We’re paying for cheap food with our health and our planet
Founder of Sustainable Food Trust
Read his article on this topic.
We’re paying for cheap food with our health and our planet
Founder of Sustainable Food Trust
Read his article on this topic.
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:
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 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 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 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!
Here he writes about suncream.https://www.outsideonline.com/2380751/sunscreen-sun-exposure-skin-cancer-science
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!
Britain’s biggest seller is cookbooks. The second is diet books. How not to eat what you’ve just learned to cook!
Brian Turner, chef
In Britain we sell more cooking books per capita than any other country – but we cook less. Have we made it all too complicated? As a friend of mine said “Cooking is common sense and the application of heat.”
This is the scrummy one-pot chicken from my recipe booklet Eat Well and Save.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Play a small part in something great
We can all be part of the solution.
Climate change is in the news again and saving the planet looks like a challenge the human race is not taking seriously. Surely it’s a good idea to reduce consumption of energy and resources and not be wasteful.
Sir David Attenborough said about saving global eco systems,
“The enemy is waste; when you see what’s thrown away, it’s shameful.”
The most environmentally damaging industry is air and sea travel, next comes fast fashion but food is right up there in importance. The ways we farm, process, eat and waste food are unsustainable. The UN has estimated that we waste 1/3 of the food produced – that’s 1.3 billion tonnes a year. Other estimates are as high as 50%. It’s been shown that the third most effective way to tackle climate change is to reduce food waste. So when I was putting the bin out I started thinking about how we can do our bit for the planet.
Our council collects rubbish once a fortnight. Perhaps your wheelie bin is nearly empty, like mine, but I see overflowing bins all over town. Recycling is also collected once a fortnight. Again, I noticed boxes overflowing with bottles and mountains of cardboard boxes.
What’s going on? Could it be partly down to the type of food we buy and the way it’s packaged?
The more processed a food is, the more of its sale price goes to on advertising – including making the products’ packages look appealing even if the tempting images bear little relation to what’s inside.
A great way to reduce waste (food and packaging) and save lots of money is to do a little planning, buy real food and do your own cooking. Last August I ran a series of costed recipes and these plus others and some tips on healthy eating and weight loss are in my Eat Well and Save recipe booklet, now available £3.95 or £5 with postage.
Cooking your meals from scratch gives you control over portion sizes too which could be good for your waistline. If you make too much, save any leftovers to eat another day rather than bin them. Also see this blog Love Leftovers.
To help you get organised try this useful weekly plan sheets from Wilko – with thanks to Elsa one of the Eat Well Gang who told me about them.
and my shopping list prompt to help you think about the week ahead rather than walking round the shops buying whatever takes your fancy or what they promote the hardest, then ending up with too much or something missing that you need.
As well as reducing waste, we can support regenerative agriculture (small scale, mixed, grass fed animals and arable farming) which has negative carbon emissions (ie reduces global warming), supports rich ecosystems with plants, insects and mammals and enriches the soil. Intensive (factory) agriculture (indoor livestock fed on grains and large scale arable using chemical fertilisers with pesticides and herbicides) causes greater emissions, loss of wildlife and biodiversity plus soil damage.
See Feedback Global.
When you buy meat from a supermarket, you get a plastic box. You can buy meat from a butcher and come away with a small, flimsy plastic bag. Yes it’s still plastic but a tiny fraction of the amount.
Buying local and in season saves food miles. It will be British asparagus season soon. Buy some to eat and some to freeze then you won’t need asparagus all the way from Peru later.
Grow a bit of salad or some soft fruit in the garden.
And even if you don’t have a garden you could grow some herbs in a pot on your kitchen window-sill.
Top tips – Include environmental impact when choosing the food you buy.
– Buy what you need, in minimal packaging and eat all of it.
More ideas at Love Food Hate Waste.
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:
Energy bars have acquired an air of healthiness which makes them very popular – but are they actually good for you? I’ve been having a look at some of what’s available and this month I share my thoughts with you.
I should first say that the general rule for a healthy life is to eat great meals so you don’t need to snack. If you do want a snack, it’s better to make something yourself and avoid all the sugar and weird stuff manufacturers use.
If you decide to buy snacks and energy bars, be aware that the downsides to factory made food are 1) the aggressive processing and 2) the weird ingredients needed to make a presentable product after it’s been through aggressive processing.
Some of the bars listed here have 20 or 30 odd ingredients, few of which are recognisable foods. I was interested to notice how many of the cereal companies make them, presenting the same cheery image they use to entice us to eat recreational, ultra-processed food first thing in the morning.
The unhealthy bunch – eat at your peril
Too much sugar and weird.
Alpen Light, Double Chocolate
Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain, Strawberry
Jordans Frusli – Juicy Blueberries. Only 2.2% blueberries
Nestle Lion Breakfast Cereal Bar – Chocolate
Kellogg’s Coco Pops – Chocolate.
Maxi Muscle – Chocolate Brownie
Kellogg’s Nuts and More – Dark choc and almonds
Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Bar – Choc and peanut
Tracker – Chocolate chip
Cadbury Brunch Bar
Go ahead Yogurt Breaks – Red Cherry. Over 30 ingredients, vast amounts of sugar and only 1% cherry!
Possibly the worst I’ve seen.
So-so in a pinch
Nature Valley Protein Bar – Peanut and Chocolate
Eat Natural – Dark choc, cranberries, macadamias. I used to love these. They’re made with real ingredients but they’re sugary ingredients and I can’t cope with the extreme sweetness now. They also do a protein one which I haven’t tried but might be better.
Eat Grub – Cacoa and coconut. Made of good stuff (including crickets, hence the name) but at almost 40% dried fruit that’s a hit to your liver.
Nestle Yes – Coffee, Dark choc and cherry. Reasonable ingredients and nutritional profile.
Nutramino Protein Bar – Peanut and caramel
Atkins Bars – Chocolate fudge caramel. Low in sugar but I’m not sure I’d want to pay money for a product whose main ingredient is “bulking agent”.
The best of the bunch
These have the fewest, most natural ingredients.
Raw Chocolate – Nut pie. All natural.
Naked Bar – Pecan pie. Just 3 ingredients! Don’t eat too many though due to the high percentage of dates.
Nature’s Energy Meridian – Peanut and cocoa. My winner. All 9 ingredients are recognisable foods, the nutritional profile is balanced and they taste nice!
Better Still – Make Your Own
The simplest product is the Naked bar which is only dates, almonds and pecans.
Of course the thought that springs to mind is that you could just buy dates, ground almonds and pecans and squish them together to make your own. Get used to adapting the recipes you already have. I noticed recently that modern versions of old classics have double the sugar. That means you can halve what most recipes say. Lots of websites have recipes but a word of warning; some of them list vegetable oil as an ingredient. Seed oils like sunflower are not heat stable and should never be used in cooking. Use some butter or coconut oil instead.
Snacks like power balls are usually made with dates as a base or nut butter as in this example:
In a bowl, thoroughly mix :
Take out a teaspoon at a time and roll into little balls. They can be a bit sticky so you could roll them in sesame seeds or more coconut to form a dry coating. Keep them in the fridge.
As an alternative try quick and simple, low-carb, microwave –
Cake in a cup
Put into a large mug:
Mix with a fork then microwave on high for 1½ minutes. There’s your cake!
Top tip – If you want an energy booster, make your own.