950, half the working population had a cooked breakfast.

Go continental with boiled eggs, avocado, ham and cheese. Save time by hard boiling your eggs the night before. Or dip avocado or buttered, wholemeal toast ‘soldiers’ in soft-boiled eggs.

Smoothies are quick to make and easy to consume. Base them on coconut milk, avocado, ground almonds, flax, spinach, whey powder, natural oats etc. Add just a little fruit for sweetness eg ¼ apple, 1” banana or a spoonful of berries. Beware high-sugar, bought smoothies and most of the recipes on the internet which have too much fruit.

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Fry-ups can sustain you for ages. Choose from bacon, egg, black pudding, sausage, mushroom, tomato (hold the beans and hash browns) or do the Aussie thing – steak and egg – perhaps with wilted spinach.

For a change, go fishy with a tin of mackerel plus half a pear and some seeds or indulge in smoked salmon, delicious with scrambled eggs on toast and courgette.

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Top tip – Ditch the cereal and eat a good breakfast to keep your blood sugar stable.

PS- Here’s a BBC documentary about the beginning and growth to world domination of the cereal industry.  It explains how we ended up in our current mess with millions of people damaging their health, every morning, thinking it’s a good thing to do.

And by the way, it’s the breakfast cereal business that told us we don’t have time to cook and paved the way for the whole processed food industry.  Make your health a priority and you’ll find you do have time to eat well.