Obesity Strategy

Have news reports about obesity and coronavirus alarmed you? Do they make you determined to lose the weight that’s putting your life in greater danger?

Boris has certainly been spurred into action by his time in hospital. He realised that carrying extra weight is one of the highest risk factors for becoming seriously ill with COVID19.

Obesity also makes you more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, several types of cancer, fatty liver, respiratory disease, and mental health problems.

To tackle all of this the Government has launched a strategy to slim down the nation.

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So what is their focus?

Calories.

Sorry, that’s how we got into this mess in the first place. Calories don’t help you make good food choices; they drive you towards processed foods.

Surely cutting calories helps. Will you not burn more energy than you eat?

Only for a while.

Our bodies are survival machines. Cut the food you eat and your body shuts down your metabolism and hangs on in there until it can put all the weight back on again. That’s why 100 people on a diet will all lose weight but later 95 of them will find themselves back where they started or even heavier than before. And the cycle will repeat.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What are people eating now that causes obesity and poor health? Food-like products. And that includes the low-calorie ones.

  • They’re addictive – so you over-eat.
  • Chemicals make them taste great – so you over-eat.

  • They’re low in the nutrients your body needs – so you over-eat.

  • They interfere with your body’s control mechanisms and stimulate appetite – so you over-eat.

  • The label says they’re healthy – so you’re fooled into thinking it’s OK to over-eat.

    A Colin Shelbourne cartoon from Survival Guide for the Skint.

Since calories became popular and the food industry got into gear 50 years ago, the weight of the average Briton has gone through the roof whilst health is in an ever steepening decline.

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The Government rightly blames advertising and the food environment we live in. We’ve been brainwashed into buying this junk and thinking it’s an acceptable way to feed our bodies. Offers are always for extra junk, not BOGOF on cabbages or steak. They’ve recognised this and I’m glad they’re introducing some controls.

What can you do?

Britain’s health was best between 1950 and 1970. Almost everyone was slim. Almost everyone ate real food.

Real food works with your natural appetite controls. When food satisfies you, there’s no need for will-power and no desire to over-eat.

I so hope you’ve all got used to doing your own cooking during lockdown and that you’ve been soothed by the rhythm of spending time in the kitchen, enjoyed what you ate and noticed how much money you saved.

It’s a missed opportunity but in reality the Government is unlikely ever to tell people to eat real food; they don’t want to damage the processed food industry.

So it’s down to you.

  • You can take control. 🙂

  • You can choose better food. 🙂

  • You can care for your body and nourish it. 🙂

Top tip: To be slim and healthy, forget the calories and learn to eat well.

Eat Real Food, Protect the NHS, Save Lives

This month was the Public Health Collaboration Conference.

They had to cancel the real one of course and instead did the whole thing on YouTube with the speakers doing their talks from home. What a great idea because now any of us can watch at any time we choose.

Check it out on the PHC’s YouTube channel here. They covered all sorts of things including: coronavirus and diet, cooking demos, diabetes, stress.

Of great relevance in these trouble times was Dr Aseem Malhotra’s message:

Eat Real Food, Protect the NHS, Save Lives

The Government’s original “Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save lives” message was to prevent overwhelm of an already overstretched NHS.

Why overstretched? Britain already has a huge burden of lifestyle-related, chronic diseasesPeople with those diseases suffer much more severely if they do catch the virus.

People with poor blood-sugar control are 10 times (that’s 1000%) more likely to die if they get coronavirus (11% cf 1.1%). Many MPs were diagnosed with the virus but only Boris ended up needing critical care. He cycles every day but he clearly doesn’t eat right and that’s the most important thing for blood sugar stability.

Good things coming out of this experience – Boris had been thinking of removing the sugar tax on drinks – now he won’t. Instead, he’s to launch a war on fat (bodily not dietary). I hope he promotes what works rather than bowing to pressure from food and diet companies.

I and some of the speakers have been angered by TV and newspaper coverage of junk-food companies giving away junk like doughnuts, pizzas and custard creams as a brand promoting opportunity. It’s these very foods that have made Britain more vulnerable than the rest of Europe where they still mostly buy fresh ingredients and cook their own meals at home.

There’s a powerful message of hope in the talks.

Conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome – can be improved in days or weeks by eating better so here’s the message the nation needs to hear:

Eat Real Food

All the talks will stay freely available on YouTube so do have a look. The ones I enjoyed most were those by Dr Aseem Malhotra, Dr Joanne McCormack (Custard Creams) and a spoof one by Dr Campbell Murdoch which showed (using bombs and bullets) how you can ruin your metabolic health.

Spread the message

Eat Real Food, Protect the NHS, Save Lives

NB – if you watch the talks and switch to low-carb make sure you speak to your doctor about balancing dietary change with any medication.

Coronavirus and Food

Evidence is mounting for the usefulness of Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, Magnesium, Zinc and Selenium all of which boost your immune system. You can make sure you get great nutrients from fresh food by ditching the health-damaging junk food and instead support your body with a bit of time in the kitchen, cooking from fresh ingredients. Supplements can be useful too. And a have a care with alcohol which blocks absorption.

Metabolic Health

Another important thing is your metabolic health (defined as normal blood pressure, low triglycerides, high HDL cholesterol, low waist circumference, HbA1c showing not pre-diabetic).

Poor metabolic health or metabolic syndrome increases your risk of death from coronavirus by 10 times – that’s 1000%.

It’s being driven by our current high carbohydrate, low fat eating style. Baddies include: breakfast cereal, ready meals, snack bars, anything made of flour or containing vegetable oil and other ultra-processed foods with more than 5 ingredients.

Poor metabolic health doesn’t always link to obesity (although the same foods also cause weight gain). And it affects people of all ages. In America 7 out of 8 people are metabolically unhealthy including 6 out of 8 people aged 20-40. I don’t know the number in Britain but looking at diet, many of our young people may well be metabolically unhealthy. The prevalence of diabetes is 3-5 times higher in the black/Asian population and we’ve seen how they are suffering higher death rates from this virus. They may also need vitamin D supplements as there is too little sunlight in Britain for their darker skin to make enough.

You can improve your metabolic health in a few weeks by cooking your own meals from fresh meat, fish, vegetables.

My simple guide for every meal –

Plants, Proteins, Fats

No Substitute

The choice of coffees is dizzying in cafés these days. Not just flat white, cappuccino or Americano but many varieties of milk with which to make them. The supermarket range of milks has grown hugely too. Here’s a look at their nutrition.

Whole milk is rich and creamy with such high quality protein, good fats, high bio-availability minerals and vitamins and digestibility, it rates even better than steak. Dairy appears to protect against heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

Jersey gold top is creamier still and hasn’t been homogenised so the cream rises to the top – remember the blue tits pecking through foil bottle tops?

Unpasteurised milk is available from farms around the country and still contains its enzymes and beneficial bacteria. It might reduce children’s risk of suffering from eczema, hay fever and other allergies.

Organic is the gold standard for animal welfare and lack of chemicals.

Reduced fat milk contains good protein, lots of B vitamins and plenty of calcium and phosphorous. It is usually fortified with synthetic vitamins A and D because the natural vitamins are lost with the fat. However, without the fat, it is harder for your body to absorb the vitamins and the calcium.

A common mistake is to think skimmed milk helps weight loss. I call it the skinny latte fallacy. It’s the natural sugar in milk that could cause weight gain so less milk is a better strategy.

Goats’ milk is similarly nutritionally to cows’ and its A2 casein causes fewer allergies than the A1 protein found in most cows’ milk.

Lactose-free milk is really useful if you’re intolerant to the sugar in milk (lactose). In South East Asia and Southern Africa 90% are lactose-intolerant but in Northern Europe it’s only about 3%. This problem has been exacerbated now that most of the milk available is pasteurised which destroys the enzyme lactase you’ll find in raw milk. Another option might be to use the fermented milk kefir which contains hardly any lactose.

Filtered milk has longer shelf life. This comes at the loss of health-beneficial good bacteria. You can make up for this by eating live, natural yoghurt or kefir.

Long-Life milk has been ultra-heat-treated to sterilise it. It’s very handy for a weekend away camping if you don’t have access to a fridge, as is powdered milk.

Flavoured milks are a bit like runny ice cream with their added sugar, flavouring and other chemicals, so don’t ever think of these as healthy. The best I found on sale were from Shaken Udder. My grandfather used to make us milk shakes using Jersey gold top, a few strawberries or cocoa powder and a bit (not a lot) of banana in a blender.

Milk substitutes are helpful if you have allergies. They’re white and they pour but they’re not milk. Most of them have more than 5 ingredients and are therefore classed as ultra-processed. They may have synthetic vitamins and minerals added and most have low protein and fat but you can use other foods to make up for what milk would have provided.

Nut milks generally contain only ~2% nuts and might have more added sugar than that – check the label. It’s easy to make your own. Just soak some nuts in a glass of water overnight. In the morning, rinse well in a sieve and put in a blender with some fresh water. Whizz. That’s it. You can strain out the pulp if you prefer.

Oat milk and rice milk have little to commend them nutritionally and are mainly carbohydrate or as Dr Unwin calls it “soon to be sugar”.

Soya milk has high protein content but this has only a partial set of amino acids. Its calcium comes with the anti-nutrient phytic acid which blocks calcium absorption. I do not recommend consumption of unfermented soya in any form, including milk.

Coconut milk is good for fat and flavour.

Hemp milk is a new one on me and provides some excellent fats.

Top tip – You’ll only get the full nutritional benefits from the real thing but with so many types to choose from, you’ll always be able to put something white in your coffee.

Eat Yourself Well

I’m about to deliver an Eat Yourself Well day for The Create Escape in Milnthorpe, Cumbria.

They run lovely days, each on a special topic like pottery, creative writing, photography, chemical-free cosmetics – plus a cookery demonstration followed by a 2-course lunch, in a delightful farmhouse with an entertaining double act from hosts Angela and Debs.

Some questions I’ll be asking are:

  • how well are you now?
  • how well do you want to be?
  • how high is food in your priorities?

Helen Gerson said there are only two root causes of chronic disease: Deficiency and toxicity.

She was talking about non-infectious things like T2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, aches, pains, digestive woes, skin problems, lack of energy.

Food can boost your health or damage your health.

You can do yourself good by stuffing in lots of untainted goodness.  Think back to the 70s – meat and two veg, cooked at home.  It simplifies your shopping, it’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s satisfying, you can make it tasty and you’ll feel so much better.I fear that marketing is now the number 1 factor governing what we buy rather than the effect on our bodies.

Manufactured food is much more profitable than home-cooked food so it’s thrust under your nose all day long. Sadly it has lower or damaged nutrients and often contains health damaging chemicals. It’s addictive by design, leading to over-eating and leaving many people over-fed and undernourished. If you buy anything with an ingredients list, read it. Avoid sugar, sweeteners, vegetable oil and anything with more than 5 ingredients.

The good news is that you can easily choose to take care of yourself with a quick trip to the butchers and the green grocers.

Your body will say, “Thank You” when you eat yourself well.

TOP TIPS

  • Food is not just fuel. Think about goodness rather than calories.
  • Eat natural, local and seasonal: fresh vegetables and fruit, grass-fed, free-range meat, non-farmed fish, natural fats.
  • Minimise sugar, vegetable oil and processed food.
  • Drink water to quench your thirst.
  • Buy real food, cook with love, eat with gratitude and enjoy!

What would I recommend off these promotional flyers?

Just the eggs on the first one and the beef, chicken and cheese on the second.

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- A while ago, the BBC did a documentary (sadly no longer available) about the beginning and growth to world domination of the cereal industry.  It explained 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.