Energy Bars

Energy bars have acquired an air of healthiness which makes them very popular – but are they actually good for you? I’ve been having a look at some of what’s available and this month I share my thoughts with you.

I should first say that the general rule for a healthy life is to eat great meals so you don’t need to snack. If you do want a snack, it’s better to make something yourself and avoid all the sugar and weird stuff manufacturers use.

If you decide to buy snacks and energy bars, be aware that the downsides to factory made food are 1) the aggressive processing and 2) the weird ingredients needed to make a presentable product after it’s been through aggressive processing.

Some of the bars listed here have 20 or 30 odd ingredients, few of which are recognisable foods. I was interested to notice how many of the cereal companies make them, presenting the same cheery image they use to entice us to eat recreational, ultra-processed food first thing in the morning.

The unhealthy bunch – eat at your peril

Too much sugar and weird.

Alpen Light, Double Chocolate

Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain, Strawberry

Jordans Frusli – Juicy Blueberries. Only 2.2% blueberries

Nestle Lion Breakfast Cereal Bar – Chocolate

Kellogg’s Coco Pops – Chocolate.

Maxi Muscle – Chocolate Brownie

Kellogg’s Nuts and More – Dark choc and almonds

Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Bar – Choc and peanut

Tracker – Chocolate chip

Cadbury Brunch Bar

I wouldn’t eat these

Go ahead Yogurt Breaks – Red Cherry. Over 30 ingredients, vast amounts of sugar and only 1% cherry!

Possibly the worst I’ve seen.

.

So-so in a pinch

Nature Valley Protein Bar – Peanut and Chocolate

Eat Natural – Dark choc, cranberries, macadamias. I used to love these. They’re made with real ingredients but they’re sugary ingredients and I can’t cope with the extreme sweetness now. They also do a protein one which I haven’t tried but might be better.

Eat Grub – Cacoa and coconut. Made of good stuff (including crickets, hence the name) but at almost 40% dried fruit that’s a hit to your liver.

Nestle Yes – Coffee, Dark choc and cherry. Reasonable ingredients and nutritional profile.

Nutramino Protein Bar – Peanut and caramel

Atkins Bars – Chocolate fudge caramel. Low in sugar but I’m not sure I’d want to pay money for a product whose main ingredient is “bulking agent”.

The best of the bunch

These have the fewest, most natural ingredients.

Raw Chocolate – Nut pie. All natural.

Naked Bar – Pecan pie. Just 3 ingredients! Don’t eat too many though due to the high percentage of dates.

Nature’s Energy Meridian – Peanut and cocoa. My winner. All 9 ingredients are recognisable foods, the nutritional profile is balanced and they taste nice!

Better Still – Make Your Own

The simplest product is the Naked bar which is only dates, almonds and pecans.

Of course the thought that springs to mind is that you could just buy dates, ground almonds and pecans and squish them together to make your own. Get used to adapting the recipes you already have. I noticed recently that modern versions of old classics have double the sugar. That means you can halve what most recipes say. Lots of websites have recipes but a word of warning; some of them list vegetable oil as an ingredient. Seed oils like sunflower are not heat stable and should never be used in cooking. Use some butter or coconut oil instead.

Snacks like power balls are usually made with dates as a base or nut butter as in this example:

Power balls

In a bowl, thoroughly mix :

    • 2 heaped tbsp of nut butter
    • a drizzle of maple syrup (about a teaspoon)
    • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
    • 1 tbsp desiccated coconut.

Take out a teaspoon at a time and roll into little balls. They can be a bit sticky so you could roll them in sesame seeds or more coconut to form a dry coating. Keep them in the fridge.

As an alternative try quick and simple, low-carb, microwave –

Cake in a cup

Put into a large mug:

    • 1 egg
    • a drizzle of maple syrup
    • 3 tbsp Ground Almonds
    • 1 tbsp Coconut Flour
    • ¼ tsp baking powder
    • 1 dsp raisins

Mix with a fork then microwave on high for 1½ minutes. There’s your cake!

Top tip – If you want an energy booster, make your own.

Choosing What to Eat

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

  • Convenience

  • Appearance

  • Habit

  • Cravings / addiction

  • Smell – especially round the bread!

  • What you like

  • Fat content

  • 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

Why Diets Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

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.

A Colin Shelbourne cartoon from Survival Guide for the Skint.

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!

Book Review: Healthy Eating: The Big Mistake

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.

Healthy Eating:
The Big Mistake
by Dr Verner Wheelock

“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.

Quotes of the month

Quote

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: “If someone says it’s raining, and another says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out of the window and find out which is true.”

John Voelcker

I like a journalist who checks the evidence in nutrition messages and cuts through the confusion

– check out Joanna Blythman @JoannaBlythman

Pumpkin Soup

Today (31st October) is Halloween – originally Hallows Even, the evening before All Saints Day – and the shops are overflowing with pumpkins. Most people carve them into lanterns then throw them away. That’s a shame because there’s nothing easier to make than tasty pumpkin soup.  I’ve put this recipe on my Survival Guide for the Skint blog as it’s so cheap – ~20p per bowl.  I topped it with some of the seeds which I roasted and cheese on the side.

 

 

Fake News

Did you see the news last month?  The media were full of dramatic sound bites. “Low Carb Diets Could Shorten Your Life” (eg BBC, The Independent) Actually, they don’t.

The media have taken the findings of a poor study (ARIC) and turned it into sensational headlines that have confused and alarmed people. That’s what I call Fake News. Only a few months earlier, the papers were proclaiming that our high carb dietary guidelines have had disastrous consequences for the nation’s health. Yes, they have.

Always remember, the media’s business is not good science but selling stories.

So what was wrong with this new study?

Firstly the data were collected by self-reported questionnaires a notoriously inaccurate method.

Secondly, the amount of carbs eaten by what they called a ‘low-carb’ group was actually quite high so they never looked at low-carb at all.

Thirdly there were many ‘confounding factors’. The people eating the lower carbohydrate diet in the late 80s, early 90s were those people who ignored the official advice. They tended to be male, diabetic, smokers who took little exercise. ie they had many poor health habits.

Fourthly, the researchers split people into uneven bands some very big, some very small, to artificially inflate the low-carb risk. Zoe Harcombe brilliantly explains the small comparator group statistical shenanigans: “20 children go skiing, 2 are autistic. 2 die in an avalanche, one with autism, one without. The death rate for the non-autistic children is 1 in 18 (5.5%) and the death rate for the autistic children is 1 in 2 (50%)”.  This makes it look as if autistic children are 10 times more likely to die in an avalanche which of course is nonsense.

By manipulating the data, they got the conclusion they wanted.

I’ll also say that quality is more important than quantity. There are carbs and carbs. Eating fresh vegetables is good, and some fruit (eaten whole, not drunk as juice). With plenty of variety and different colours you’ll get nutrients, energy and fibre. But eating loads of processed carbs like cereal and things made of flour like bread, cake, biscuits, pastry and pasta is only going to put weight on you and damage your health.  That’s why I recommend that people eat real home-cooked fresh food.  Check out the series of costed recipes I posted throughout August.  7 main meals – a whole week – at £10.50 per person!


Top tip: Take the news with a pinch of salt.

Shopping List for Recipes

People have been snapping up my recipes like hot cakes when I’ve had a stand at events. And with a whole week of delicious main meals for £10.50 a head it’s no wonder.  Here’s a list of what I’ve posted:

1. Pasta with salmon sauce £1.60

2. One pot chicken £1.84

3. Spag bol £1.46

4. Liver and onion £0.81

5. Pork Stroganoff £1.87

6. Pork in mushroom and cream sauce £1.65

7. Leek and mushroom tagliatelle £1.27

Plus a bit of luxury

8. Pea and Chorizo risotto with Sea Bass £2.37

I was asked to put together a shopping list for the week and here it is!

I’ve used a limited palate of flavours to make your shopping complement more than one meal. Start by checking what you already have in your house. You can use things you’ve got instead of the ingredients listed so nothing is wasted. Add things to your shopping list that you need to buy.

If you’re new to cooking, break yourself in gently rather than stocking your cupboards with staple ingredients all in one go. Many of these ingredients keep for ages and will be enough for lots of meals once you have them.

Things to keep stock in your:

Cupboards

Brown Rice

Pasta

Stock cubes or bouillon powder

Tinned tomatoes (1 tin does recipes 1, 2 and 7, plus 3 for bolognaise if you make the big batch)

Tomato puree

Cornflour

Dried herbs – parsley, oregano or whatever you prefer

Olive oil

Coconut oil

Vinegar – white wine, balsamic or apple cider

Wholegrain mustard

Pantry

Sadly we tend not to have pantries now but garage or shed works well for long-lasting fresh ingredients.

Onions – why not buy a bag of small wonky ones?

Potatoes – these last for months if kept in paper rather than plastic, in a cool, dark place. We have a farm nearby that sells a big sack for £6 which we eat from October until March. Find out if you have one near you; it’s much cheaper than the supermarket.

Tip – Onions and potatoes last longer if not kept close together.

Fridge

Butter

Milk

Natural yoghurt

Lemon juice

Shopping list for the week

– for the week’s recipes for 2 people:

Fresh produce – the part of the supermarket to spend most time in

1 x lettuce or a cabbage

(Ready chopped salad leaves are very expensive and have been washed in chemicals and packed in an artificial atmosphere. They start to wilt as soon as you open the bag and a couple of days later, whatever is left is getting mushy and smells bad. Whole lettuces last much better. Keep them in the veg drawer at the bottom of the fridge so they don’t get too cold. Cabbage is very versatile. You can shred it finely for salad or steam it for veg. It lasts longer than lettuce, has more nutrients and is cheaper.)

1 x bag of spinach

(Best to buy this later on for recipe 6 then use it for salad or steam briefly for veg on other days.)

4 x carrots

8 x radishes

12 cherry or baby plum tomatoes

1 x bulb of garlic

(Try growing your own. Plant a clove or two from the bulb you buy, between September and December. Harvest in July.)

New potatoes for 2 people

1 x lemon or a bottle of juice

500g mushrooms

1 x large or 2 x small leeks

Cold Section

1 x tub double cream

Parmesan (buy it fresh, grate and freeze in containers)

4 x chicken thighs

2 x pork steaks

1 x pork tenderloin

1500g of beef mince to make the whole 16 portion batch or 200g to make just for 2 people.

300 g of liver

1 pack salami milano

Fresh herbs – parsley, dill (buy them fresh and freeze in bags or containers)

Frozen peas

Dry / tinned

1 x 213g tin of pink salmon (healthiest with bones – buy in brine, not oil)

To add the luxury recipe of the pea and chorizo risotto with sea bass:

2 x very small sea bass fillets

2 x blobs of chorizo

Risotto rice

You don’t need to go down the ready meal aisles at all so you save time as well as money when you shop.

Enjoy your cooking, enjoy your food, enjoy better health when you give up processed food!

 

Bonus Recipe

 

Leek and Mushroom Tagliatelle

Different shapes of pasta interact with different types of sauces. This seems to go well with flat ribbons, hence tagliatelle. I made the one in the picture with pizzoccheri or you can use something else if you prefer. Spiralized courgette (courgetti) makes a good substitute for pasta if you’re avoiding wheat or watching your weight.

(Incidentally, the g in tagliatelle is silent so it should sound like tal  iatelle, not tag.)

Chop a large leek or two small ones 50p

into coins about ½” (1cm) wide. Lay these flat and cut in half.

Wash the pieces well under running water in a colander and shake to drain.

Fry for 3 mins in a knob of butter or tbsp olive oil 8p

in a large frying pan.

Chop two handfuls of mushrooms and add to the pan 45p

Turn down the heat

Add: – 1/3 tin chopped tomatoes 12p

– squirt of tomato puree (~8 or 10”) 5p

– a chopped up stock cube 7p

– (or a desert spoon of bouillon powder 15p)

– good pinch of dried oregano 4p

– good pinch of dried parsley 4p

Season with salt and pepper

Cover with a lid, simmer gently for 10 mins, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta in fast-boiling, salted water 25p

At the end add 10 slices of salami Milano 59p to the sauce

Mix 2 tsp cornflour with a little cold water 2p, add, and heat to thicken

Drain the pasta, stir some butter or olive oil 8p

Top with the sauce and a good sprinkle of Parmesan 25p

Total for this taste of Italy £2.54. That’s £1.27 per person.

For a vegetarian meal, add double the mushrooms at the start instead of the salami at the end, £2.48 or £1.24 per person.

 

Next –  I’ve been asked for a shopping list for the full set – coming soon!

 

Putting Meals Together

Every meal should contain three things: plants, protein and fats.

Some meals seem to go with salad, others with veg but every meal should include some fresh plants (white potatoes don’t count), preferably including 2 or more colours and something non-starchy. When you make real food from fresh ingredients, it’s easy to make sure you always have some. It’s often the plant part that’s missing or cooked to death in junk food.

Pea and Chorizo risotto with Sea Bass

One of my favourites! I had this in a pub near Bath and have been making it ever since.  Recipe serves 2 adults.

Put the kettle on to boil for stock

Put a knob of butter in a large frying pan 10p

Chop 1 x small onion and cook for 3 mins 10p

Add 125 ml risotto rice 30p

Stir around for a minute or two then add a little stock 7p

Simmer gently, adding more stock as it is absorbed.

Slice two ‘blobs’ of chorizo and add to pan 70p

The rice will take about 20 minutes to cook

In a small frying pan heat another knob of butter 10p

Cook two small fillets of sea bass, skin side up first £3.00

Turning fish over after 3 minutes.

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

When everything is ready, add a tbsp of grated Parmesan 25p

to the risotto and stir through.

Total for this totally awesome meal £4.74. That’s £2.37 per person.

I later couldn’t find sea bass at the price originally posted (it must have been on offer), so I’ve redone the costings.  This meal is now >£2 but still much more fabulous and still cheaper than most take-aways and ready meals if you can afford to treat yourself.

To complete my week of meals under £2, I added a bonus recipe – Leek and Mushroom Tagliatelle for £1.27.

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