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!
Happy Hens, Great Eggs
Eggs are good value, easy to prepare, versatile, satisfying and delicious. They’re also one of the most complete and nutritious foods. 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, always free-range, organic when you can. Source eggs from good, local farms they’re often for sale in your local butcher’s and supermarkets. Sainsbury’s sells woodland eggs from hens free to forage among trees as wild ones would. Steer clear of eggs from caged hens; these naturally inquisitive creatures are happier when free to roam. Beware marketing tricks – is the idyllic farm in the picture a real farm? When factory hens are crammed together there’s a greater likelihood of disease requiring daily antibiotics and adding to the danger we’ll lose the use of these life-saving drugs one day. They are also fed just on grains without all the plants and little critters they would grub up if they were outside. Cheap eggs are a false economy; free-range eggs have a superior nutritional profile with double the amount of vitamins and omega 3 fats.
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.
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.
You might have gone shopping this weekend. How did you decide what to eat? When you’re walking round the supermarket, what factors determine what ends up in your trolley? Here are some common ones:
Cost – including what’s on offer, BOGOF
Cravings / addiction
Smell – especially round the bread!
What you like
Hunger while shopping
Choosing food is clearly a complex operation.
So why do we eat?
We’ve come to think of food mainly as a source of energy, like petrol for the car. The simplicity of the idea is appealing but it’s only part of the story.
Nevertheless, since the introduction of calories as a measure, we’ve become obsessed with them. The calorie value of food has been elevated in importance beyond what it deserves. In spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices. In fact, it often drives us away from good foods and towards bad foods. You might have been led to believe that a calorie is a calorie regardless of source but I hope you’ll agree that whatever the calories say, a doughnut is not the same thing as a steak (Dr Andreas Eenfeldt).
Why else do we eat?
Our bodies need building material. Your cells and tissues are renewed all the time and the only things you body has to use for making new ones are the things you provide by eating. Substance and quality matter. You need protein – not just in total but including all the essential amino acids – to make muscles and chemical messengers. You need fats of the right shapes to make your cell membranes and hormones. You need vitamins and minerals and enzymes to support the zillions of chemical reactions going on inside. Not all the food you eat will contain these good things.
Are you getting enough goodness?
Recommended daily intakes are set at levels to avoid illness not at levels for optimum health or to cover increased demand eg if you are ill or under stress. Modern farming methods are degrading the soil so vegetables have lower levels of minerals (eg since 1940 carrots have lost 75% of their magnesium, 48% of their calcium, 46% of their iron and 75% of their copper.) Unripe foods are picked before their full nutrient potential has been reached so they can be transported long distances without spoilage. Processing of foods can damage or remove micronutrients. Good omega 3 fats might be taken out to increase shelf life while bad fats (eg damaged omega 6 fats like sunflower oil) are common ingredients. The trend is to eat grains such as wheat with every meal and these contain anti-nutrients (eg phytic acid) which block the absorption of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
The result of all this is that much of our population today is over-fed but under-nourished. Deficiencies may not be so drastic as to show up as beriberi, scurvy or rickets (although that happens too) but may be revealed as tiredness, low mood, aches and pains, poor skin, hair and nails.
The impact of poor diet on your mental and physical abilities affects your whole life, including your work performance, fitness for sport and the fun you have with your family. That’s why I ask people to think first about nutrition.
Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Major on fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Do your own cooking. Put calories in the back seat, steer clear of processed foods and make your choices based primarily on the goodness real food contains.
Top tip: Choose your food for maximum nutrition
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.
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!
Whatever the calories say, a doughnut is not the same thing as a steak.
If you make only one New Year’s Resolution this year, resolve never to go on another diet!
Instead of a quick fix that will soon wear off, Learn to Eat Well so you feel fabulous and enjoy your life!
– my next Eat for a Better Life course starts in February in Whitehaven or have one-to-one coaching any time.
I’ve just added another book review to the resources section of this website.
My Dad read about Verner Wheelock in the paper and called me in excitement to tell me. I read the article, had a conversation with Verner about his great nutrition work and have just read his book. I highly recommend you read it too if you want to be healthy but suspect the official guidance we’re given is hampering your efforts.
“The totality of the evidence provides an overwhelming case that the changes in diet that have occurred over the past 40-50 years are the main reason for a huge deterioration in standards of public health.”
In this excellent examination of evidence, Verner looks at heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and the role that cholesterol, sugar and fat play – or don’t play – in each of these. What he finds is very different to the messages we constantly hear.
He concludes that governments around the world, including ours, have failed to devise policies in the best interests of the population, instead acquiescing to pressures from the food and pharmaceutical industries. He thinks that policy is unlikely to change quickly, in spite of the pressure from a group of doctors and nutritionists that has been campaigning for evidence based healthy eating guidelines.
Since those at the top have left us high and dry, Verner is taking a grass-roots approach and runs a local group of people that has turned their back on the official guidelines and now enjoy good health and the remission of diabetes. He ends the book by encouraging us to change the eating habits of the nation from the bottom up, one healthy person at a time.
To become part of this movement, you could join the charity the Public Health Collaboration or simply ignore those in power and Learn to Eat Well.