With National Chocolate Week in October, you might have been expecting a piece on the health benefits of chocolate. Fear not, I am writing one for you for Christmas but I noticed autumn arrive with shorted days and persistent rain so the immediate need is Vitamin D.
The sun is lower in the sky and the slanty light makes the views stunning across the hills early in the morning and the sea at sunset. The depth of the atmosphere are these angles means more absorption of shorter wavelengths including the beneficial UVB we need. Even leaving aside the fact that hardy Cumbrians can be seen out in shorts, T-shirts and sandals at any time of year, there simply isn’t enough UVB from October to March for our skin to make Vitamin D. The UV index has to be a minimum of 3. It’s only 1 as I write this with a forecast of 3 briefly over Wednesday lunchtime.
I’m keen where possible, on getting nutrients the way nature intended, from food. The best sources are fish liver oil, full fat dairy and eggs but you’re unlikely to get enough this way. This is where supplements can be helpful. Look for Vitamin D3; D2 is only half as effective. The strength might be labelled by weight in micrograms µg or by international units IU which relate to biological activity. For Vitamin D3, 1 µg is equivalent to40 IU. So 25 µg capsules are equivalent to1000IU.
Vitamin D is fat soluble so it can build up and we each absorb it differently.The PHE recommend a dose of 10 µg / 400 IU which is modest. Some studies show that this is not enough and I take more. Your doctor can do a blood test to make sure you’re not overdosing. I asked for one in February and my level was fine so I’ll be supplement again each winter.
What about SAD (seasonal affective disorder)? A special lamp will compensate for the lack of light and has a beneficial effect but the wonderful Vitamin D even helpswith SAD.
As I walk through town looking at the gardens, the flowers may be fading but the leaves are turning copper and gold and the apples hang red on the trees. Whatever the season, there are wonderful shapes and colours in nature. This is how our food should be too.
There are many types of fish and they’re fish-shaped, not oblong, battered or crumbed. It’s easy to add your own toppings if you like. Fresh meat will have been cut up into large joints with individual shapes or small pieces. There can be a world of difference between a bought burger and some mince to make your own and between chicken nuggets and a free-range drumstick.
Take a look at your shopping as it goes along the supermarket conveyor belt. Is it all beige? Is it all square? I wrote a little rhyme:
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
When you go to the shops
If it comes in a box
Let it stay on the shelf
For the sake of your health
Each type of food brings its own special nutrients. Eating the same things every day can leave you with deficiencies and makes intolerance more likely. Most people have loads of recipe books and eat the same dozen meals all the time. Mix them up: white meat one day, fish another, then red meat, perhaps an omelette, or have a boost with liver or oily fish. Have rice or quinoa sometimes rather than always potatoes. Challenge yourself to buy a wider variety of vegetables. Eat two types with each meal, different colours. If you have something starchy, pair it with something non-starchy eg carrots with green beans, peas with red cabbage, sweet corn with pak choi. It’ll be a feast for your eyes on the conveyor belt and your plate.
I recently went to Norway on holiday, brilliantly arranged by the lovely people at Cockermouth Travel. As well as the breathtaking beauty of the place, I was struck by the slim, healthy build of the population and the fabulous food! Game stew was a highlight plus lots of fresh fish (they love their herrings) and vegetables. (OK there were fast food places for tourists in the town centre; you’ll find that everywhere in the world nowadays.)
Breakfasts were a feast of cold meats, cheeses, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and yoghurt. That’s a high nutrient breakfast to fuel the national pastime of walking up mountains, come rain or shine. Over here continental breakfast has been diminished to coffee and a croissant – not satisfying, not healthy and not continental.
And more breakfast!
Going on holiday is a great opportunity to reconnect with real food. You might go to more exotic places that I do. Perhaps you’ve sampled the delights of young coconuts or fresh bananas which I’m told are divine.
It’s a shame we emulate the Americans more than Europeans. We eat more processed food than any other European country. We also have the fattest population plus the resultant deteriorating health. The French and Italians love their food and you can enjoy locally grown produce, artisan breads, grass-fed meat and amazing cheeses. Food is a high priority for them. They spend money on good ingredients and take time cooking and eating. Meals are not rushed or gulped down alone in front of a TV or computer. There’s a strong social element with lots of talk and laughter round the table. Enjoy it while you’re away and keep it up when you come back.
Top tip – make good food culture a holiday souvenir to bring back home.
Eating real food brings many benefits to your figure and your health. People tell me they buy microwave ready-meals because they lack the confidence to cook from fresh. They think it takes ages or fear it’s complicated. We used to learn cookery by helping our mothers or in cookery lessons at school. Now in some younger families no-one knows how to make a meal from fresh ingredients. Cookery programmes on TV have increased in popularity as entertaining viewing but the people I speak to would never attempt to cook the dishes for themselves; they are too far removed from day-to-day real life.
Cooking need not be rocket science. You can prepare tasty, nutritious meals without even using a recipe. A friend of mine once said that cooking is common sense and the application of heat. He’s so right.
Find out where you can buy good quality meat and fresh fish locally to you. Then why not have a go at these 2 meal ideas? No measuring, no fancy techniques and ready in ~20 minutes.
(1) Grill pork or lamb chops on medium heat, turning every 4 minutes. Meanwhile, boil some potatoes and put together a mixed salad (green leaves, carrot, celery, tomato, radish, etc). In a jug, mix some olive oil with balsamic vinegar as a dressing.
(2) Boil some brown rice in salted water. 6 minutes before it’s ready, put some white fish fillets above it in a steamer. Sort of prop the fish up round the side rather than lying it flat across the bottom, and put some sliced carrots in the middle. 2 minutes before the end, put in some sliced cabbage.