Stop Counting Calories and Start Counting Nutrients – part 2

The government guidelines of the 1980s are still with us, despite oodles of research calling them into question.

The two main groups on the Eatwell plate, are fruit and vegetables and the carbohydrate foods – bread, pasta, rice etc. They both have their place but not in this way – I wrote about these groups last time. The foods here have a fairly low calorific value and of course, file331303081137(1)this is one reason why the government came up with this recommendation – to try (in vain) to curb obiesity. The calorific value of foods has become the most important attribute of a food to dieters, nutritionists, dieticians and even those who just want to look after their health. This is a mistake. The whole point of hunger is the body telling the mind that it is time to replenish spent nutrients. What is required is food that replaces these – not a rice cake which has very little energy value – and in fact, very little of anything else either. Let’s look at the rest of the Eatwell plate – three further sections (making up the last third) which make up the whole.

Non-dairy proteins: There are essential proteins – meaning we must eat them. The foods containing proteins are mainly of animal origin. These are complete proteins and ideal for humans. There are many vegetable sources of protein but as they are incomplete, a wide range of these must be eaten. The foods include eggs, beans, peas, fish and meat from animals.

A few problems:
1) There is no guidance for vegetarians as to how to mix vegetable sources of proteins.
2) The amount depicted is a little less than I would suggest. The “slice” represents about 13% of the total plate. Roughly the same is recommended for the dairy proteins bringing the total to about one quarter of the plate.
3) Lean meat is advised and there is no mention of offal. Muscle meat is good – with its natural fat which is needed for the metabolism of protein. Offal is incredibly nutrient dense so only a little at a time is needed in order to receive the benefits. Grazing animals, or more precisely, their gut microbes, are able to convert the vegetation they eat into all the nutrients they require. Having done this, the animals store their nutrients in their organs – liver, brain, glands and kidneys. Superb nutrition!
4) If you are not eating organic meats and wild-caught fish, then you are dosing yourself with broken down antibiotics/hormones and other drugs.

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Dairy proteins: This group of foods are advised for both their protein and their mineral content. Whilst unnecessary for good health, they make obtaining nutrition easier and more varied. In their natural state, they provide a wonderful array of goodies for us so if you can find a source, use raw milk products. Organic pasteurised milk is a reasonable food although it is not the same nutritionally as its raw counterpart. Sadly, most dairy products have been tampered with in some way.

The problems:
1) Dairy products are denatured by the pasteurisation and homogenisation of milk, the addition of colours, sugar, thickeners and flavours to yogurt, processing of cheese to make “child-friendly” products etc.
2) The recommendations are (with the exception of that given to small children) for low fat varieties. More denaturing.  It is the fat soluble vitamins contained in the cream that allow calcium and other minerals to be absorbed – so why is the cream removed? To save on calories of course!
3) Dairy cows are given antibiotics routinely, ensuring that you get some too.
4) Cream and butter are not even given a mention. They do not contain any useful protein but the dairy section of the Eatwell plate would be much more valuable had they been included. They contain lots of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. Raw butter and cream are health foods. There are essential fats – we must obtain them from here and from meat products.

The last and smallest section on the plate is the “fatty/sugary” foods and I (almost) completely agree. (I imagine the Eatwell Plate includes butter, cream, raw honey etc. here, but these in moderation add positive nutrition.) The problems with overeating these are many – diabetes, obesity, heart disease, compromised immunity and so many more. Our love for these foods corrupts the smooth-functioning of the body – literally everything will be compromised. As usual, there are sweet fatty foods and sweet fatty foods. Ice-cream made with vegetable fat, ordinary sugar, flavourings and colourings should be avoided at all costs. My ice-cream contains organic milk, eggs, cream and maple syrup. Not only is it a treat, but it is good for you too! There are lots of parallels to be drawn.

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In general, the foods to be avoided are the cheap sweet foods – sweets, fizzy pop, biscuits, bought cakes. They often contain large quantities of highly processed seed oils which are downright dangerous for our health. Sugar is nothing but sweetness with no nutritional benefits whatsoever. Sugar and seed oils are both contenders for the top spot as the most damaging “foods” for our health.

It is not a requirement to add vitamin/mineral content of foods on packaging. Since these values vary so enormously even in the same foods, neither would it be a wise addition. However, it might be a good idea to put “a good source” if a food is rich in a certain nutrient. Frankly, you are better off buying fresh foods without packaging and do your own research regarding nutrients. Read my guidelines for health for more information.

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You’re Eating a “Balanced” Diet – But is it the Right One?

If you and a friend wrote a menu for the day which illustrated a “balanced diet”, I can guarantee it would be nutritionally, completely different. The trouble is, “balanced” means different things to different people. In fact it is a word that really bugs me (along with “super-food”!).

So many people say to me that they think that eating a balanced diet is the way to go and of course, I agree but as a nutritionist my “balanced diet” will be based on a very different set of guidelines to theirs.

There is only one set of rules for a truly balanced diet – this took me ages to put into words!
Eating the foods that supply all the nutrients known to be required (and those with no names as yet) for the correct functioning of the body at all ages.

It sounds simple and obvious but there is a lot more to it than these few words, albeit they are the bottom line. As far as we know, humans all over the world need the same nutrients. However, it is possible that the ratio of these nutrients will change from continent to continent, due to the hugely varying environments. How on Earth are we supposed to know what to eat and how much?

file0001949597792Supermarkets have for many years now, provided food to the majority of people. So, theoretically we should be able to buy our “balanced diet”. We think we can but supermarkets have a way of influencing us to boost their sales – not to boost our health! Sweets near the checkouts, wafts of bread baking, foods they want us to buy at eye-level – there are more wiles and I don’t know them all – but for them, it is an art. This can very much affect what we come home with.

It is all very well knowing a bit about nutrients and where they are found but can we rely on this knowledge? I could tell you that there is vitamin D in green leafy vegetables – and there is. The problem is that it is not in the form that is usable in the human body – we have to convert it and not everyone is able to do this. I could tell you that vitamin B12 is present in some vegetable foods but this is never available to us as the only B12 analogue that we can use comes from animal sources. Vitamin A is available in some plants but as a substance called beta-carotene – a pro-vitamin. In other words, we have to change it to the usable vitamin – and guess what? Some people can’t do it!

I have spoken before about “five-a-day”. I imagine that we all know what this means. I understand why this recommendation came about – an attempt to increase our nutrients and in recommending this, it would steer us away from junk foods. Laudable I’m sure. Strange as it may seem, other European countries have different recommendations on how many portions a day we should have! There are problems with all these guidelines.
1) A few hundred years ago, we had only fruit and vegetables that were in season and what we could preserve by drying or salting as there were no fridges or freezers. As this was case, from where did we obtain our needed nutrients?  And we obviously did because we’re still here!
2) Is it even beneficial that we consume fruit on a daily basis? Imported fruits tend to be high in sugar and little else. The same goes for some imported vegetables – by the time they reach us their nutrient content has depleted considerably.
3) Fresh vegetables and fruit sounds good doesn’t it? How good is it really? Firstly, it is rarely as fresh as it should be – just think of the long journey some produce has to make to get to us. These days, varieties are bred for their keepability and then they may be sprayed/washed in chlorinated water/waxed to enhance this further. Do we want this on our plates? Added to that, during the growth of veg and fruit, they will have been sprayed with pesticides which are very toxic.
4) There is a good chance that some standard fresh produce will be genetically modified – and this problem is increasing. There is much evidence that GMOs are dangerous to us long term.

We need to get a handle on a “balanced diet” and what it means for us. If you are to obtain the correct nutrients for humans, eat a variety of mainly seasonal, organically produced foods. Eat small fish and shellfish from a reputable fishmonger. Eat offal as well as muscle meat. Eat animal fat from animals raised on pasture, natural game and eggs from hens that have been allowed to roam outside. Grow your own vegetables and fruit or buy seasonal varieties. Organic dairy adds lots of nutrition. If you eat grains and legumes, treat them properly. Add in a few nuts and seeds. This should be the backbone of your diet – what you eat on a daily basis. Once this is achieved, it is fine to have an occasional treat (mine’s an almond croissant!). Problems arise when treat foods replace the nutrient dense foods listed above.

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The nourishment of your body depends upon this balanced diet. Your appetite will regulate itself and you won’t feel hungry as often. It is what you chew, swallow, digest, absorb and utilize that will determine your health. Unfortunately, in someone less than healthy, things can go wrong at each these stages. That is the time to see a nutritionist!

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What’s in Your Shopping Basket?

We all know a bit about how to eat properly don’t we? The trouble is that when we are faced with doing the food-shopping, it is tempting to go for the foods that are quick and easy or cheap. The pennies have to be watched, but please, not at the expense of health!

A few tips for sensible healthy shopping – some you will know and some you won’t.

  1. Animal fats contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2. These are vital for good health but miss out on them as we believe fat is bad for us or that vegetable fats are healthier. These notions are absolutely untrue. Animal fats are the way to go in order to keep hunger under control. (After all, how much butter can you eat before feeling full up?!) Fatty cuts of meat are cheaper than lean and satisfy much quicker. Try a slow-roasted pork shoulder – delicious, filling, healthy and leftovers for sandwiches or salad the next day.
  2. Buy fruit and veg in season and preferably not in big supermarkets. Kale is in season now and is one of the most nutritious vegetables. Cook until fairly soft – it has a better flavour at this stage – but use the cooking water for gravy or soup.
  3. Plan your meals for the week ensuring there is little or no waste. This I cannot stress enough. Throwing food out is just not an option. If you see that there are a few vegetables looking past their best – make minestrone, serve it with some grated cheese on top and scrumptious bread on the side!
  4. Look for meat on its sell-by date. Use it on the day or freeze straight away.
  5. Don’t be tempted to buy ready-meals. They are cheap and often nutritionally poor foods made palatable by flavourings, sugar and salt. Make your own “ready meals” by doing a mammoth (get the kids involved) cooking session and dividing into portions for times when you really can’t be bothered to cook.
  6. Learn to cook offal. It is cheap and wonderfully nutritious, but always buy organic. If you are unused to liver, try making pate – there is a recipe in Food for Thought on the website.
  7. Use butter and cream in cooking. This enhances the nutritional profile of food but also adds a luxurious taste. Put butter on your veg to increase the uptake of vitamins.
  8. Use tinned oily fish for lunches and salads. Lots of calcium (as long as the fish is not filleted) and omega 3.
  9. If you don’t already, learn to cook!

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To summarise, these are some of the foods you should have in your basket for nutrients and your pocket.

  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Vegetables – especially the green leafy ones and salads, avocados
  • Fatty cuts of meat, chicken on the bone (make stock from the bones) and offal
  • Tinned sardines and wild salmon
  • Eggs – lots of them!
  • Natural cheeses – not processed. Gouda has good levels of vitamin K2.
  • Bread but not the cheapest please! Spend a little more and buy sourdough/pumpernickel/ or organic seedy breads. Better still, make your own sourdough – recipe on the website.
  • Fruit in season
  • Natural whole milk yogurt
  • Organic, unhomogenised milk or better still, find a local raw milk supplier for the best nutrition.

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Of course it is best to buy organic but if you really cannot afford it, please buy the best you can afford. Farmer’s markets are a good place to buy real food. Wash fruit and veg thoroughly if they are not organic. In fact, fruits are best peeled.

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Vitamin D and Pregnancy

It is that time of year again for me to start banging on about vitamin D and health. As you may already know if you have read my blogs before, the vitamin D and other benefits that the sun gives us, cannot be replaced by supplements. Please read my original article on sunshine.

Sunbathing

In this study, it has been shown that low levels of the vitamin in pregnant mothers, can result in poor outcomes both for mother and baby. The very best way to help both, is to sunbathe during pregnancy. The rules are the same – during the time of day that your shadow is as long or shorter than you are tall, vitamin D can be made in the skin. When the skin is just slightly pink, cover up or go inside. Don’t burn. This should be done on a daily basis as often as is possible to optimise vitamin D levels in both mother and baby.

In another study, the month of birth has suggested that there is a correlation between the mother’s sun exposure and the chance of future poor health in the child. Babies born during the months of May to June are the most affected as pregnancy has taken place mainly over the winter months when the UVB rays from the sun are too short to hit the northern hemisphere – therefore no vitamin D can be made in the skin.

Pregnant mothers are advised to sunbathe wisely during spring and summer and over winter, eat plenty of shellfish, free range eggs (although hens may also be suffering from a lack of sun!), offal and animal fat – especially pork fat which has come from pastured pigs.

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The Price of Health – part 4

Before I discuss where I think money should and shouldn’t be spent, take a few minutes to consider where you are spending money.

We all have our priorities but at the top of everyone’s list should be health. At the risk of being repetitive, without health you can end up with nothing. When you can see where your money is going, you may be able to make some adjustments. Try to get rid of “I must have..” by asking yourself “why?”

 What goes into your mouth and is chewed, swallowed, digested and absorbed, is what will make a difference to your health – one way or the other. So let’s get it right. One of the best ways to save money is to learn to cook. I am not talking about opening the microwave door either! (There are many basic cookery books too – go and have a look in a charity shop.) The very basic cookery skills are disappearing fast. Sadly, mothers are not now teaching their children these skills used to be handed down for generations. This has to change if we are to stay healthy. If you are a good basic cook, you can make a nourishing meal from very little. (Yes I know you don’t have time – so on a day off, make loads and freeze it – then you have lots of “ready meals”!)

 Make friends with a good (preferably organic) butcher. Bones can be roasted and gently simmered for hours to make broth (see recipeswhich contains a wonderful range of nutrients. This can be made into an infinite variety of soups – one of the real pleasures of life. Buy the cheaper cuts of meat and a slow cooker then you can start your meal in the morning, go to work and arrive home to a delicious meal. Use offal – cheap as chips – but learn how to cook it. Make pate (see recipes again).

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There are lots more things you can do to save money – and your health. Here are a few:

  • ·        Best-by dates are a nonsense. Use your sense of smell and your eyes to tell    you if something is “off”. By food on its best-by date and freeze it if necessary.
  • ·        Cancel your gym membership and go for a walk/run. Do some resistance exercise at home.  Put exercise into your day; walk to work or use a bus part of the way. Wash the car – don’t take it to the garage. Use a bike!
  • ·        Take a good look at your cleaning cupboard. Count the items. More than six? It’s unnecessary. Surfaces should be kept visibly clean – not sterile. Why do we need a bathroom and a kitchen cleaning liquid?  (I will concede that if someone in the house is ill, a bit more attention is needed but hand-washing is still the best prevention.)
  • ·        Use a bar of soap for hand washing rather than hand-wash liquid. (Best to chuck out the soap and toothbrushes after someone has had a tummy bug.)
  • ·        Water is a great cleanser. Have a water-only shower most days. When you do use shower-gel, only tiny amounts are needed. You do not need to soap all over every day. Same goes for shampoo.
  • ·        Avoid aerosols. There are always options – roll-on deodorant (use sparingly), tinned furniture polish etc.
  • ·        Are you spending a fortune on over-the-counter meds? Get well instead. (Come and see me!)
  • ·        Stop believing all you hear on the ads! Just because it’s new does not mean it’s better! In fact it is usually the case that the main beneficiaries of adverts are the companies creating them.

 This list could be endless, but hopefully it has got you thinking.

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The Most Nutrient-Dense Food on the Planet!

Liver is a “love it or hate it” food isn’t it? Unfortunately, these preferences are often formed in childhood and school dinners have a lot to answer for! Offal is inexpensive and nutrient dense.

I am very much a believer in taste buds. They exist for a purpose – to tell us which natural foods are good and which foods our digestive systems are equipped for. Due to bad experiences, or eating heavily processed foods, our taste buds have been fooled into believing that good foods are bad for us and bad foods are good for us! Interestingly, many people who do not like liver will say that they love pate but I see this as yet another clue as to what is good for us. In my opinion, this indicates that it is not necessary to eat vast quantities of liver. The nutrients in it are so dense that a little now and then is all we need. The flavour is more delicious for some, if it is diluted.

Home-made pate which includes good butter, garlic and herbs is delicious and gives a fabulous array of nutrients.  Adding a little chopped liver to a casserole or Bolognese sauce adds richness without too much of its powerful flavour. Liver should be be organic. A good idea is to cook livers in butter and then puree and freeze it in ice-cube trays. This would be great for toddler or baby food occasionally (in these tiny quantities) or just to add to gravy for thickening and flavour.

Here is a recipe that is really tasty and the dish is not too “liverish”! I think it should be called “Liver Stroganoff – Goulash Style“! (Or maybe Liver Goulash – Stroganoff Style!)

250g liver – I used organic pig’s liver – chicken and others would be good too I think
1 large chopped onion plus 1 sliced red pepper
1 clove garlic and a chopped chilli
100g mushrooms
Himalayan or Celtic salt to taste plus black pepper
2 teaspoons flour (dunk the liver in this before frying)
1 tablespoon animal fat (not oil)
2 teaspoons paprika
150ml passata
50ml broth or water
1-2 tablespoons cream (or soured cream, creme fraiche, full-fat yogurt)

1) Fry the onion, pepper, chilli and garlic in the fat until soft but not brown. Add paprika.
2) Add liver and fry for a minute each side.
3) Add the stock or water and the passata and bring to simmer.
4) Add salt and pepper and mushrooms then cover the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes or until liver is just cooked.
5) Remove from the heat and stir in the cream.

Truly delicious and fabulously nutritious!

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Have a look at this for more information and recipes.