Sugar Tax

I was delighted to see the sugar tax announced in the budget. Official acknowledgement of the problem is a welcome step in the right direction. Manufacturers love sugar; every one of the 10 thousand taste buds in your tongue and palate, has special receptors for sweetness so it’s very ‘moreish’ (addictive). They wont want to lose their huge profits so they’ll do everything they can to convince us to keep buying. Hopefully a higher price will push people towards water instead.

What happens when we consume sugar? Sucrose is a 2 part molecule made of glucose and fructose. 80% of the glucose part will be distributed round your body to be used for energy. If your body isn’t using energy, insulin mops up the glucose to store it as fat. The other 20% goes to your liver to be safely stored as glycogen. 100% of the fructose goes to your liver, the only organ that can process it, where it will mostly be turned into fat. When you eat whole fruit, the fibre changes the way the fructose is metabolised. So glucose without exercise is a problem but fructose without fibre is worse.


Fake food

That’s why I’m disappointed that fruit juice drinks are exempt from the tax. Bought juice doesn’t contain as much goodness as you’d hope but has loads of fructose (one glass might = four fruits).

StrawberriesEating a couple of Kiwipieces of whole fruit a day is fine.


Might we see increased use of artificial sweeteners? People mistakenly believe that low-cal drinks help weight loss but they don’t. When we eat sugar, our brain recognises the sweet taste and our body gets ready to store fat. When we eat artificial sweeteners, our body expects sugar and gets ready to store fat. When the sugar doesn’t arrive, our brain is confused and we get cravings to eat something. So we take in more food and we mess up the delicate signalling system our body uses to tell us when to stop eating.

For more on the science and the history of how we ended up consuming so much sweet stuff, watch Robert Lustig’s Sugar, The Bitter Truth on YouTube.

Still from video 'Sugar, The Bitter Truth' Robert Lustig

Still from video ‘Sugar, The Bitter Truth’ Robert Lustig (the lbs refer to the weight gain from drinking one daily for a year).

Top tip: Drink water instead of sweet drinks.

Cut Price Food

Cut price food

It’s always worth keeping an eye on fresh produce that’s being sold off.  The other day I spotted big lettuces on sale for 25p.  I immediately thought of my Mum’s lettuce soup recipe – here it is:

Pic by Wendy Selina


  • 12oz roughly chopped lettuce
  • 2oz butter
  • 1/4 pint milk
  • 4oz spring onions, chopped
  • 1 tblsp flour
  • 1pt chicken stock
  • salt and pepper


Put the butter in the pan with the lettuce and spring onions.  Cook until soft.  Add the flour, then the stock.  Bring to the boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Cool a bit.  Blend.  Add milk.

I bought one of the lettuces which weighed nearly 2lb, plus a bunch of spring onions, and made a big pan of lovely soup which I froze in portions.   I often eat soup and cheese for my lunch (no bread).  There was still lots of lettuce left for us to have in salads that week so nothing was wasted.

Getting so many meals for so little reminded me of a student I know in Leeds.  He goes to the market, buys whatever they’re selling off and makes soup.  His mates spend a fortune on processed rubbish but he’s getting good, fresh, real food at a monthly price of <£30!

Read more about saving money – this is a joint blog post with my Survival Guide for the Skint blogsite.

How to read food labels

I am a person who tends to move at speed; this is not always a good thing. A while ago, in the supermarket, I failed to notice the state of the floor as I rounded the corner of an aisle. Someone had dropped a glass jar of tomato sauce and I slipped in the huge sticky mess on the floor.  My foot was now covered so I stood stranded in the red splat.  Walking on would have spread it far and wide and other people might have slipped too.  Plaintively, I called for help.

While I was stranded, a lovely lady came along who was trying to see the jars of sauces.  I apologised for being in her way and asked what she wanted.  It turned out she was doing pizza and didn’t know which tomato sauce to buy for the topping.  I suggested she make her own instead, but she didn’t know how.  So we had a little chat.

Later she came back.  She had looked at theCherry toms tomato puree I suggested but said that her chosen jar contained less sugar.  By the time a supermarket herorine with a mop came to rescue me (bless you), the pizza lady had gone.  But I was puzzled.  Surely tomato puree doesn’t conatin any sugar, only tomatoes.  So I went to investigate.

I realised that the lady had looked at the nutritional breakdown part of the label, where it said ‘of which sugars’.  This is about carbohydrate content.  Vegetables and fruits are primarily carbohydrate so the percentage was high.  The ingredients list stated simply, tomatoes – there was no sugar.  The jar on the other hand had lots of added sugar.  I once saw someone advise that a sugary breakfast cereal was a better choice than natural muesli on the basis of the nutritional breakdown.  That is complete nonsense.  Since that part of the label seems to cause confusion, it can be more helpful to skip it.

For me, what matters is the list of ingredients.  No 1, is there a list of ingredients?  When you buy a tomato, a cauliflower or a piece of meat, there is no list of ingredients.  Fresh, natural foods are always best.  No 2, is there added sugar?  Look for any word ending in ‘ose’ and other terms such as modified maize starch.  Sweeteners are as bad if not worse.  Each type of sugar might be listed separately so you have to add them up.  Notice how the percentage is given for many ingredients but often left a mystery for the sugar.  You can take a guess because the ingredients are listed in order of content, with the highest first.  No 3, is it made with vegetable/sunflower oil?  No 4, are there lots of chemical additives?  These might be emulsifiers, stabilisers, artificial colours and flavours.

Next time you reach for a jar, packet or box of anything ready-made, pause to consider whether you could avoid eating so much sugar, sweeteners, vegetable oil and additives by making a healthier version yourself starting with fresh, natural ingredients.

Top tip: Know what’s in your food.


Free-Range Pork

PigsDo you care enough about your health to ask for free-range pork?

Here’s a guest blog post from Louise at Croft farm to explain why you should.


Free-range pigs live their whole lives outdoors with access to warm, dry houses and the ability to indulge all of their natural behaviours, such as rooting and playing. Pigs are incredibly curious and friendly animals, and free range pigs are always full of fun and are a pleasure to care for. Pigs Pigletare exceptionally good mums, and we get huge pleasure from watching our huge free-range animals gently snuffling their new-born piglets and supervising them as they learn about the world around them through playing and exploring.

As a result of their outdoor life, free-range pigs grow more slowly than their intensively farmed cousins and so are brought into the food chain at a later stage. This produces firm, lean and juicy meat which is of a high nutritional standard.

In stark contrast, intensively farmed pigs spend their entire lives indoors, crowded into concrete pens and dosed with all sorts of medication to ward off the inevitable diseases which come from being highly stressed and in such close proximity to so many other animals. Despite being banned in the UK, many European and other pig farms, which provide well over half of the cheap pork products sold in our supermarkets, still use intensive systems which are little short of barbaric. Sows give birth in crates, contraptions which are supposed to prevent the risk of the mum accidentally squashing one of her babies when she lays down to feed them but which actually prevent her from having any sort of interaction with them at all, save for being a captive feeding station.

Once weaned, the piglets are moved into large sheds with many others where they will live out their days in crowded conditions, never seeing the light of day or feeling grass, or their much loved mud, under their trotters. To prevent these bored, distressed animals from hurting each other in the inevitable fights which occur in such an environment, piglets routinely have their teeth clipped and their lovely curly tails docked, to prevent other animals biting them.

Sadly this meat is not only produced from very unhappy animals, but is also often very poor quality. And when you eat it, you are unwittingly ingesting all the antibiotics and other drugs which were part of the pigs’ daily ration to enable them to survive their horrific conditions. The true price of any meat must include the cost of keeping the animal in a humane and healthy way. Buying cheap meat of any kind is a false economy if you care about your own health, never mind that of the animal.Pig Straight Tail


The only guarantee of high standards of welfare, as well as excellent quality meat is to ask for free range. At Croft Barn in Lorton we believe the best meat comes from happy animals raised as naturally as possible, which is why all our rare breed pigs are free range – and why our pork is so very tasty!

Rare Breed, Free-Range, Local Pork.
Croft Barn, Off the B5289, Low Lorton, Cumbria.
01900 85678.

If you care about where your meat comes from, come along to Croft Barn in Lorton, meet the pigs, and buy some pork


Men Who Made Us Thin

If you’ve ever lost weight on a diet, chances are you put it back on again afterwards.  People can blame themselves for this, thinking that it’s a lack of will power and self discipline.  It isn’t true.  Others think overweight people eat too much.  Sometimes perhaps, 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 we believe it – I used to.  A BBC mini series, “The Men Who Made Us Thin”, looked into the diet industry – and the vast amounts of money they make directly as a result of their failure to deliver long term weight loss.  This is not news.  They’ve known since the 1940s that diets don’t work – it’s the reason for the continuing financial success of the industry!  So really they’re The Men Who Didn’t Make Us Thin.

Weight is classified using Body Mass Index; you’ve probably seen the charts.  The definition was arbitrarily changed from BMI 27 to BMI 25 resulting in millions of people who were fine suddenly being classed as overweight and therefore clients for the diet industry.  BMI ignores body composition. Many fit, muscular people without an ounce of excess fat come out as obese on the charts.  A better method is to aim for a waist measurement less than half your height.

Much of the diet industry’s profit comes from selling foods, including ready meals and processed foods which aren’t generally great for your health, or for weight loss.  They may be low calorie and low fat but calories are not all equal and fats are not all bad.  Most people would lose weight naturally and permanently if they switched to real food and leaned to eat well.

Top tip – If you want to get thin, eat well!

The Herb Garden

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am passionate about good food and health.  At the same time I like to get value for money – here’s a link to my Survival Guide for the Skint blog.

Everyone knows that good food is better for you but people sometimes worry that it will be too expensive.

I love to use fresh herbs when I cook and rather than paying to buy them all the time, I prefer to grow my own.  They don’t take up much space and if you don’t have a garden, you can do them inside in pots.  The cheapest way is to grow from seed.  I had some problems trying to get my parsley seeds to germinate so what to do?

S/W Ver: 85.83.E7PThe answer – I bought a pot of growing parsley from the supermarket (~£1).   They grow these by putting a very large amount of seed in a small space so they look good on the shelf.  These conditions are not good for the growing plants and if you just put them on the window sill they will die fairly quickly.

First I take off the largest leaf from each plant, wash, chop and use or freeze them.  That’s the initial supply.  Then I take the plants out of the pot, split them and carefully replant them with more space.  The smallest plants I compost as they tend not to grow well.  I put the remaining plants back in the pot and carry on using the leaves as they grow.

I put out around a dozen to 15.  Usually at least 6 of these will survive to make really big plants.  Parsley isn’t a perennial plant so you can’t leave it growing year after year.   Once I have harvested the leaves, the plants bolt to flower and I dig them up and compost them.  I start with a fresh batch each year.

This is how much they’ll grow in a few weeks.

S/W Ver: 85.83.E7P

I freeze the herbs I grow and they still taste like fresh when I use them.  (I use empty cream cheese tubs.)

This picture is three of the plants from last year.  WOW!!!!  That’s a lot of fresh parsley for £1. It grew so well I was able to give parsley to lots of other people too.

S/W Ver: 85.83.E7P

The Men Who Made Us Fat

BBC 2’s hard hitting series last month shone a light on some of the dark decisions taken by the food industry over the last 40 or so years. The BBC showed how these decisions plus the food industry’s influence over the advice issued by the health departments of the American and British governments have contributed to the present obesity crisis.

What have these men done that’s so bad? 1) They’ve added sugars including fructose into our foods which cause our bodies to store more fat. 2) They’ve invented super-sizing and between-meal snacking, so that we eat more than we need. 3) They’ve used any healthy aspect of their product to make people think that the whole product is good for them when in fact many are not. And they’ve done other things that weren’t featured like removing healthy omega 3 fat from food to increase shelf-life.

So who is responsible for the state of the nation? The food industry says that we are. Consumers are responsible for their own health and what they eat. The industry’s job is simply to satisfy demand, sell food and make profit – and they do it very well.

If it is our responsibility to look after ourselves, how can we know which foods are doing us harm? With all the clever tricks, I don’t think it’s really our fault if we’ve been eating bad things. My Nutrition Coaching courses combine self-responsibility and self-care with information – based on science – to cut through the confusion. Those of us who work in healthy eating have know and shared these things for a long time; I’m delighted that they are now coming into the public domain.

The men who made us fat have been rumbled. The game is up. Now it’s time to learn the truth so that you can make better choices for your body.

Top tip – Take responsibility; learn to eat well.

Food for Thought

How do you think of food?

For millions of years it has been something wonderful that sustained us. We had to work hard to meet our needs so we valued everything we ate.


Gerry Wilson is a Methodist minister in West Cumbria. He wrote the following piece in April and was kind enough to allow me to reproduce it here. My own reflections on food follow.

To set the scene, Gerry and his wife were out during the school holidays and too far from home to pop back to eat.

“Lunch was calling so we made for the nearest place that food was available – McDonald’s. Yes, I know it was a bad move, but I did learn something while I was in there.

The place was packed with excited children and frantic parents trying to keep them quiet. As quickly as one group left, another one piled through the doors to take its place – an endless stream of hungry humanity with voracious appetites and endless energy. That was what they brought to the place, but what caught my attention was not what they brought, but what they left behind.

When the place finally did quieten down a bit, we took a look around and there it was – a mountain of debris which would have fed another army of people easily. It was left on trays, tables and the floor, and that despite the fact that facilities were provided to clear food away.

What a waste, but that is the nature of our society; we acquire things because we want them then and there to satisfy some passing whim. Whether or not we need them is another matter. The fast food phenomenon is a symptom of our times. It is cheap, tasty and convenient, and satisfies us temporarily. As to its nutritional value, well, best not to ask.

In the West we have become very good at feeding our bodies, so much so that carelessness has crept in and an obesity crisis looms large unless we are careful.”

Gerry went on to compare this careless ‘fast food’ attitude to the way we can cram the soul with spiritual junk food.

As recently as the last few decades, our relationship with food changed. There is not only a vast supply that makes it easy to get more than we need, the type of food has changed so that the majority of what’s available doesn’t nurture us at all but keeps us tired, overweight and sickly. We have a careless attitude to food and to ourselves.

When the Dalai Lama visited Britain he was puzzled to find that people didn’t seem to like themselves very much and gave themselves a hard time. Self-care has become alien to us except at the superficial level of external appearances (clothes, hair etc).

Now food has even become an enemy and we avoid it. Enormous amounts of will power are directed to not eating. When we are offered a plate of good food we can experience a range of negative emotions (which interfere with good digestion, incidentally). Fear. Guilt. Anger. Frustration. Disappointment. Confusion. It isn’t natural to deprive yourself of food so the experience is very unpleasant. It becomes doubly dispiriting when deprivation turns out not to bring the long-term improvements it promised.

Perhaps it’s time to make friends with food again. Learning to eat well means eating differently, not eating less. You can eat with confidence and feel positive, knowing that you are doing yourself good.

Top tips: Cook with love, eat with gratitude, enjoy eating well.

Please do share how you think about food.

 You can read my part of this article in The Cockermouth Post (May issue) along with many other fascinating columns.


The picture is one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The Granville at Barford.