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.

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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.

Quote of the month

The school holidays are almost upon us and there’ll be lots of time to do fun things – hopefully in the sunshine.  Here are some words from the wise about the types of foods we commonly regards as treats.

Treat treats as treatsIce lolly

Michael Pollan

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Don’t treat your mouth like an amusement park

Joe Cross

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Every time someone calls junk a treat, please correct them. We will never make progress until people see eating cr@p as anything but a treat

Zoe Harcombe

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Junk_Food.JPG

 

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.

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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.

Perceptions of Normality

At every point in history, people perceive the things they do as normal, including what they eat. Socially, we have evolved to fit in with what everybody does. In these modern times, we also align our behaviour to the images and messages with which the media constantly bombard us.

Some years ago, there was a successfulCornetto advertising campaign to convince people that sugar was an aid to dieting – “eat a biscuit before lunch or an ice cream”! It seems ridiculous to us now but people bought into it then. The current trend is fat avoidance which we’ll no doubt look back on with disbelief. The sad truth is that experts in marketing can change what we think so that we’ll change what we buy.

Bowl of cerealBreakfast cereal arrived in the UK in 1900 and gained popularity in 1930 but even as recently as the 1950s and 60s, breakfast would have been cooked eggs, fish or meat. Ready meals were limited to Vesta chicken supreme with boil in the bag rice which I recall with misery cooking on a primus stove while camping but would never have eaten at home. Takeaways meant fish and chips carried home wrapped in newspaper. Nowadays people think it’s normal to order by ‘phone and have any variety of fast food delivered to their door.

What’s really normal? For millions of years we were hunter gatherers eating only meat and low-glycemic index plants. Farming started around 10,000 years ago increasing consumption of grains. Intensive farming, processed food and chemical additives burgeoned after WWII. This is the blink of an eye in human history. We have not evolved to the modern diet; our bodies still want natural meat, fish and veg.

Top tip: Eat real food – that’s what’s normal for humans.

Avoid Weight Gain this Christmas

Weight gain seems inevitable at this time of year but if you don’t want to start 2016 fat, tired and ill, how can you minimise the damage?steak salad

Eat as much natural, realS/W Ver: 85.83.E7P food as possible. Buy fresh meat, fish and vegetables and fill yourself with good home cooked meals. Bake your own Christmas cake (nice with a slice of Wensleydale and some almonds) and mince pies using butter and reducing the sugar content.  Make salad dressings, dips and healthy treats (ask me for my no-cook chocolate, seed and nut recipe). Doing a bit of something in the kitchen can be great fun if the family gets stuck in too.

My breakfast green smoothie prior to whizzing

My breakfast green smoothie prior to whizzing

The right breakfast can set you up for the day. Include some protein and fat eg nutty muesli with natural yoghurt, poached egg on toast, home made porridge (not sachets/pots) with flaked almonds and cream or a low-sweetness smoothie (mine is based on avocado and coconut milk).

The worst choices are cereal, toast with jam, fruit juices/smoothies and chocolate which will have you on a blood-sugar roller-coaster for the rest of the day, and craving for more bad things.

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Water

Have a healthy snack before going out and drink plenty of water before and during parties. You’ll be less likely to drink too much alcohol or over-eat. Sugar and vegetable oil are in almost all processed ‘party’ food and will cause weight gain. Soft drinks are sugary and, surprisingly, “diet” drinks also increase weight.

NutsHide biscuits, chocolates, cake, crisps and alcohol in cupboards and leave bowls of nuts, veg sticks and dips in plain sight. Treat treats as treats. Enjoy them but don’t make a meal of them. If you try to abstain and you’re more likely to have a blow-out. Ditch the diet ‘on it, off it’ mentality and allow yourself to have a little. Accept that there will be naughty goodies everywhere you go; you will eat some, and so will I!

Top tip – Eat well and have a Merry Christmas