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.

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!

Quote – Calories

Whatever the calories say, a doughnut is not the same thing as a steak.

Dr Andreas Eenfeldt

If you make only one New Year’s Resolution this year, resolve never to go on another diet!

Instead of a quick fix that will soon wear off, Learn to Eat Well so you feel fabulous and enjoy your life!

– my next Eat for a Better Life course starts in February in Whitehaven or have one-to-one coaching any time.

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.

The Snack Trap – A Horror Story For Halloween

Once upon a time in the merry, 3-meals-a-day, real-food land of Britain, we didn’t snack and were slim and healthy. We farmed the earth and ate its good plants and animals. Then money-making men rubbed their hands at inventing artificial food, “We can snare people in The Snack Trap. Muahahaa”. Adverts were the Snack Trap’s lure: Milky Way “the sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite” (1970) “A finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat” (1979) “Have a break, have a Kit Kat” (1958). “A drink’s too wet without one” Rich Tea (1985). And I bet you know who makes exceedingly good cakes (1967).

There’s no escape; tempting, unhealthy nibbles constantly surround us. They’re at work, in town, thrust at us when buying a newspaper, alongside us as we queue to pay for petrol (if we can get through the throng of schoolkids buying lurid-coloured drinks and snacks of all kinds except the healthy kind). People snack all day long.

Halloween masks, costumes and pumpkin lanterns are scary enough, but read the ingredients lists on the products for giving to dressed-up kids on your doorstep on 31st October. Check out Joanna Blythman’s Swallow This for a bed-time story with shocks and frights aplenty as she exposes the deadly cauldron mix. How weird that we “treat” our kids (and ourselves) with health-damaging sugar and chemicals.

No-one is defending us. When the Health Education Authority complained about the ads, the regulator sided with the manufacturer. It’s up to you to escape the trap by eating enough good food to keep you full and satisfied. And the government’s guidance on 400kCal breakfasts won’t help. A low-cal, breakfast-cereal-induced, blood-sugar roller-coaster virtually guarantees that you’ll be ravenous way before lunchtime. With desperate, blood-curdling cries, you’ll trample your boss underfoot to snatch the last sugary snack from the vending machine. Aaaarrrrgh!

Snack Trap

Top tip – Eat well to escape The Snack Trap

To stay safe, try these breakfasts.

Quote of the Month – Avoid the Snack Trap

Unless you are a cow or want to be the size of one – stop grazing!

Zoe Harcombe

Nigella Lawson is well known for her love of food and eating – but she says, ‘I’m not really a grazer. I like proper meals.’ She

Snack Trap

gets pleasure from being absorbed in the experience. This is the opposite of the mindless grazing we see so much at work, on the street, in front of screens.

Don’t fall into The Snack Trap – eat well at meal times.

 

October is Cholesterol Awareness month – what better way to deal with your cholesterol than to cut out sugary/floury snacks?

The Cup That Cheers

What do Brits do in a crisis? – put the kettle on! There is no calamity so great that it cannot be eased by a ‘nice cup of tea’.  We’ve even given it a special day of its own.

21st April is National Tea Day.

We started drinking tea in Britain way back in the mid 1600s when it was referred to as ‘China drink. We quickly took it to our hearts even though it was fantastically expensive due to import tax and was often kept in locked chests to prevent pilfering. It’s cheap as chips now and we consume 165 million cups a day!! That’s 60.2 billion cups a year and around double the coffee we drink (UK coffee week was 16-22th April).

You can read about the history of tea and all the different types on the Tea Association website.  (One point for caution: they talk about what’s in tea and consider fluoride to be a nutrient which it is not; it’s a neurotoxin.)

There are so many types to sample and enjoy. There’s black tea, green tea, white tea, tea flavoured with flowers and herbs – even without including the herbal teas (called tisanes). When I was a student, there was a tea stall on Bath indoor market. From the array of exotic leaves, I would make my choice, then watch in wonder as the half pound was weighed and poured onto a single sheet of paper that magically became a parcel tied with string.  (I don’t know whether they still do this wondrous packaging but you can still buy tea in Bath market and I’m thrilled to see that my other favourite stalls are still there – selling cheese and second-hand books.)

Our favourite brew supports our health with anti-oxidant polyphenols and flavonoids. There are detriments too from caffeine and fluoride so it’s best have water sometimes rather than drinking tea (and coffee) all day long. It’s also diuretic and can play havoc with your bladder. If you take sugar, work on giving it up. I had one client who was surprised to discover she was consuming 24 teaspoons of sugar a day just from drinking tea!

My old pint pot now relegated to housing part of my pencil collection.

We don’t treat tea drinking with the elaborate rituals of China or Japan, usually using tea bags and brewing in a mug at home and work but we certainly do all like our tea a certain way – and in our favourite cup/mug. Some like a pint pot brewed so strong the spoon very nearly stands up it in. Others dip the bag in for a microsecond and barely colour the water. And I don’t dare comment on the milk first or tea first debate!

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Afternoon tea, however, has become a special event with delicate china cups and saucers, one pot for the tea, one for hot water, a little jug of milk and a tiered cake stand bearing dainty sandwiches, scones and cake.

Not healthy of course with all that flour and sugar but an inbuilt memory of a more genteel age. At least that’s how it should be; I was horrified on a cream tea spa day at a posh hotel with a friend to have a chunky Starbucks mug plonked down in front of me which completely jarred against the rest of our classy treat.

Do you always snack with your cuppa? It’s another of those marketing-induced habits. Think of Rich Tea – “a drink’s too wet without one” or “Have a break have a ….” you know the rest; that’s how successful they are at fixing their messages in our psyche.

They’ve normalised snacking at every point through the day so now we graze constantly like we never did before. Tea rooms and coffee shops offer enormous portions of cakes and slices as I wrote about muffins vs buns.

So drink tea in moderation, for the pleasure of it and the good things it contains, rather than as your principle hydrator.  Realise that you can have it on its own. If you really want a snack, have a small bun or biscuit you’ve made yourself, or better still a handful of nuts or some fresh coconut. At the bottom of my recipes page are links to lots of websites with great recipes. Let me know of other healthy snacks you like.

Top tip: Enjoy your cuppa and be cheered.

Happy Easter

There are lots of tempting Easter themed products in the shops now – well some appeared not long after Christmas! Most of them are designed to give a fun, spring-like mood with lots of flowers, chicks and bunnies. Easter eggs come in every size from teeny-tiny to humongous. I notice that the egg-sized ones now come by the half dozen in egg boxes – what a clever way to make you buy more. Most are hollow, some with other chocolates inside, some have creamy, sugary fillings and some of the smallest ones are solid with a sugar shell.

Whilst I find it sad that a joyous Christian festival has become an excuse to sell us heaps of sugary stuff, you can enjoy a healthier Easter without saying no to all Easter eggs or chocolate. Instead, aim for quality.

It’s certainly true that cheap, high-sugar, chemical-laden chocolate, consumed in large quantities, is going to damage your health. White chocolate isn’t actually chocolate at all. Dark chocolate (>70%) is best. It’s got a lower sugar content than milk chocolate and is good for you in moderation (check out my December article).

What about buying some chocolate egg moulds so you can have a go at making your own Easter eggs? Here are my efforts; I’m sure you could do better!

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Another fun activity with the kids is dying boiled, hens’ eggs. Use onion skins or dandelion flowers, put them round an egg, wrap in a piece of cloth, tie with string and boil for 10 minutes. You‘ll get beautiful effects and you can eat the highly nutritious egg.

Top tip: Go easy on the chocolate eggs. Happy Easter.

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.

 

Quote of the month

 

For World Diabetes Day – not a day to celebrate

 

Western medicine will one day admit what has been known in the Orient for years. Sugar is the greatest evil that modern industrial civilization has visited upon the countries of the Far East and Africa.

Nyoiti Sakurazawa

The taste of sweetness, whereof a little more than a little is by much too much.

Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part I