The obesity epidemic in children – no one wants to call it what it is. The kids are eating chemicals – processed and packaged foods. And they’ve designed chemicals to taste scrumptious.
Suzanne Somers (cancer survivor)
Don’t allow the fake food industry to set our guidelines.
Zoe Harcombe to British Parliament
There is a government consultation out now on food advertising to children – have your say:
The closer we get to Christmas, the more unhealthy stuff is shoved in front of our eyes and under our noses. There are office parties, family gatherings and all sorts of social occasions where people will pressure us to indulge more than we want to (often to make themselves feel better)
“Go on, have another…”
Thankfully we don’t have to eat and drink everything on offer and suffer for it, or refuse it all and feel left out; we can take a middle road, use the 80/20 rule, join in without excess and enjoy a little of what you fancy.
There’s a saying:
Don’t worry what you eat between Christmas and New Year, it’s what you eat between New Year and Christmas that really matters.
If you’ve been taking care of yourself, your amazing body will cope with a bit of unhealthy stuff especially if you keep putting mostly good things inside you. Great breakfasts, super lunches, healthy snacks, fabulous dinners, all home-made mixtures of plants and proteins and fats. You’ll take it all in your stride.
Here’s a Jon Gabriel breakfast that seems light but is nutritious enough to last for several hours – fruit, full-fat natural yoghurt, ground flax, hemp, chia seeds, protein powder and I like to add some nuts – just stir it all together.
Of course, some people will dive in with gay abandon, intending to fix the damage in the New Year. If that’s you, going on a diet is unlikely to be helpful so resolve to build in some better eating habits or have some nutrition coaching and learn to eat well.
There will be presents as well as food and I leave you a quote I just saw from Bernard Manning:
I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas
with a note on it saying
“Toys not included”
I usually write about what to eat, but timing is important too.
Your body doesn’t just gear up to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light; every part of it has control clocks.
Artificial light means we can eat from pre-dawn until midnight nowadays. Unfortunately, this disrupts our circadian rhythm and is bad for our health.
It’s best to eat during the day when levels of digestive enzymes are high and your liver and gut are ready to deal with food. In the evening, saliva production slows down. Also, if anything enters the stomach, there’s more acid produced. Your gut slows down for nightly repairs – but repair is difficult if food is still passing through – it’s like trying to re-tarmac a road with traffic still flowing. It’s better to stop eating 2 or 3 hours before bed.
I’m in favour of working with your body, so Prof Satchin Panda’s research on Time Restricted Eating struck a chord. (Listen to Dr Rangan Chatterjee interviewing Prof Panda here.) An 8-10 hour window has been found in the lab to protect against (and to improve existing) obesity, heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, cholesterol and high blood sugar. Prof Panda recognises that we don’t have a choice when we get up; we have jobs to go to and children to take to school. But we can choose when we eat.
I like to try things out. Initially it felt weird starting work early then having breakfast at 9:30am but months into my self-experiment, I feel great. After 7:30pm I don’t eat – that’s a 10h window. Even a 12h window gives benefits, say 7am to 7pm. Give it a try and find out how you feel working with your body’s rhythms. (Check with your doctor about effects on medication.) There’s also a global study you can take part in via an app (mycircadianclock.org).
Top tip – Give Time Restricted Eating a try
One of the joys of summer is eating al fresco. A picnic is an essential part of a summer outing.
Have you noticed that food tastes better when we eat it outside? Psychologists have found that our physical sensations and emotional responses are greatly improved by the power of our perception of our environment. Restaurants have applied this science to their décor, choosing colour, patterns and music to set the mood. The same food actually tastes different depending on the wallpaper!
We also connect enjoyment of food with family memories: a favourite outdoor spot, the smell of grass and wild flowers, the sound of trees rustling in the breeze, the feel of warm sand on bare feet. Taking Jack LaLanne’s idea from July’s quote of the month, we need to be nearer to nature to be happy. And when our brains are stimulated, our taste buds step up a notch.
So, what food to take on your picnic? On TV you’ll see images of unhealthy fizzy drinks, crisps, cheese processed almost to the point of being plastic and all manner of factory-made nibbles. When you’re getting back to the great outdoors, nature and all things real I’m sure you’ll want better than fake food.
Sandwiches are common but often dry, dull and too heavy on bread to be a good choice for lunch. Instead try boiled eggs, cheeses, salami, lettuce, tomatoes, sticks of crunchy carrot and celery, cooling cucumber, creamy avocado, peppery radishes, spicy spring onions, ham rolled round cream cheese, small bread rolls with butter. My grandmother’s special was fried chicken in herby breadcrumbs – so tasty!
Fruit is nice and juicy although it can attract wasps and invite the biting midge to suck your sweet blood. Use it to make a refreshing infusion by adding a few slices of apple, lemon and strawberry to a big bottle of water. Chill it well before you set off.
June’s post had ideas for drinks.
Share the pleasure by eating all together sitting at a picnic table or on a rug. Here’s how they do it in France where people are still healthy and slim.
Top tip – enjoy a real food picnic.
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May was National Walking Month so hopefully you’ve enjoyed taking the occasional stroll in the lovely weather.
Moving your body every day is a good thing. It’s only a minor factor for weight loss but crucial when it comes to health. For many conditions it’s better than any medicine, even having value in preventing and treating cancer. However, in common with many other good things, more is not always better and too much can hurt you.
I’ll just back up and do a detour to deal with the weight loss thing in case you fell straight off your chair. Food is the main factor for weight loss – not exercise. Weight training and high intensity interval training are best. If you’re one of the 1000s pounding the treadmill every day watching the calories tick, you need to know that aerobic exercise is the worst for weight loss. It generally burns very little and makes you quite a bit hungrier. Even if energy balance worked at all (which it doesn’t), the way diet clubs teach it is very misleading as Zoe Harcombe explains here. The energy you burn, above what you always burn at rest, does not cancel out that bun and a latte in the gym cafe. As Dr Aseem Malhotra says, you can’t outrun a bad diet. What matters for weight is the type of food. Some you’ll burn, some you’ll store. Different foods affect different hormones. But I write about that most of the time so I’ll get off my soapbox and end my diversion. Oh, but while I still have one foot on my soapbox, energy drinks are terrible, especially for children, and no one should drink them. More on drinks next month.
OK, where were we? Exercise and Health.
I always ask people on my courses to listen to their bodies. It isn’t something we’re used to doing. Life is all one mad charge forwards regardless of how we feel. We’re driven by external expectations, work, family, social norms. If our bodies complain, the usual reaction is to take over-the-counter drugs to silence the messages.
Most of us recognise that too much work is a bad thing but surely any amount of exercise is good.
If you feel generally snoozy and sluggish, it could be a sign that you need to move more.
If you are very tired and exercise doesn’t energise you, it could be a sign that your body needs some recovery. We often underestimate the importance of rest. It can seem a bit soft to take a nap or a day off. When I was on the Great Britain Field Archery team I remember hearing that the commitment to rest is as important as the commitment to train hard.
Shame I didn’t take more notice at the time!
I used to have a stressful job and I used exercise as an antidote. The more stressed I got, the more desperately I exercised. Adding to the burden, I didn’t know then about eating right for your metabolic type. My diet was full of sugar but lacking the fat that I needed. And there were toxins in the low-fat products I ate. I believed the adverts saying they were better for me; how wrong can you be? I got more and more run down and relied too much on cortisol and adrenalin to keep me going. I dragged myself out of bed each day feeling like death and forced myself onwards. You can scrape the bottom of the barrel of your resources for so long but the end result for me was a hole in the barrel. I suffered total exhaustion and chronic fatigue. I was incapacitated for a year and half.
I’m not the only one to fall into the excess exercise trap. Sometimes the consequences are more severe than I suffered and can appear suddenly. I was saddened by the death of a Cumbrian chef at this year’s London Marathon. Here’s a piece about the dangers of over-doing it and how extreme sport scars your heart.
Nowadays I prefer a bit of balance and self care to punishing my body with gruelling regimes.
What do you think counts as exercise? Have you realised it doesn’t have to be done in a special place (eg a gym) or for a certain period of time (eg an hour)? Actually your body is designed for continuous movement and you can include lots of things you might not have counted before. Vacuuming, washing the car, playing with the kids, digging the garden, dancing, walking the dog, doing a few squats while the kettle boils, reaching up to hang out the washing.
I’m a fan of Dr Mercola’s NO dump (developed by Zach Bush). I love Michael Mosely’s book on Fast Exercise – here’s a little HIIT video. And have a listen to this podcast on primal play Dr Chatterjee and Darryl.
Dr Chaterjee’s book The Four Pillar Plan talks about movement snacking and Dr Joan Vernikos explains the need for non-exercise movement throughout the day regardless of whether you do ‘exercise sessions’. Just standing up from your chair every 20 minutes lets your body engage with gravity and brings many health, strength and weight benefits.
Do you take your health for granted? I used to but not any more. Having experienced life without it, health is really important to me now and that’s why I don’t compromise on food, exercise and rest. I don’t want to ever go back to that misery.
Good health is a lot about self care. It’s about getting some exercise every day, but not so much that you burn yourself out. It’s about nourishing your body with good food, but not sticking so rigidly to a dietary regime that it prevents you from living a rich, happy life. It’s about deep sleep, rest and fun. It’s about balance.
Top tips: Real food is good. Exercise is good. Rest is good. Balance is good.
Nutrition is king, exercise is queen. Put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.
How do you decide what to eat?
Since the introduction of calories as a measure of food energy content, we’ve become obsessed with them. The government’s official messages at the moment mention nothing else. However in spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices.
A huge and powerful industry makes and aggressively markets low-calorie food products. The BBC showed some years ago in ‘The Big Fat Truth about Low Fat Food’, that these products are not good for your health.
Instead of thinking primarily about calories, I ask the people on my Nutrition Coaching courses to focus on the goodness in foods. Some foods provide nutrients and improve your health. These include fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
Other foods are bad for you and your body has to work really hard to deal with them by using up lots of your vitamins, minerals and enzymes and most of your energy too. They leave you with compromised health and feeling exhausted. These include processed foods, biscuits, crisps, donuts, snack bars, fizzy pop, flavoured water and ready meals.
Bad food contains refined sugar, salt, damaged fats, artificial sweeteners and additives. Often processed foods are chemically altered to increase the appeal to your taste buds. They override your body’s ways of knowing when you’ve had enough and you can just carry on eating more and more.
So stop worrying about calories and think about goodness. Ignore the marketing hype which results in low-fat and low-calorie foods being labelled as healthy even if they’re not. Think instead how food can build your health or harm you.
Top tip – eat real food!
A spotlight is shining on today’s ubiquitous plastic food packaging. The main motivator is plastic waste in the oceans (think harrowing images from Blue Planet II). A very good reason for change. Another, you might not have thought about, is the effect the packaging has on your health.
Obviously, fast food isn’t good for you – but neither are its wrappers and packages. They contain chemicals to repel oil, grease and water (perfluoroalkyls) which may be linked to infertility, thyroid disease, immune system depression and cancer.
Other plastics (eg BPA, bisphenol A), often used in drinks bottles and as tin can linings, contain synthetic oestrogens which may affect fertility and hormone sensitive cancers.
It was thought that the chemicals would not migrate into the food – but they do (especially if heated). It was assumed that the chemicals would not be processed by your body – but they are. In addition to the toxins in the foods themselves, packaging contributes to your overall burden and these chemicals can be detected in almost everyone.
What about disposable coffee cups? So new, so trendy, so unnecessary! A firm in Kendal has pioneered a recycling process to separate the plastic from the paper. The reality is that only a tiny percentage of the 2.5 billion cups a year
thrown away in Britain get recycled. Why leave the office to buy drinks from shops when you can have a jar of coffee or box of tea bags in the cupboard and make your own in a nice mug? You’ll save ~£600 a year per weekday cup.
Real food tends to have less packaging and is usually cooked in pans, not microwaved in plastic. So for superior nutrition and plastic avoidance, real food’s a winner.
Top tip – Join the crusade against plastic-wrapped food
However 2017 turned out for you, we’re all hoping 2018 will be a good year. And you can make that more likely!
Did you know that the more you think about, talk about and write about something, the more likely it is to happen.
Jim Rohn said, “You are the sum of the five people with whom you spend the most time”
Who are those five people for you? Do they inspire you or drag you down? Since you’re going to end up like the people you spend time with it makes sense to keep company with the sort of people you’d like to be.
Jim Rohn also said you’re the average of “the five things around you, the ideas of the five books you read, the feelings from the five films or TV programmes you watch.” So it really matters what you choose to surround yourself with habitually.
I’ll continue with the theme:
- the five websites you read
the five people you follow on social media
- the five activities you do
- the five items you use
- the five songs you listen to
- the five foods you eat!
Thinking of food, I’ve spent January consoling people who over-indulged at Christmas and New Year by reminding them that our regular habits matter more than what we eat or drink occasionally. So what is it that we eat most of in Britain? Chicken perhaps, or potatoes? No, apparently, it’s white flour – hardly a health food. Why so much? Think bread, wraps, pasta, pizza base, pies and pastry, Yorkshire pudding, cakes, biscuits, pancakes…need I go on? No wonder much of the population is over-fed but undernourished. What can you do? (spoiler alert – top 5 at the end!)
Think of less processed alternatives to the floury things you eat.
- A cabbage leaf makes a good wrap (blanch it first to make it more flexible).
- Combine whatever filling you usually put in a sandwich with some salad. Top it with olive oil to make a superior lunch.
- Too cold for salad? Soups are a great way to get loads of different types of vegetables into your diet. You can put a bit of chopped up meat in for protein. (Use leftovers from dinner.) Have it with a hunk of cheese and there’s no need for any bread.
- You can make pizza base from cauliflower chopped up in a food processor. Mix with egg, cheese and seasoning and shape into a circle. Bake for 20 minutes before adding toppings.
- And there’s a wonderful Jon Gabriel recipe on YouTube for pizza that uses omelette as a base. It’s very satisfying; delicious hot when you make it or cold later on. Jon uses 3 eggs to make his but that’s too many for me so scale the recipe to match your appetite.
- Instead of pasta, you can make courgetti using a spiralizer or simply making strips using a potato peeler. Have some meat with it to make up for the bit of protein you lose from the wheat. Wider strips can replace pasta sheets for lasagna.
- Nuts (natural) and fresh coconut make great snacks.
- Sticks of carrot, celery and cheese with apple slices makes an easy, portable lunch.
- Instead of biscuits, have a square or 2 of the chocolate/nut/seed mix I showed you last issue.
- You can make buns using ground almonds as a base – just mix a large egg, a tablespoon of melted butter, 3 oz ground almonds, a sprinkling of raisins, ¼ teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt. Bake in paper cases in a bun tin at Gas Mark 3, 160o C for about 25 minutes
- You can even make cake in a cup in the microwave. Use a mix of ground almonds, raisins and egg.
- Microwave ‘bread’ made in a mug is similar. Beat an egg with 2 desert spoonfuls of ground flax seeds, 1 teaspoon baking powder, pinch of salt. Cook of full power for 1min 20 seconds.
As you improve your habits, you’ll feel the benefits. Fill your diet with good nutrition by resolving to regularly include more good things in your diet.
Try these 5:
- vegetables – have some with every meal (potatoes don’t count)
- meat/fish – good quality, home cooked
- healthy fats – olive oil, butter, avocado, nuts
- fruit – have a piece or two each day (but skip the fruit juice)
- water – as your number 1 drink
Top tip: Make your main 5 foods/drinks good ones.
What with all the confusing messages in the press and TV programmes about diets most nights throughout January it isn’t easy to know what’s good. If you’re not sure, get in touch and Learn to Eat Well.