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.

Why Diets Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

We’ve passed Fail Friday now (3 ½ weeks into the year apparently) so most people will have given up on their New Year Resolutions, abandoned their diets and stopped going to the gym.

Diets are 10-a -penny and there’s always a new one to try, from boring to bizarre. You’ll lose weight on them, then pile it all back on later. That isn’t what most people want so it seems to me that diets don’t work.

Don’t blame yourself – it’s actually the diet that causes the weight regain (happens to 95% of dieters). Your body is a wonderful survival machine and you can’t force it to keep on losing fat long-term through deprivation. Restrict energy intake and your body will slow your metabolism to protect you against your self-imposed food shortage. Much of the weight you’ll lose isn’t fat anyway but lean tissue that you need to hang onto. A better way is to invest in your health and happiness by learning to eat well.

Have you heard that a calorie is a calorie? That’s right from a physics point of view but it isn’t helpful for weight loss because your body reacts in different ways to different types of foods. The result is that some calories put weight on, others help you lose weight. Your body’s responses include fat storage or fat burning, increased hunger or satiety. Obsessing about calories is also bad because it takes the focus off the goodness in food leaving you lacking in important nutrients.

A Colin Shelbourne cartoon from Survival Guide for the Skint.

What really causes weight gain? Sugar is number 1, via the production of insulin and increase of appetite. Then there’s processed carbohydrate (called ‘soon to be sugar’), including flour and breakfast cereals. Then there are fructose and alcohol which create fat via the liver. Next come seed oils which your body loves to store. And don’t think sweeteners come free; they confuse your brain and upset your body’s appetite controls so you eat more. All those chemical additives can make your body produce fat to safely store them as a toxin-protection response.

The key therefore is to avoid these fat-storage triggers. They’re in most processed foods including: ready meals, takeaways, fizzy drinks, pastry, crisps, chocolate, booze, diet foods. These are the things people snack on all day.

For healthy weight loss, eat home-made meals that satisfy you for 4 or 5 hours to see you through to the next meal without snacking. Each meal should contain plants, proteins and fats. Breakfast in particular should contain enough protein and fat so that you don’t get hungry mid-morning. Here’s a piece I wrote on breakfasts to give you some ideas. Cook your own natural, nutritious food and let your excess weight melt away.

If you want to know more, including your personal metabolic type and the mixture of food that’s right for your body, my next Eat for a Better Life course starts on 20th February at The Foyer, Irish Street, Whitehaven.  Or have a one-to-one consultation any time by ‘phone or Skype.

Top tip – Give up diets, Learn to Eat Well!

The Snack Trap – A Horror Story For Halloween

Once upon a time in the merry, 3-meals-a-day, real-food land of Britain, we didn’t snack and were slim and healthy. We farmed the earth and ate its good plants and animals. Then money-making men rubbed their hands at inventing artificial food, “We can snare people in The Snack Trap. Muahahaa”. Adverts were the Snack Trap’s lure: Milky Way “the sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite” (1970) “A finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat” (1979) “Have a break, have a Kit Kat” (1958). “A drink’s too wet without one” Rich Tea (1985). And I bet you know who makes exceedingly good cakes (1967).

There’s no escape; tempting, unhealthy nibbles constantly surround us. They’re at work, in town, thrust at us when buying a newspaper, alongside us as we queue to pay for petrol (if we can get through the throng of schoolkids buying lurid-coloured drinks and snacks of all kinds except the healthy kind). People snack all day long.

Halloween masks, costumes and pumpkin lanterns are scary enough, but read the ingredients lists on the products for giving to dressed-up kids on your doorstep on 31st October. Check out Joanna Blythman’s Swallow This for a bed-time story with shocks and frights aplenty as she exposes the deadly cauldron mix. How weird that we “treat” our kids (and ourselves) with health-damaging sugar and chemicals.

No-one is defending us. When the Health Education Authority complained about the ads, the regulator sided with the manufacturer. It’s up to you to escape the trap by eating enough good food to keep you full and satisfied. And the government’s guidance on 400kCal breakfasts won’t help. A low-cal, breakfast-cereal-induced, blood-sugar roller-coaster virtually guarantees that you’ll be ravenous way before lunchtime. With desperate, blood-curdling cries, you’ll trample your boss underfoot to snatch the last sugary snack from the vending machine. Aaaarrrrgh!

Snack Trap

Top tip – Eat well to escape The Snack Trap

To stay safe, try these breakfasts.

Fake News

Did you see the news last month?  The media were full of dramatic sound bites. “Low Carb Diets Could Shorten Your Life” (eg BBC, The Independent) Actually, they don’t.

The media have taken the findings of a poor study (ARIC) and turned it into sensational headlines that have confused and alarmed people. That’s what I call Fake News. Only a few months earlier, the papers were proclaiming that our high carb dietary guidelines have had disastrous consequences for the nation’s health. Yes, they have.

Always remember, the media’s business is not good science but selling stories.

So what was wrong with this new study?

Firstly the data were collected by self-reported questionnaires a notoriously inaccurate method.

Secondly, the amount of carbs eaten by what they called a ‘low-carb’ group was actually quite high so they never looked at low-carb at all.

Thirdly there were many ‘confounding factors’. The people eating the lower carbohydrate diet in the late 80s, early 90s were those people who ignored the official advice. They tended to be male, diabetic, smokers who took little exercise. ie they had many poor health habits.

Fourthly, the researchers split people into uneven bands some very big, some very small, to artificially inflate the low-carb risk. Zoe Harcombe brilliantly explains the small comparator group statistical shenanigans: “20 children go skiing, 2 are autistic. 2 die in an avalanche, one with autism, one without. The death rate for the non-autistic children is 1 in 18 (5.5%) and the death rate for the autistic children is 1 in 2 (50%)”.  This makes it look as if autistic children are 10 times more likely to die in an avalanche which of course is nonsense.

By manipulating the data, they got the conclusion they wanted.

I’ll also say that quality is more important than quantity. There are carbs and carbs. Eating fresh vegetables is good, and some fruit (eaten whole, not drunk as juice). With plenty of variety and different colours you’ll get nutrients, energy and fibre. But eating loads of processed carbs like cereal and things made of flour like bread, cake, biscuits, pastry and pasta is only going to put weight on you and damage your health.  That’s why I recommend that people eat real home-cooked fresh food.  Check out the series of costed recipes I posted throughout August.  7 main meals – a whole week – at £10.50 per person!


Top tip: Take the news with a pinch of salt.

Quote of the Month

The very inconvenient truth that nobody wants to talk about is that to resolve the obesity crisis, we need to eat less food. And we need to particularly eat less unhealthy food which generally comes in a packet and has a logo on it and is generally owned by a very large multinational corporation.

Dan Parker

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In a dramatic change of direction, ex-advertising executive (promoting the likes of Coca Cola and McDonalds), Dan is a founder and Chief Executive of Living Loud which aims to help people live longer, healthier and happier lives by overcoming, preventing and managing lifestyle illness.  Here’s a piece he wrote comparing the food industry to tobacco and a great article about snacking.

 

Sugar Blues

Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) results in hunger, shakiness, weakness, dizziness, irritability and depression. I should know; for years I suffered on a daily basis. The cause – too much sugar. High blood sugar stimulated my body to produce insulin, which took the sugar back out of my blood (and made me fat). I didn’t understand the problem so I tried to control my symptoms with regular biscuits, bananas and chocolate. It was a disaster. At archery competitions, I ate sugar even more frequently. I just got headaches and felt awful.

My first inkling of the cause

Cereal - a poor choice for breakfast

Cereal – a poor choice for breakfast

was at work. Biscuits were provided in meetings; if I ate one I got hungry but if I abstained I was OK. My second clue came when dieting to lose the weight I’d gained eating so many biscuits; I was less hungry eating a little cereal for breakfast than a lot.  Also I noticed the low-fat yoghurts I bought weren’t satisfying, they just increased my appetite.  Now I know it’s because of the sugar they put in low-fat products to make them palateable.

 

Sugar has a toxic effect on the body and causes myriad health problems besides hypoglycemia. For centuries doctors have cured their patients of many ailments by replacing sugar with quality vegetable and whole grain carbohydrates and for centuries consumption has increased sweeping aside all resistance. In the 11th Century, brewers caught adding sugar to beer were dragged through the City of Chester in a cart with the overnight refuse of the privies. In the early 1900s, America had laws against “substances injurious to health” (like sugar) being added to food. Manufacturers (including Coca-Cola) opposed this, got the government on side and the health of the whole nation deteriorated as a result of the adulterated products that are now their main food. In the 1950s, Dr Gyland wrote papers to warn and help others but couldn’t get them published.  In Britain, Professor John Yudkin tried to fight Ancel Keys and his lipid hypothesis having found a stronger corrolation between sugar and heart disease than there is with fat – he was sqashed.  Even Keys himself couldn’t get published a paper he wrote late in his life against the direction nutritional advice has taken.  Little has changed.  Those reaping the profits still don’t want you to know the truth – sugar wrecks your health.

Top Tip – Stop eating sugar

NB Diabetics will need to balance their medication with their sugar intake.

To learn more about the sorry history of sugar in our food, read Sugar Blues by William Dufty and Pure, White and Deadly by John Yudkin.  Here’s a Daily Telegraph artcle on the latter; we still have the same sugar-industry-led problem today.

 

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 - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6.jpg#/media/File:3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6.jpg

“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 – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6.jpg#/media/File:3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6.jpg

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.

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Top tip – eat well for the sake of your brain

 

Junk Food Kids

I was heartbroken to watch a four year old girl having 8 rotten teeth surgically removed on Channel 4’s Junk Food Kids – Who’s to Blame?  Also featured were a boy with fatty liver disease and an obese 13y old girl whose parents wanted her to have gastric band surgery in preference to improving the family’s diet.   For all of these, typical fare at home was ready meals, takeaways, jacket potatoes with baked beans, piles of pasta, pizza, crisps, chocolate and sweet drinks – all guaranteed to pile weight on and rot teeth. The social media backlash accused parents of child abuse for letting their kids eat so badly but the parents were at their wits end. To them processed, sugary diets were normal and they didn’t know what to do to make them better.

Nutrition experts have campaigned many times for governmental control on sugar use by food and drink manufacturers. The government declined arguing that consumers can choose. Can they really? Manufacturers spend huge sums on advertising – and it works. Junk food is cheap, easy, quick and everyone eats it don’t they? Parents are left with a battle on their hands, parental discipline isn’t fashionable and a third of our children are overweight, many with bad teeth, both of which are entirely preventable.

What can we do? It seems the government isn’t going to help us and the manufacturers won’t so we need to support each other in raising awareness so that drinking water and eating real food become normal again.  A dentist near where I live has created a Sugar Shock poster showing the amount of sugar in different drinks. It’s brilliant! I had no idea that flavoured milk is worst of all. A local cafe has a lovely Michael Pollen quote on their wall ‘don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food’.  What can you do to help spread the message?

Top tip – for the sake of the children, lets help get each other back into real food