What Time to Eat?

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

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Quote of the Month – Avoid the Snack Trap

Unless you are a cow or want to be the size of one – stop grazing!

Zoe Harcombe

Nigella Lawson is well known for her love of food and eating – but she says, ‘I’m not really a grazer. I like proper meals.’ She

Snack Trap

gets pleasure from being absorbed in the experience. This is the opposite of the mindless grazing we see so much at work, on the street, in front of screens.

Don’t fall into The Snack Trap – eat well at meal times.

 

October is Cholesterol Awareness month – what better way to deal with your cholesterol than to cut out sugary/floury snacks?

Real Food is Cheaper than Junk Food

After the holidays money might be tight. Whereas we spent a quarter of our income (25%) on food 40 years ago, it’s now only about 10% and price is one of the most important factors when people choose what to buy.

A common reason people give me for not eating real food, is that it’s too expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’ve ever watched Eat Well for Less, every family ends up saving £1000s by doing their own cooking. Why do we think real food is more expensive than fake food? Perhaps because the manufacturers are so adept at presenting their wares as cheap.

Ready meals are £2.50 a pop, (should that be a ping?) and most people recognise they often aren’t great (read the reviews eg not the mouth wateringly delicious dish you see on the ads and the picture on the packet but “90% salty, watery mash, 9% chicken, 1% mushroom & didn’t even see any leek – rubbish ). Many are not even complete meals but parts of meals to which you have to add your own veg or salad – that pushes up the cost still further. Takeaways are very expensive costing anything from £3 or £4 upwards for the basic meal, plus sides and other unhealthy extras like fizzy drinks which can push the meal up to a fiver.

Other people might be willing to sacrifice their money and food quality to avoid a few minutes of cooking but you want good food, good value and good health so I’ve had a go at costing some recipes. They all come out under £2 per person, from the most decadent pork stroganoff and salad at £1.87, through pasta with salmon sauce and salad at £1.62 (below), to liver and onions with cabbage and mash at 81p for the most nutritious food on the planet (NB liver is high in vitamin K so not good with warfarin).

If you have a take-away twice a week and eat ready-meals the rest of the time, you could save at least £500 a year per person, probably far more, by cooking your own food. Adding up seven of these meals comes to £9.73 for a week. Does that sound worth a little time in the kitchen?

Recipes serve 2 adults, final price per person shown in bold.

Pasta and salmon sauce

In a pan of fast boiling water, cook pasta 25p

In a small saucepan melt a knob of butter 10p

Add a 213g tin of pink salmon £1.84

Add 1/3 tin tomatoes (freeze the rest in two containers) 12p

Add a big pinch of fresh dill (freeze the rest for other meals) 6p

Make a salad while everything cooks – see below 52p

When the pasta is almost ready, add 1/3 tub double cream 25p

to the sauce – warm it but don’t let it boil.

Drain the pasta, stir in some butter 6p

Pour the sauce over and serve with the salad

Total cost £3.20 that’s £1.60 per person.

So easy, so quick, so tasty!

Salad

Some meals seem to go with salad, others with veg. There are so many ways to make salads and wonderful varied ingredients you can use. Here’s an easy one that I’ve used in this recipe series.

Wash and chop a few lettuce leaves 5p

(buy a whole lettuces, not expensive, chemical-soaked pre-prepped bags)

Slice a carrot very thinly or grate it 8p

Slice some radish 9p

Add some baby plum tomatoes 20p

Drizzle with dressing 10p

Total for salad 52p for 2 or 26p per person

For the sake of your health, make your own dressing with olive oil and some sort of vinegar. Bought dressings usually contain vegetable oil which you need to avoid – here’s why.

You can make salad that costs even less by slicing savoy, white or red cabbage very finely and adding grated carrots, tomatoes, chives, celery etc.

Savoy cabbage tastes good with olive oil and white wine vinegar.

White cabbage is better with mayonnaise. Here’s an easy way to make your own.

Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to use loads of equipment and make lots of pans dirty. Here’s one you can make for one in a little pan or for 20 if you have a huge cauldron – but there’s only the one pan to clean. Hurray!

One-pot chicken

In a medium pan, melt a knob of butter 10p

Chop one medium onion and cook for 3 mins 20p

Add a teaspoon of coconut oil 5p

Fry 4 chicken thighs until browned all over £2.64

For the best flavour, use thighs with skin on and bone in.

Turn down the heat

Add:

– 1/3 tin chopped tomatoes 12p

– 125ml brown rice 15p

– a dash of lemon juice 12p

– ½ pt stock 7p

– good pinch of dried oregano 4p

Stir, cover with a lid, simmer gently for 20 mins, turning the chicken pieces over and stirring the mixture 4 or 5 times.

5 minutes before the end, add two good handfuls of peas 12p

Towards the end, add a good pinch of fresh chopped parsley 7p

Total cost £3.78, that’s £1.84 per person and the chicken price is for free-range. You can cut it to £1.07 if you use frozen thighs.

Delicious, satisfying and only one pan to clean.

Here’s a link to two recipes (pork stroganoff and pork in a mushroom cream sauce) and a note about low-cost weight loss.

Top Tip – Get Cooking –  it could save you a packet!

 

Ultimate Budget Meal 81p

You’ve nearly made it through the school holidays and so here is the ultimate in high-nutrition, budget food.

Some people don’t like liver but it’s worth persevering as it contains so many vitamins and minerals. I didn’t like it until a few years ago but occasionally I’d order it if it was on a pub menu – my body must have told my subconscious that I needed a boost. In France they get kids to eat almost anything by tasting repeatedly – they don’t have to eat the food but must taste it. After a few times, usually they like it.  Take a look at this article by the Sustainable Food Trust.

Liver and Onions to serve 2

Slice one medium onion 20p

Fry in a knob of butter for 3 mins 10p

Put the onion in a bowl

Add a teaspoon of coconut oil 5p

Fry 400g sliced liver until browned all over 80p

Turn down the heat and leave to cook slowly

Boil 500g potatoes for 15 mins 25p

(I don’t know why you need more when you’re going to mash them than just eating them boiled but you do!)

For the last 2 minutes, chop and steam a heap of kale 30p

or cabbage 10p

over your potatoes

Put the onions back in the pan with the liver

Drain the potatoes and mash with butter and milk 12p

Total for the most nutritious food on the planet £1.82.

That’s 91p per person with kale or 81p with cabbage.

NB If you take warfarin, you’ll need to choose a different dinner as liver and kale are both high in vitamin K.

Picnics

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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Exercise, Health and a Bit of Balance

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.

France 2009

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.

The Calorie Fallacy

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!

Make 2018 a Good Year

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.

    Winter Salad

  • 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.