Vive La France

Did you know that French kids don’t get fat? They have the lowest levels of childhood obesity in the developed world and it’s the only place where it isn’t rising. Children aren’t educated about nutrition and taught to be anxious about food, they are taught the joy of food and learn to love it.

At 2013 July Brendas 6home, the family eats together so children develop a taste for real food, not fake ‘children’s food’. Kids don’t snack randomly but learn to wait. Parents don’t use food as bribes or rewards for good behaviour – it’s for pleasure and nourishment.

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The French rarely buy ready meals or takeaways. Instead, they spend more than we do on real food, revelling in copious amounts of butter, cheese and cream. They consistently have the highest levels of saturated fat intake in Europe and the lowest levels of heart disease. It’s termed the French Paradox; how do they get away with it? But actually there is no paradox. Research, including a review last year by Cambridge University of 72 studies, reveals an “absolute lack of evidence that consuming saturated fat leads to heart disease“. Yet the old school dietitians still cling to the notion and only last month, Nigella Lawson was vilified in the paper for using coconut oil in her new cookery book. But the French aren’t doing something mysterious to cheat the death that their diet deserves; their diet does them good. They look at the British eating processed sugar and oil and think we’re mad.

The French government helps too, with tough policies designed to prevent commercial interests damaging the health of its children. Tax on fizzy drinks (Jamie Oliver is campaigning to introduce the same here), health warnings on TV ads for snack foods, incentives for fruit and vegetable producers, no hormone treatment of animals, no vending machines in schools, water only to drink with the children’s 4-course, freshly-prepared school lunches for which they have a 2 hour break! Sounds good to me.


Top tip: Like the French, learn to love real food.

(I wrote this month’s piece a few weeks ago and decided to post it as intended in spite of the recent terrible events.  It seems appropriate to celebrate the French at this time.)

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

 

Super Foods

Super foods are ‘in’. People are going mad for all sorts of things from gogi Pastaberries to maca powder and cacao nibs. However, I was really taken aback when someone said their diet club had told them that pasta is a super food; it is not.

So what makes something a super food? 2 things. Firstly, it will have an unusually high nutrient content; things like vitamins, minerals, enzymes or good fats. Secondly, the nutrients will be in a form that the body can easily absorb and use. This is called bio-availability.  I have some videos on different superfoods here (scroll down through top tips and testimonials to get to the superfood series).

Avocado DSCF1323 freeTake the avocado, a true super food. This pear-shaped fruit is packed with amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and good fats. I base my breakfast smoothie on avocado. They’re also great as part of a salad. Contrast this with pasta which is just wheat starch. Like bread or Yorkshire pudding, it’s ‘padding’ with only a bit of protein, a few minerals, hardly any vitamins and no good fat. It will cause weight gain without boosting your health.

I’m quarter Italian and enjoy pasta as much as the next person but I eat no more than a handful in a meal. After all, in Italy pasta is not a main dish, it’s a starter. And what is this bizarre Cumbrian custom of serving lasagne with chips? That’s adding padding to more padding. Instead, have it with a large, mixed salad, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The goodness has diminished drastically in our modern diet. Super foods can help to fill the gap and give you a boost but a few gogi berries won’t make up for a poor diet. Build a solid foundation and always aim to eat well.

Top tip – Use super foods to enhance a good diet.

Indulge and Eat Well this Christmas

We’re in the season of indulgence so while you’re in the mood why not treat yourself to some truly fabulous, healthy foods?Eggs

For the ultimate luxury breakfast, start the day with lightly scrambled free-range eggs topped with smoked salmon.

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ChickenIf you’re eating chicken or turkey on Christmas day, find a butcher who buys directly from a local farm where animal welfare matters. Boil up the carcass afterwards to make some health-boosting stock and use to make delicious soup with any leftover meat and veg. If you prefer a joint of beef or some steak, the best is grass-fed and organic.

Cook roast potatoes in lard or go for goose fat. CauliVegetable oil is damaged by heat and should never be used for cooking. Choose organic veggies of different colours to make the plate look cheerful as well as giving you a variety of vitamins and minerals. Steam your veg to retain flavour, texture and nutrients.

NutsUpgrade your snacks with bowls of natural nuts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese. Or cut crispy vegetables into sticks and serve with a home-made dip eg cream cheese, natural yoghurt, lemon juice and herbs.

StiltonHaving a cheese board? Seek out traditionally made artisan cheeses rather than anything mass-produced or processed. Cumbrian cheeses come in a remarkable array from mild to head-blowing. Unpasteurised cheeses are rich in beneficial bacterial (avoid if you’re in a Grapeshigh-risk group eg pregnant or elderly). Enjoy real butter on your crackers; it’s much healthier than ‘spreads’. Serve with grapes and celery for a refreshing crunch.

Finish off with some high-cacao rich, dark chocolate. Yum.

Dark chocolate

Top tip: Eat really well. Merry Christmas!

Diet not

I’ve seen a lot of adverts for diets lately; they’re designed to take advantage of the New Year motivation boost and the frustrations of having over-done things at Christmas (again). If you’ve ever lost weight on a diet, chances are you put it back on again later (possibly with a bit extra as well). Some people blame themselves for this, thinking that it’s a lack of self discipline. It isn’t true. Some believe that overweight people eat too much. That is sometimes the case but often that isn’t true either.

We’re told that all we need to do is eat less and exercise more. It sounds so plausible. As a scientist, I’m familiar with the law of energy conservation (energy in = energy out). When applied to the human body it’s more subtle and one key factor is the variability of the ‘energy out’ part of the equation. The body has a clever way of slowing down your metabolism to protect you against starvation when food is in short supply. Restrict the energy that goes in (e.g. go on a diet) and your body won’t carry on merrily burning the same amount of fuel as before, it will batten down the hatches and store everything it can.

Foods are not all the same and calories are not all equal. Some foods lead to fat storage, others boost the metabolism and promote fat burning. Limiting intake of bad foods is helpful. Limiting intake of good foods can lead to deficiencies of nutrients critical to good health. Rather than eating less of the same, many people would actually be better off if they focussed less on the amount but ate differently, ate better, ate well.

Dieting is not the answer.

Top tip – Don’t eat less, eat well!

Let’s Celebrate!

Food used to be at the centre of our lives. A home-cooked meal, eaten together was a time to talk and strengthen family relationships. We would spend a good portion of our income keeping ourselves well fed. We’d spend more of our time shopping, cooking and eating. This is still the way of life in France and Italy and is the secret of the famously healthy ‘Mediterranean Diet’. Fresh simple food, cooked with love and eaten with gratitude.

If this doesn’t describe your relationship with food, perhaps you could treat yourself to a change this Christmas. Most people get some time off work so you could make some delicious meals and spend time really enjoying eating.

I made my Christmas cake in November (to my grandmother’s recipe, complete with marmalade). S/W Ver: 85.83.E7PMince pies were last week’s job.A recent article by a cardiologist in the British Medical Journal confirmed that saturated fat does not cause heart disease so I had no qualms about using all butter for the pastry. They melt in the mouth. No sugar on top though – I didn’t want them all sickly like bought ones.

Christmas dinner is my favourite meal of the year. It takes some making and the secret is for everyone to help. Some can chop veg, some can peel potatoes, some can lay the table, others can wash up afterwards. My grandfather liked to make the starter (right up to the age of 94). Even children can do something.

I know there are some famous retailers offering to make your Christmas easier in exchange for lots of your money – just come and buy the lot. They’re missing the point. When you get people involved, the whole experience can be fun rather than a chore. The food I cook at home is tastier and better for me than pre-prepared food. If you’re a good cook who doesn’t use vegetable oil or add lots of salt and sugar to everything, the same could be true for you. As I celebrate remembering the time when God came in human form to save us, I’ll also celebrate the bounty of the earth and be thankful for the privilege of being able to eat well.

Top tip: Celebrate good food this Christmas.

Wishing all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year.

Christmas lights in Harrogate

Christmas lights in Harrogate

Autumn – Season of Mellow Fruitfulness

The dark evenings and morning nip in the air leave us in no doubt that summer is over; but wasn’t it a great summer?

Autumn is the season when your body wants you to put on weight so that you will survive the bitter temperatures and food shortages of winter.

In these modern times, we 02-11-08_1035have houses, heating and year-round food so we don’t need an extra couple of stone to stop us from dying before spring arrives. Your body doesn’t know that things changed only a few short decades ago; it’s still working the way it always has.

 

Suddenly we have irresistible urges to eat ‘comfort foods’ like blackberry and apple crumble. Yum. The autumn harvest is rich in fruit which contains a type of sugar called fructose. Your body deals with fructose differently to other carbohydrates and most of it is turned into fat.

Autumn also brings nuts and seeds which are rich in omega 6 fats. We used to get foods rich in omega 6 only before winter and we’re programmed to store it. Now, we get it all year round and far more of it than we need, in the form of cooking oil (eg sunflower oil). If you check the labels you’ll find that most bought products (puddings, cakes, biscuits, pastries) are made with vegetable oil.

Omega 6 and fructose create a recipe for piling on the pounds that assured our stone-age survival. We instinctively love them. However, your mind might not agree with your body about the desirability of laying down extra fat so when you smell a fruit pie or your mouth waters over a sponge pudding, be aware of the consequences to your figure of over-indulgence.

Top tip – Resist omega 6 and sugar urges.