“Study Shows Healthy Food More Expensive Than Unhealthy Food”. Oh Really?

How can it be said that “healthy food” is more expensive than junk food? It’s enough to make anyone just give up trying to do the healthy eating thing.

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Whilst I don’t believe everything I read, I would have expected more from Science Daily – which I subscribe to. The articles here are summaries of research, but there is always so much to take into account. Is the research good – is it impartial or are the researchers being paid to show a specific theory? Has it been correctly carried out – was the sample big enough and were all the variables accounted for? There’s more. When you read a summary, it is common for the author to add their own slant or try to interpret findings.  All this (and more) can make reading research findings and the reports of research findings, a minefield of misinformation!

I’m not saying I am an expert here either. I have forty-plus years in health and nutrition and the experience I have gained has made me careful in what I say.  However, if it makes good sense to me then I will use it for sharing and in my blogs.

This report is ridiculous.

There is SO much that could go wrong with a subject this big. I’ll itemise a few of the problems:

1)      Whose “healthy food” idea has been used? The chances are it has been measured against government guidelines for a healthy diet. To my mind, this is not the healthiest diet. My recommendations are here.

2)      “Healthy foods in 2012 are three times more expensive per calorie than less healthy foods.” This assumes that calories count – which, in the main, they don’t! It also indicates that the energy we obtain from food is the most important and whilst it is important, micronutrients are equally important. If you just want energy, you could just get it from sugar. If you want nutrition, you should eat whole foods – eggs, vegetables, meat etc.

3)      In order that “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods can be compared, these must have been packaged and not fresh. Food that isn’t packaged is usually healthier anyway. You don’t get ready meals unpackaged, but you can get a low-fat lasagne (“healthy”) and a regular lasagne (“unhealthy”). The ingredients list has been used to determine “healthy” or “unhealthy” and of course, government guidelines are used to decide..

4)      The article doesn’t say, but foods will almost certainly have come from supermarkets. Bet they didn’t buy from farmer’s markets!

5)      “The finding shows that there could well be merit in public health bodies monitoring food prices in relation to nutrient content..” The content is not the same as its nutrition. Content means that the nutrients may be present but it does not mean that they are bio-available to us. In other words, the nutrients may be in a form that is either difficult for us to absorb or even impossible. Nutrition takes account of these differences. For example, adding vitamins to food looks good, but they are often in a form that we have trouble metabolising. Also, when vegetables are incorporated, especially legumes such as peas and beans, they can interfere with how we absorb minerals as well as contain nutrients we may not be able to use!

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I have to refer to my previous blog. This is all about what people are prepared to do – or not do – in the kitchen. If we can cook, we can produce nutritious food which is less expensive. Due to advertising, we believe that we are “worth it” and “deserve” the things that are perceived as more expensive and better. We think that meat means steak and other muscle meats. We think that fish means salmon and that fruit means pineapples and mangoes. Advertising has much to do with what we believe and we have lost sight completely of what is in season, now that most foods are available all the year round.

Just look at what this woman believes is “healthy”.

Here is another article regarding a woman who wants a cash incentive from the government to lose weight because she “can only afford junk food”.

These women just need cookery skills. Of course, motivation to be healthy would help. Blaming everything and everyone else for one’s own situation is misguided since the only person who can make a difference to your life, is you. Sadly, many people would buy their daily latte for £3, but wouldn’t buy organic eggs for £2. Education is needed.

A few tips for eating well on a budget:

  • Learn how to make a stew or soup from cheap cuts of meat. Lots of recipes on the net. Get started with the basis for nourishing soups here - broth.
  • Learn how to make real porridge instead of “quick” oat cereals or cold cereals. These are expensive.
  • Buy seasonal vegetables and a little fruit (not essential to health but nice to include as a treat).
  • Grow something! Everyone has room for something.
  • Use eggs (even organic are cheap) and cheese for main meals. Great nutrition on a budget! No health problems associated with eggs now, so just go for it!
  • Learn how to use lentils and beans. Treated properly, they are great nutrition.
  • Shop around. It is just not the case that supermarkets are the cheapest – and they often don’t even sell the cheaper cuts of meat. Try markets and farm shops.
  • More advice here in my six part blog on healthy eating during a recession.

What price would you put on your health? Frankly, if you don’t have good health, you have nothing. You may not be able to work so outgoings will be a problem, your relationships will suffer and it could be physically, very uncomfortable for you. Chronic poor health leads to early death but the whole situation is up to you. Eat nutritious food and good health becomes the norm.

Nourishing November on a Budget is coming. Please join in! Follow me on Twitter and my Facebook page for more information.

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What on Earth is a Superfood?

What on Earth is a superfood? Is it a Teenage Mutant Ninja Sausage? Or maybe a sandwich that leaps between buildings in a single bound? Silly I know, but so is the notion that any one food can be a “superfood”.

A while ago, I saw a headline stating that eating almonds every day can protect your heart against disease. I have seen that broccoli can fight cancer and I have seen any amount of health claims for kale and blueberries. Others include – goji berries, oily fish, cacao, maca, and beetroots – the list goes on. These are good foods to include in our diets and they contain antioxidants (but so do many other foods) but they are not “superfoods” because there are none! There are good and bad diets though. These “superfoods” are liberally and continually splashed over magazines and newspapers. What is the purpose of these articles – what are they trying to achieve?

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To be fair, some of these articles are just trying to get people to eat better but doing it this way is, in my opinion, a waste of time or falls on deaf ears. Why would adding blueberries to an otherwise poor diet contribute to good health? Most articles are featured by the media just to get you to buy their newspaper/magazine and some are to get you to buy a supplement – eg.beetroot juice.

Nutrition for us comes in the form of nutrients (sorry for being pedantic) contained in our diet. There are many known nutrients but there are also some unknowns. We keep discovering “new” nutrients in foods, but this being the case means that we must eat the foods in order to obtain them – ie. not from supplements. Another thing that is always conveniently glossed over, (I’m being kind here as I suspect that this is not as widely known as it should be), is that nutrients in plants are not always bio-available to us – we can’t utilize them. Bear in mind that our digestive systems are very different from the herbivores – they are uniquely equipped to digest vegetation. We have a digestive system similar to that of a carnivore, telling us that we can more readily absorb and utilize nutrients from meat. Of course, as we are evolving as omnivores, it is fine and possibly desirable to eat plants – there are nutrients in plants that we can use – I am not saying we shouldn’t be eating some of them.

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Let’s look at some of these “superfoods”.

Kale is a real buzzword at the moment. I am seeing countless recipes for raw kale in smoothies and salads.  It used to be just grown for fodder, but someone decided we should consume it too, so it became a great winter vegetable when there was little else (no doubt why there is a variety named “Hungry Gap”). No problem – it needs lots of cooking as it is quite tough and fibrous, but its strong earthy flavour is liked by many and there are some nutrients to be had – minerals especially. Raw? Not a chance – you try it! Your taste-buds tell you what your digestive system can cope with!

Beetroot is very popular at the moment. It is a historic food but not a pre-historic food. It is a relative of “sea-beet”, from which all other “beet” varieties stem. The leaves were eaten and used in medicine long before the root had a use. The root was probably not in general use until around the 14th century. Again, some nutrients are available but beetroot is sweet – and can contain up to 10% sugar! A few years ago, an article on beetroot juice told of heart health benefits. I know of someone who took himself off his heart medication and instead, drank a pint of beetroot juice daily. He made himself very ill indeed.

Goji berries are not native to Europe and are grown commercially in China – where they have become big business. Many minerals and vitamins can be present but aren’t always unless organic methods are used. They are a member of the solanaceae family – which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and all members of the nightshade family – including “deadly”! Whilst most of us can tolerate the food plants, the presence of toxic alkaloids are present in all these plants to a degree and they are poorly tolerated by people with certain chronic illnesses. Goji berries are highly susceptible to pests and will usually contain considerable amounts of pesticide residues. If you are going to use them, always buy organic.

Remember – the nutrients may be there but some may be useless to us. I am not suggesting that their inclusion in your diet is wrong but don’t rely on them to supply all that which your body requires – cos that ain’t happening! This is worth a read if you want to understand plant foods better and this if you want to learn the traditional methods of making plant foods more human-friendly.

Just by way of a comparison, organic pasture reared meat – offal and all – contains all nutrients needed for human health and they are in exactly the correct form that we can absorb and utilize them. Pesticide and drug-free to boot. And for those now wondering where the vitamin C is – organ meats contain vitamin C but please don’t overcook them.Spring Lambs

My advice – eat mostly foods that are native to your country of origin; eat vegetables and fruit in season; buy organically produced fruit and veg or grow your own; process foods in your kitchen according to tradition to increase their nutritional value; find a source of raw milk and dairy; eat animal fat; eat nuts and seeds in moderation and if you eat grain, treat it properly; meat and eggs should be from pasture raised animals. Eat small fish and shellfish. For other health measures, see my Healthy Life guidelines.

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The Essence of Nutrition

It would be difficult to have no idea at all about nutrition and diet. Newspapers, television programmes, magazines, posters – even supermarkets – are all ramming nutrition down our throats – pun intended! As with everything, these will have a different slant depending upon what they are selling – because they are selling.

Magazines and papers will sound-bite every diet related report as long as it sells papers, so the headlines have to be punchy. “Snacking Habits That Help You Lose Weight” and file000571098509Surprise superfoods: dieticians say popcorn and pork scratchings are bursting with nutrients – and could be GOOD for you.” You know the sort of thing. Television programmes are only marginally better as at least they have a bit longer to explain their specific point. Just looking at some of the programmes available, most are about weight-loss, reaffirming the myth that calorie counting is the way to go. Supermarkets and food manufacturers will just jump on any bandwagon that is conveniently passing at the time – low-fat, low sugar, no saturated fats, low salt and so on. But where are the nutrients? Confused? Then let me inject a note of sanity here.

“What is nutrition?”
Nutrition is supplying the body with all known and unknown nutrients required for the life and health of humans.

“How do we obtain that nutrition?”
We chew, swallow, digest, absorb and utilize the diet that nature intended. All stages of this process are necessary. We eat NATURAL foods, preferably organic.

Proteins are made up of amino acids of which there are many. Animal proteins are ideal for us as they contain all the essential amino acids that we need for the growth and repair of our bodies. Vegetarians can obtain a variety of amino acids from vegetables but as there are virtually none that contain all those needed for humans, care must be taken when menu planning.  We break down millions of cells every day and these must be replaced. Proteins are also needed for the formation of enzymes, hormones and other necessary substances in the body.
Animal protein sources: meat and offal, fish, eggs, dairy; vegetable protein sources: beans, lentils, nuts,seeds

Fats are a great source of energy. Animal fats and their essential fatty acids are needed for the formulation of hormones, the lining of cells, the metabolism of protein, the absorption of minerals and much more. They also contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D3, and K2 – all of which work together, so rather fortunate that they are usually found together in animal fats.
Animal fats: lard, dripping, duck/goose fat, butter, cream, oily fish.
The vegetable fats that have benefits for our health are olive oil (for salads) and coconut oil (stir-fries and curries). These contain chemicals which don’t conveniently fall into the vitamins and minerals category but are good for us none-the-less.
Seed oils (rape, grape, corn, sunflower, peanut or anything loosely termed “vegetable” oil are all highly processed which makes them toxic and they have no place in a healthy diet. (Eating the seeds is fine though.) Will they harm once in a while? Not if your main diet contains lots of protective animal fats.
All fats contain saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – it’s just the ratio that changes. We need them all, but eating a natural diet will supply them in just the right ratio – nature’s good like that!

Carbohydrates. First and foremost, there are no essential carbohydrates. In other words, they are not necessary for life. If you never ate another slice of bread in your life – you wouldn’t die! The metabolism of concentrated carbohydrate foods (eg. sugar and grains), uses up our essential nutrients, increasing our need for them. The body can use carbohydrates (which it changes to glucose – a type of sugar) for energy. Most of the carbohydrate foods available today are highly processed – cakes, biscuits, sweets, cereals and they don’t have any benefits for us. Since we have evolved as omnivores, some carbohydrate foods can be included with little problem but currently there is an “epidemic” of gluten intolerance, so it may be prudent to cut back on grains containing gluten – mainly wheat. The best carbohydrate foods are from vegetables and some fruits where they also have a wealth of vitamins, minerals, fibre and other nutrients.

If you eat the diet indicated above, you don’t need to think of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients because these foods supply them! It’s not rocket science is it? There are lots of articles on the website to tell you what our diet should be to obtain these nutrients. The only thing for you to do now is cook from scratch using the best ingredients you can afford!

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Home Grown in a Few Days – For Pennies!

We have issues with the ground attached to our house. Since the house was built on an area that used to be a gravel pit – well, I expect you can understand our problem! I have, over many years tried to improve the soil, but it has made little difference. Perpetual spinach is it! Actually, for anyone wanting to start growing food in their gardens, this is an amazing crop. I start growing it during the summer and it gets going before winter sets in, when growing slows almost to a halt. However, it speeds up again and you just pick the leaves as needed and it keeps producing more. Even now, when it has gone to seed, there are some small leaves to use raw in salads. I will be sowing the next lot at the end of the month.

Thanks to Dr. Joseph Mercola, I now grow seed sprouts.He has written about the subject extensively. Lots of you may have done this – mustard and cress and maybe mung beans. However, there are lots of seeds that can be used for sprouting. I am currently growing sunflower and daikon radish seeds (see pictures) but others include, broccoli, red kale, alfalfa, fenugreek and leek. Watercress too – as long as the compost is kept moist.

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Seeds tend to have a fairly high carbohydrate content – grains are seeds so think of wheat and rice. They also have a fabulous nutritional content. They are tiny concentrated packages of nutrition which just want a comfortable moist bed in which to create another parent plant. Acorns to oaks! When they sprout, much of the carbohydrate content is used and proteins are formed – these are the building blocks for all life forms. Plants harness the sun and use its energy to create their own energy systems. Providing they have the sun, a regular supply of water and organic compost to grow in, they will become a very valuable source of vitamins, minerals and amino acids in a relatively digestible form.

I use half-trays as there only three of us at home. It’s also nice to have more than one variety on the go. To be honest, whilst still edible, when the proper leaves start to grow (as opposed to the initial cotyledonous leaves) the concentrated nutrients and flavour are not as good. Put a centimetre of organic compost into the seed tray and water it. Sprinkle the seeds thickly and sprinkle a little more compost to cover them. Lightly water the top. Leave on a windowsill and wait, watering daily (I use an old washing-up liquid bottle for this). In a day or two, the seeds will be up and once they are 3-4 cms high, cut with scissors and add to salads, sandwiches or smoothies. Don’t let them get too big – cut and store in the fridge for a day or two. I find that I need to assist the sunflower sprouts to shed the seed casings, but the others are fine.

There are a couple of other things you can do too, to make the pennies go further. I buy, during the spring/summer (it doesn’t work in the winter) a bag of “Majestic Basil” from Waitrose. Wash it thoroughly then chop off a tiny part of the stem and put the bunch into water – an old cup/glass is fine. Change the water daily, but after a few days, the stems will have roots! Plant 4-5 to a 15cm pot, in organic compost and they will live happily on your windowsill/in the greenhouse for several months. Pick leaves as you need but obviously leave some on the individual plants so they continue to grow. Not organic exactly but as only a few leaves are used for flavouring, I think it’s fine.

2014-07-05 14.00.07Lastly (for now anyway!), lettuces. Buy mixed leaf seeds and sow thinly into troughs or pots. As they emerge, thin them a little but only to around 1-2 cms apart. When about 8-10 cms tall, harvest a few leaves from each plant and let them continue growing.So easy and takes only a week or two at this time of year!

2014-07-05 13.57.29Use organic compost – it doesn’t cost much more than the usual stuff but it is better for you and the environment. Also, find organic sprouting seeds – there are loads on the web. Start with a small amount of seeds and then buy larger amounts when you know which you like the best. My favourite are sunflower seeds so I buy 200g each time. They have a “meatiness” about them and taste mildly of the seeds. Radish sprouts taste exactly like radishes. I think I have to try leeks soon – love that idea! Happy sprouting!

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The Problem With Plant Foods…

Healthy EatingPlant foods epitomise all that is good for us don’t they? Articles about nutrition and diet are usually adorned with overflowing bowls of fruit, water-sprayed salads and colourful vegetable displays at markets or supermarkets – and indeed, many of my articles are similarly adorned. BUT there is a cost to be paid if we are to benefit from nutrients from plant foods.

As is my thing, I have looked at these plant foods with the back-drop of our (and their) evolution. Everything on Earth is here for a reason and for that reason, everything on Earth has efficient life-preserving and pro-creation systems in place. If this were not the case, then animals (including humans) and plants would just die out. Yes, I know there are more species that have become extinct, than exist today but at least in part this is to do with nature and how it selects. The rest is down to us, but I won’t step on that mine-field now! We and many other animals have hormones that allow us to progress the species. We also have hormones that allow “fight or flight” when we are in danger. We can regulate our temperatures so that we don’t cook in the sun or freeze during winter. Our skins brown in the sun to prevent our bodies becoming sun-damaged and we have immune systems that help protect us from pathogenic infections. We have more life-preserving tricks too which adds to why we are so successful as a species.

So what of plants? They too got to this point by evolution. Because they need it to thrive, some live in shade, some in full sunlight. Some like dry sandy soil and some like deep loamy soils. Some like moist conditions and some like dry. Plants are very clever with perpetuating their species and many have more than one way of doing this. Take strawberries – plantlets grow on runners but they can also be grown from seed. Raspberries and roses spread by their root-systems, throwing up suckers in the grass, to our annoyance! They too can be, but aren’t usually grown from seed. Many plants can produce “children” simply by a piece of the parent being broken off. These sections will root very easily – such as the willow tree. My grandmother had a huge willow tree in her garden and it grew from a willow washing-line prop! Plants have another form of defence too – they contain chemicals to discourage animals from feasting on them.

We have called these chemicals collectively, anti-nutrients. There are many – digestive enzyme inhibitors which can interfere with the digestion of our food; various acids such as phytic and oxalic which prevent uptake of certain minerals, especially calcium; glucosinates which prevent the uptake of iodine – vital for thyroid function; even eating lots of fibre, such as bran (which also contains phytates), can hasten food through the gastro- intestinal system preventing some valuable nutrients from being absorbed.

file8651336976179 We have evolved alongside plants and as any gardener will tell you it is a constant battle to get them to do what we want them to do! They want one thing, we want another which is why so many vegetable and fruit growers create artificial conditions and use artificial chemicals to nourish the plants and destroy pests. I suspect that we ate very little vegetation until we were able to cook. Most plants would have been too tough, unappetising and too indigestible prior to the advent of fire. Our taste-buds would have told us if our digestive systems could cope with what we put in our mouths. There is speculation about how long we have had fire but it dates back to at least 400,000 years ago and it was that event that made some foods more palatable and digestible. Even so, our choice would have been limited to the foods that could be wrapped in leaves and cooked in the embers – it was a long, long time before we had cooking pots! Remember too that the leaves, roots and fruits we see in the supermarket now are the result of hundreds of years of selective breeding and (disastrously), genetic modification. These actions have made them bigger/sweeter/more attractive/have a longer shelf-life/etc. – but the anti-nutrients persist.

Weston A. Price researched the diets of people the world over during the early 1900s and found (plus many other things) that amongst primitive people, health and diet often went hand in hand. They usually inhabited remote places but all were growing, rearing and preparing their own food. They were (and some still are) the picture of health. Some were vegetarian but due to their preparation of grains, beans, nuts and roots, they were able to destroy most of the anti-nutrients prior to consumption. Their methods are not complicated but they do take some time – obviously they had to plan, which is something we are all so bad at now! Grains, beans and roots were soaked with the addition of acid – vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt, whey etc. for a day or so. Only then were they suitable for cooking. Al dente is not something they knew of (especially as it is Italian!), because these foods need lengthy cooking to destroy even more anti-nutrients. Possibly all they knew was that the foods were more digestible but what they had actually done is make the nutrients more bio-available and therefore their food gave them more positive nutrition. I must stress that the vegetarians that were studied also ate raw dairy products and eggs too. Some will remember the “raw” phase that gripped the 1970s. Many jumped on this bandwagon and ended up very ill. Raw beans were responsible for many people being rushed to hospital with severe stomach pains. There is lots more on the preparation of beans, grains and nuts here.

One of the worst foods for us is soya. There is some very interesting reading here and whilst this is someone’s opinion, it is one I and many others share. Just to add insult to injury, about 90% of the soya produced is genetically modified and fed not only to us but to animals, making them sick too.

These are just some of the battles that we have to do with plant foods. There are more – foods belonging to the nightshade family for example – tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, aubergines etc. If we wish to eat plants, we take on this fight!

Just to put all this into perspective, organic, free-range meat and raw dairy have no anti-nutrients and make almost perfect nutrition for humans!

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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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Stop Counting Calories and Start Counting Nutrients – Part 1

It was during the 1980s that food nutrition labelling became compulsory and specific. I don’t remember exactly but it was probably at the same time that the government launched their nutritional guidelines – depicted now by the Eatwell Plate.

Most people will be familiar with it but as a rough guide – the plate is divided into three sections. In the first is for fruit and vegetables, the second for bread, cereals, potatoes and pasta and the third is again divided. It is divided into three segments, one smaller than the other two. The two larger are for dairy and protein foods and the smaller section for fatty/sugary foods.

There is no doubt that this way of eating is better than many diets – limiting “fatty/sugary” for one. (I agree with this as these foods generally contain highly processed seed oils rather than natural fats.) However, it falls short of advice for robust health.

This Eatwell Plate shows only the major food groups – proteins, fats carbohydrates and of course, as there isn’t a specific food group for fruit and veg, one has been created. What it fails in, is guiding us towards a nutrient dense diet – in fact it does just the opposite. The two largest sections on the plate are not (in general) nutrient dense. Let’s take each separately.

Carbohydrates: There are no essential carbohydrates but we are told we must base all our meals on these foods. That means potentially, you could be eating grains – usually wheat – three times daily and then there are the snacks on top. Carbohydrate foods are filling – temporarily, but they are not satisfying. Imagine the toast, potatoes and crumpets without butter… or the pasta or rice without their sauces.

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Some years ago I attended an eating disorders conference. One of the speakers – a doctor specialising in these disorders – told us of a very unscientific experiment that he and some of his colleagues had performed. The inserted naso-gastric tubes into each other and tested the effects of two foods on their ability to satiate hunger. Firstly, they filled each other’s stomachs with liquidised carbohydrate foods. The result – fullness without satiety even after some time. In other words, even though they felt stuffed – they still felt they wanted something else. Some time after the first experiment, they inserted the tubes into their duodenums – just past the stomach – and introduced a tablespoon of fat. It is the duodenum that communicates with the brain that we have eaten and as it takes about twenty minutes for the stomach to start emptying, it is wise not to eat too quickly! What they found was that the feeling of satiety was almost instant. As I said this is not real science but I think it does demonstrate that eating lots of carbs is not a good idea and eating some fats, is.

There are many problems with the over-indulgence of carbohydrate foods. Here are a few:
1) They fill us up temporarily but we feel the need to eat again soon after which encourages snacking. This effect also leaves less room for nutrient-dense foods.
2) They increase our need for vitamin C.
3) Carbs are broken down to their simplest form for absorption – glucose. Glucose is sugar.
4) They contain anti-nutrients. These can stop absorption of some minerals and play havoc with digestion.

Fruit and Vegetables: On the Eatwell plate, these look so healthy – depicted in lovely bright colours, typifying what we believe to be healthy and to some degree, they are. There are of course plusses as many of the foods in this group, do contain usable nutrients including fibre. Also, they can prevent snacking on worse choices. In my view, this group of foods has become more important as we now don’t eat the parts of an animal that at one time, was the main source of our nutrition. I’ll say more about this when I talk about protein.

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So here are some of the draw-backs to this group of foods:
1) Historically, fruit and vegetables in the northern hemisphere were largely available from Spring to Autumn only. What we consumed outside this time may have been fermented and thus we extended the season and also the nutrition! This is an unlikely scenario in pre-history.
2) Much fruit and vegetables on the shelves in our supermarkets comes from abroad. This means that most produce is picked before it is ready and has to travel miles. “Fresh fruit and vegetables” are usually anything but – including organic.
3) In order to preserve freshness, producers use a variety of methods; washing salad with a chlorinated solution, spraying citrus and other fruit with wax and irradiating. All these methods are good for the shelf-life of the product but not for us.
4) Most of our greengrocery has undergone enhancements! Bigger, sweeter, improved keepability – what we think of as natural just isn’t. We have played around with genetic modification for years. Most products have been subjected to this over time but the more recent genetic modifications are exceptionally harmful to us and wild animals.
5) Pesticides. If you are not eating organic produce, you will be ingesting hundreds of toxic chemicals. It is not just a matter of washing the produce – the chemicals will be found throughout in many of these foods. The idea to increase the current recommendation of “five-a-day” to eight will just tax your liver even more to get rid of these poisons.
6) Many of the nutrients in fruit and veg are not bio-available to us.
7) Some fruit and veg will contain antinutrients – see above.
8) It is a fact that some people will just eat fruit rather than vegetables. This provides far too much of the sugar “fructose” which can be damaging to health in quantity.

I will conclude this blog next time as it is rather lengthy!

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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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Dietary Madness

­Is it really so surprising that people have lost faith in dietary recommendations from the government? I am constantly hearing “They keep changing their minds” and “eggs are full of cholesterol” and “I have to eat five-a-day”. The latest of course, butter is good, margarine is not.

 

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or…

 

 

The bee in my bonnet keeps on buzzing. My aim is to help people stay healthy by thinking for themselves and not just going along with the latest food guidelines. I’m hearing arguments based on the government recommendations or even quoting programmes on the television. Even my son told me I should rethink some of my recommendations based on a TV programme he’d seen!

Let’s take this point by point:
“They keep changing their minds.” When I was pregnant with my son twenty-seven years ago, I remember sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s surgery. As a nurse, I interestedly read the leaflets and posters that were displayed. One poster was about what you should and shouldn’t eat for your heart-health. Now I’m not talking about a long time ago, but the advice then was all about cutting down on fats generally and the fat you should have if you have any, was polyunsaturated – the vegetable oils. So included in the list of no-nos was avocados. AVOCADOS!! Avocados are very rich in monounsaturated fat. Also, all meat must be trimmed of visible fat and actually, just reduce red meat. Don’t eat butter – eat margarine and use polyunsaturated vegetable oils for cooking. All dairy products must be low-fat. Of course, it is not just fat about which advice has changed – there are many other foods too.

Recent reports that have hit the newspapers and TV news, (a review of available research), show that there is absolutely no hard evidence that saturated fat from animals contributes to heart disease or illness of any sort. It also showed that added polyunsaturated fats have never been shown conclusively to protect from heart disease or illness of any sort (and there are many studies that show quite the reverse). The polyunsaturated fat contained in foods such as nuts and seeds, is fine in moderation as these foods also contain other valuable nutrients. Monounsaturated fat is still there in the middle but should stay as it occurs naturally in some foods. Unsaturated fats are unstable when heated and can become toxic. Saturated fats are much more stable.

“Eggs are full of cholesterol.” When I was young, the advert was “go to work on an egg”. Enter the “cholesterol” buzz-word and “salmonella in eggs” scandal of the 80s.  In my view, this did untold damage. Families went from serving a nourishing and sustaining breakfast, to serving cereals with skimmed milk and toast (which are nutrient-poor) which would probably last until mid-morning when hunger would again, kick in. If I told you that there was an article in the Nursing Times (info reaches the NT after the British Medical Journal) about ten years ago, telling health professionals that eggs are no longer a food which contributed to high cholesterol, would you be surprised? This is a great article from the doctor who really knows about cholesterol. Doctor Malcolm Kendrick celebrates the passing of the  Cholesterolasaurus. Worth a read!

“I have to eat five-a-day.” Well, to start with, other countries have different guidelines – some say six, some ten, some separate the veg and fruit – so who’s right? This recommendation came about in the early nineties in an attempt to improve the nation’s nutritional status. Not a bad idea but this pushed people to more poor nutritional behaviour. Three bananas and a pint of orange juice? A can of baked beans and smoothie? A large jacket potato with tomato sauce and sweetcorn? I could go on. The five-a-day recommendation was not based on good science.

“Mum, you need to rethink the advice you give.” Please, when you watch a television programme about diet, nutrition or any other health issue, you need to think about why the programme was made in the first place. Does it benefit anyone in particular? (Think food manufacturers, programme makers etc.) Is it good viewing – after all, who wants to sit and watch a dry documentary? Television programmes are sound-bites and cannot possibly show a balanced view of the subject in the given time frame. Unfortunately, many TV programmes about health are sensationalist at best and exploitation of unfortunate human beings, at worst.

The advice I give wavers very little as it is based more in history (and pre-history) than science. Science can be so amazing and illuminating but it can also be poorly carried out or interpreted and the results of poor science can often influence our whole lives. This is very much what has happened with conventional nutritional advice.

My advice is, eat real food. Grow fruit and veg yourself or buy organic. There is absolutely no point in eating five-a-day if you are eating genetically modified food or that grown with the use of pesticides, in fact you will be doing yourself more harm than good. Buy meat from animals that have been reared the way they are supposed to live – on grass, in forests, trees and fields, living outside for the most part. Organic meat producers only administer medication if their animals are sick, unlike the conventional farming methods which see the animals given cocktails of drugs on a regular basis. Eat organic eggs from hens living in a pasture. Dairy food is wonderfully nutritious but buy raw milk products if possible or at least organic.

Spring LambsThe other requirement is cookery skills. Please learn to cook and ensure that your children do the same. This is the only way that we increase our chances of living healthy, disease-free lives and ultimately, survive a bit longer as a species.

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The “Wise Traditions” Conference Part 2

Beverly Rubik PhD is a US doctor whose main interest is research into the subtle energies of living systems, including the human energy field and whole-person health and healing.

I found her talk “Health Under the Microscope” absolutely fascinating. She has spent much time looking at human blood microscopically and how it changes with the diet taken. She showed us slides of blood taken from people eating the standard “healthy” organic diet. This meant that their diet was largely composed low fat meats, bread, cereals, margarine and other refined vegetable oils, soya and other beans, fruit and vegetables. Not bad you might think considering this food was organically produced.

file931348057842The second set of slides showed the blood from largely organic foods as recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation. Broadly, this means the diets consisted of eggs, natural meat with its fat and organs from animals that have been pasture fed, raw dairy including butter, fresh fruits and vegetables in season,  nuts, seeds and grains that have been properly prepared.

The people that were studied were split into the two groups as above and the ages in each ranged from young adults to early old age. All participants had been on their diets for several months to many years. The results were startling.  From the Weston A. Price style diet, slide after slide showed – in Dr. Rubik’s words – perfect blood – even the older participants. The different cells could be seen clearly and there was no clumping.  There was also a rather strange – and as yet unidentified – cell which is thought to be a beneficial microbe of some sort. This was very odd as up until now we have believed that our beneficial microbes do not live in the blood stream, but in our gut and on our skin.

In the group consuming the standard healthy, organic diet, the blood slides were very different. The cells appeared sticky and they clumped together. It is thought that this is not in any way beneficial to our health and as well as in the obvious problems within the blood stream there will be knock-on effects in other body systems. Interestingly, there were microbes in the blood of these people too, but they have been identified as pathogenic not probiotic. There is more on this research here.

I have seen Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride speak at several conferences diet and her enthusiasm never wavers. She is the doctor who devised the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome). The diet has become very popular as it works. Very basically, she has determined that dysbiosis  (the wrong mix of gut microbes) in the gut affects our mental and physical health. At this conference she spoke about GAPS but also about immunity.

Our immune systems are determined at birth and during child hood. Dr. McBride outlined the importance of the childhood illnesses – to allow a child to develop fevers is to educate the immune system. Babies can often be sickly after birth as they become a dumping ground for toxins that a mother has in her body! Maybe this is why some babies develop skin rashes for no apparent reason. Autistic children are often the first-born in the family and it could be partly due to this phenomena. During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone suppresses immunity so that the baby is not rejected, but it too has a suppressed immune system making it vulnerable to infective agents. Coupled with the toxins from the mother’s body (from hair dye, make-up, household cleaning products, showering/bathing products) creates problems for new-borns. Some of the chemicals present in these products can attach themselves to tissues in the body causing the typical symptoms of diseases such as Ehlers Danlos syndrome (joint hypermobility) and this is very common amongst autistic children.

Children living in “unhygieneic”  surroundings are usually more robust that those file0002010398688children living in “germ-free” surroundings . Gut parasites are part of our normal gut flora and are important. Whilst our immune systems are busy controlling pathogens, they are far less likely to attack healthy tissues as in some auto-immune diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Candida is a yeast that is found in the human gut where it belongs. It provides a great service to us – absorbing mercury which can be toxic to humans. Too much mercury being ingested, invites candida to overgrow and create problems such as IBS. Mercury is a component of dental amalgam fillings and in some people the mercury can leak into the gut causing gut (and other) disturbances. So much of that which we take for granted can be detrimental to our immunity.

Another thing I learned, is that the appendix is a vital part of our immune system. For years it has been taught that the appendix is a “left-over” from when we were herbivores but modern research shows that it is a “bank” for beneficial microbes. This sounds reasonable to me. If we are affected by a holiday-tummy bug, much of the gut microbiota will have been flushed out. The appendix then releases a new colony and you get better! The body is an amazing thing and has a trick up its sleeve for all eventualities.

In her closing talk, Sally Fallon gave us her personal health tips. She believes in eating regularly, three times daily. This is how it used to be! Grazing is a current fad – no doubt born from our “on-the-hoof” lifestyles. In my view, there are few people who would benefit from a grazing diet and it can contribute to insulin sensitivity. She also outlined the importance of a big breakfast – not just a piece of toast or a bowl of nutrient-poor cereal. Meats must be eaten with their natural fats, we should consume broths made from meat bones and natural salt is very important for many functions in the body. (Himalayan crystal salt or Celtic grey salt are both good.)

I hope at least some of this makes sense. It has been rather a difficult task trying to decipher the hieroglyphics I managed to scribble down during the talks!

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