Breakfast Cereal

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).

The Boxed Bunch

Surprisingly, the worst on David’s pic.

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.)

 

Breakfast of Champions

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.

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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.

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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.

Eat to Save the Planet

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.

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Leftover salmon with kale, sun-dried tomatoes and blue cheese

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Quote of the Month – Child Obesity

The obesity epidemic in children – no one wants to call it what it is. The kids are eating chemicals – processed and packaged foods. And they’ve designed chemicals to taste scrumptious.

Suzanne Somers (cancer survivor)

Don’t allow the fake food industry to set our guidelines.

Zoe Harcombe to British Parliament

There is a government consultation out now on food advertising to children – have your say:

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.

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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.

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.

Real Food is Cheaper than Junk Food

After the holidays money might be tight. Whereas we spent a quarter of our income (25%) on food 40 years ago, it’s now only about 10% and price is one of the most important factors when people choose what to buy.

A common reason people give me for not eating real food, is that it’s too expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’ve ever watched Eat Well for Less, every family ends up saving £1000s by doing their own cooking. Why do we think real food is more expensive than fake food? Perhaps because the manufacturers are so adept at presenting their wares as cheap.

Ready meals are £2.50 a pop, (should that be a ping?) and most people recognise they often aren’t great (read the reviews eg not the mouth wateringly delicious dish you see on the ads and the picture on the packet but “90% salty, watery mash, 9% chicken, 1% mushroom & didn’t even see any leek – rubbish ). Many are not even complete meals but parts of meals to which you have to add your own veg or salad – that pushes up the cost still further. Takeaways are very expensive costing anything from £3 or £4 upwards for the basic meal, plus sides and other unhealthy extras like fizzy drinks which can push the meal up to a fiver.

Other people might be willing to sacrifice their money and food quality to avoid a few minutes of cooking but you want good food, good value and good health so I’ve had a go at costing some recipes. They all come out under £2 per person, from the most decadent pork stroganoff and salad at £1.87, through pasta with salmon sauce and salad at £1.62 (below), to liver and onions with cabbage and mash at 81p for the most nutritious food on the planet (NB liver is high in vitamin K so not good with warfarin).

If you have a take-away twice a week and eat ready-meals the rest of the time, you could save at least £500 a year per person, probably far more, by cooking your own food. Adding up seven of these meals comes to £9.73 for a week. Does that sound worth a little time in the kitchen?

Recipes serve 2 adults, final price per person shown in bold.

Pasta and salmon sauce

In a pan of fast boiling water, cook pasta 25p

In a small saucepan melt a knob of butter 10p

Add a 213g tin of pink salmon £1.84

Add 1/3 tin tomatoes (freeze the rest in two containers) 12p

Add a big pinch of fresh dill (freeze the rest for other meals) 6p

Make a salad while everything cooks – see below 52p

When the pasta is almost ready, add 1/3 tub double cream 25p

to the sauce – warm it but don’t let it boil.

Drain the pasta, stir in some butter 6p

Pour the sauce over and serve with the salad

Total cost £3.20 that’s £1.60 per person.

So easy, so quick, so tasty!

Salad

Some meals seem to go with salad, others with veg. There are so many ways to make salads and wonderful varied ingredients you can use. Here’s an easy one that I’ve used in this recipe series.

Wash and chop a few lettuce leaves 5p

(buy a whole lettuces, not expensive, chemical-soaked pre-prepped bags)

Slice a carrot very thinly or grate it 8p

Slice some radish 9p

Add some baby plum tomatoes 20p

Drizzle with dressing 10p

Total for salad 52p for 2 or 26p per person

For the sake of your health, make your own dressing with olive oil and some sort of vinegar. Bought dressings usually contain vegetable oil which you need to avoid – here’s why.

You can make salad that costs even less by slicing savoy, white or red cabbage very finely and adding grated carrots, tomatoes, chives, celery etc.

Savoy cabbage tastes good with olive oil and white wine vinegar.

White cabbage is better with mayonnaise. Here’s an easy way to make your own.

Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to use loads of equipment and make lots of pans dirty. Here’s one you can make for one in a little pan or for 20 if you have a huge cauldron – but there’s only the one pan to clean. Hurray!

One-pot chicken

In a medium pan, melt a knob of butter 10p

Chop one medium onion and cook for 3 mins 20p

Add a teaspoon of coconut oil 5p

Fry 4 chicken thighs until browned all over £2.64

For the best flavour, use thighs with skin on and bone in.

Turn down the heat

Add:

– 1/3 tin chopped tomatoes 12p

– 125ml brown rice 15p

– a dash of lemon juice 12p

– ½ pt stock 7p

– good pinch of dried oregano 4p

Stir, cover with a lid, simmer gently for 20 mins, turning the chicken pieces over and stirring the mixture 4 or 5 times.

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

Towards the end, add a good pinch of fresh chopped parsley 7p

Total cost £3.78, that’s £1.84 per person and the chicken price is for free-range. You can cut it to £1.07 if you use frozen thighs.

Delicious, satisfying and only one pan to clean.

Here’s a link to two recipes (pork stroganoff and pork in a mushroom cream sauce) and a note about low-cost weight loss.

Top Tip – Get Cooking –  it could save you a packet!

 

The Calorie Fallacy

How do you decide what to eat?

Since the introduction of calories as a measure of food energy content, we’ve become obsessed with them. The government’s official messages at the moment mention nothing else.  However in spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices.

A huge and powerful industry makes and aggressively markets low-calorie food products. The BBC showed some years ago in ‘The Big Fat Truth about Low Fat Food’, that these products are not good for your health.

Instead of thinking primarily about calories, I ask the people on my Nutrition Coaching courses to focus on the goodness in foods. Some foods provide nutrients and improve your health. These include fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

Other foods are bad for you and your body has to work really hard to deal with them by using up lots of your vitamins, minerals and enzymes and most of your energy too. They leave you with compromised health and feeling exhausted. These include processed foods, biscuits, crisps, donuts, snack bars, fizzy pop, flavoured water and ready meals.

Bad food contains refined sugar, salt, damaged fats, artificial sweeteners and additives. Often processed foods are chemically altered to increase the appeal to your taste buds. They override your body’s ways of knowing when you’ve had enough and you can just carry on eating more and more.

So stop worrying about calories and think about goodness. Ignore the marketing hype which results in low-fat and low-calorie foods being labelled as healthy even if they’re not. Think instead how food can build your health or harm you.

Top tip – eat real food!

It’s a (Plastic) Wrap!

A spotlight is shining on today’s ubiquitous plastic food packaging. The main motivator is plastic waste in the oceans (think harrowing images from Blue Planet II). A very good reason for change. Another, you might not have thought about, is the effect the packaging has on your health.

Obviously, fast food isn’t good for you – but neither are its wrappers and packages. They contain chemicals to repel oil, grease and water (perfluoroalkyls) which may be linked to infertility, thyroid disease, immune system depression and cancer.

Other plastics (eg BPA, bisphenol A), often used in drinks bottles and as tin can linings, contain synthetic oestrogens which may affect fertility and hormone sensitive cancers.

It was thought that the chemicals would not migrate into the food – but they do (especially if heated). It was assumed that the chemicals would not be processed by your body – but they are. In addition to the toxins in the foods themselves, packaging contributes to your overall burden and these chemicals can be detected in almost everyone.

What about disposable coffee cups? So new, so trendy, so unnecessary! A firm in Kendal has pioneered a recycling process to separate the plastic from the paper. The reality is that only a tiny percentage of the 2.5 billion cups a year

Lovely in a real cup (yes, this really is the size a cappuccino should be -it’s in Italy)

thrown away in Britain get recycled. Why leave the office to buy drinks from shops when you can have a jar of coffee or box of tea bags in the cupboard and make your own in a nice mug? You’ll save ~£600 a year per weekday cup.

Real food tends to have less packaging and is usually cooked in pans, not microwaved in plastic. So for superior nutrition and plastic avoidance, real food’s a winner.

Top tip – Join the crusade against plastic-wrapped food

Quote of the Month

The very inconvenient truth that nobody wants to talk about is that to resolve the obesity crisis, we need to eat less food. And we need to particularly eat less unhealthy food which generally comes in a packet and has a logo on it and is generally owned by a very large multinational corporation.

Dan Parker

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In a dramatic change of direction, ex-advertising executive (promoting the likes of Coca Cola and McDonalds), Dan is a founder and Chief Executive of Living Loud which aims to help people live longer, healthier and happier lives by overcoming, preventing and managing lifestyle illness.  Here’s a piece he wrote comparing the food industry to tobacco and a great article about snacking.

 

Temptation Time

I love Christmas, but not the way it’s been turned into an excuse for weeks of over consumption. How did that happen? Money of course. Promotions start earlier each year – was it September this time? Each of us chooses the degree to which we throw ourselves in. Perhaps you don’t want seasonal excess to wreck your body (and bank balance) completely and decide to partake in moderation. Even if you favour the ‘bring it on’ approach, leaving damage repair for January, you might be supporting a friend who’d rather be more restrained.

festive-food-pic-free-use

So here are some tips for resisting temptation:

1. Develop an automatic response. Immediately say, “No, thank you”, before you can engage your brain. That feels easy. The moment passes quickly. Gazing at cake/chocolate/crisps and pondering whether or not you fancy some, means you’ll almost certainly have some. If you gaze and ponder and then say, “No” it will take will power and feel like a big sacrifice.

2. Have a mindset that bad foods/drinks are nothing to do with you – they’re other people’s problems. Let your eyes slide over them as irrelevant. Then seek out some real food.

3. Focus on other things. Have a conversation, look at your surroundings, dance, take your attention onto anything you can’t put in your mouth.

4. Be prepared. Find out what might be on offer at any ‘Do’ you attend. Drink some water and eat something good before going out. Have emergency supplies with you (eg nuts or some cheese) in case everything is processed or sugary. Keep supplies at work too, ready for the inevitable appearance of mince pies and chocolates.

Have a look at this hilarious video of children resisting temptation in the famous marshmallow test.

Top tip – Temptation’s coming, so be ready but most of all have a very Merry Christmas.