Nutrilicious has moved

I have news: My blog has moved!

 

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Much as I loved writing a blog on WordPress – which make is soooo easy – I wanted my blog to be with my website. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

And that’s where it is now. I have migrated all posts over to Squarespace. You’ll find it here:

Nutrilicous – Learn to Love Real Food

At the bottom of each post is as usual the option to like or share the post or make a comment, and at the bottom of each page is the option to subscribe to the blog. I’d be thrilled if you’d followed me over!

In any case: Thanks for reading – commenting – sharing the nutrilicious blog so far. Good stuff!

 

 

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Let’s make time

“I don’t have time to cook.”

“It’s too much hassle to make my own food.”

“I’m too busy to slave in the kitchen.”

No time to cook. This is one of the most common reasons people give for not being able to eat healthily. But is this really true? Many a ready-meal has to be defrosted, and if you order in you’ll have to wait or even drive somewhere to pick up your take-away. Is that so much quicker? During the time it takes to organise fast food from somewhere, you could have quickly rustled up a home cooked meal.

If you cannot find the time to be healthy, you will sooner or later have to find the time to be sick.

How come that we do not have time anymore to execute one of the most basic tasks of human existence, something we have done for thousands of years, every day? There’s always been time, but now there isn’t, despite all the ‘time-saving’ devices we now have. Somehow, however, we always find the time to do for other things that need to be done:

Do we have time to brush your teeth in the morning? To shower? Do we have time to pay our bills? To wash our clothes? Fill in our tax return? Clean our house? Entertain our children? Walk the dog? Of course we do! After all, these are essential tasks, not all of which we enjoy, but they still get done, because needs must. To find the time to cook your own food, more than anything you need to understand that it is not optional, but just as essential as the tax return and tooth brushing.

We also seem to always find the time for what we want to do: We’ve got time to watch television, chat on the phone, play computer games, read books, hand around on social media, exercise (provided we want to, if we don’t there’s no time for that either) … Where do we find that time? It seems to just appear.

Over the last few decades the food industry has made a great and successful – effort to convince us that cooking is arduous, time consuming, boring, old-fashioned and most of all: unnecessary. Thanks to the industry’s efforts, we can just go to a supermarket or take-away and get something ready made. They will do all the work for us. Brilliant! Over that very same time span, however, we as a population got sicker and sicker. Chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, and auto-immune diseases are on the rise. Despite this, we are living longer. “Well, there you go then,” you might think. “We’re doing something right then.” Yes, we are living longer. But this is due to better medical care, not better health. Modern medicine helps us extend life … but in poor health. What good does it do, to see your 90s when you spend the last 25 years of your life on drugs, in pain, or incapacitated? If you want to live a long and healthy life, you are going to have to find the time to exercise and to make your own food. (For more on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, click here and here.)

 

If we leave the job of nourishing our bodies to the food industry, what can we expect? Our interest is to sustain ourselves, to eat well, to enjoy our food, to be healthy. The interest of the food industry is to make money, and those two are not compatible. Processed food is made with the cheapest ingredients, sourced wherever. It is treated for a long shelf life, cooked in vats rather than pots and pans, made with additives that give it an appetising colour and texture, stop components from separating, enhance flavour that isn’t naturally there, kill bacteria (ultimately including your own gut flora). You have no control over the amount of sugar, salt, and damaged fats that are in that ‘food’. Does that sound desirable?

Since we have time for what needs doing and time for what we want to do, maybe there is a way to carve out time for proper food.

  1. Know your WHY

Do you want to live a long and healthy life? You can make changes to your diet and lifestyle at any age, and it’ll always be worth doing. Think about your reasons to want to age healthily. I am sure you will come up with many. Make a list and put it in a prominent place.

  1. Change your perspective

Many of us today believe that in this day and age, cooking food from scratch is old fashioned and unnecessary. It’s not. It is as crucial as ever. If you need convincing, why not have a look around this blog to find lots of good reasons. Knowing that food preparation at home is as essential as brushing your teeth may help you find the time.

 

  1. Keep a time journal for a week

I know it’s tiresome, but it’s just a week. Maybe three days will be enough for you to see where your time goes. If you have time to watch television or go on social media, there’s an opportunity right there. And don’t worry: Cooking your own food doesn’t mean that you won’t have time for those things anymore. You will.

  1. Keep doing it

If you are not used to cooking, it may take a little longer to begin with, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it and the quicker it’ll be.

  1. Keep your kitchen well stocked

If there’s nothing in your cupboards but a few bottles of condiments, a dusty jar of Chinese-5-spice and some soggy old taco shells then, yes, maybe there’s not a lot you can do with that. But keep some wholegrain pasta or soba noodles, tins of tuna and salmon, beans, and a tube of tomato paste and you’d have enough to actually make something to eat. Always have some eggs around. Nothing makes a quicker meal than eggs.

  1. Prepare

Dedicate an hour at the weekend to food preparation: chop and roast some vegetables, pre-cook your grains, beans and lentils and put in them in the fridge in airtight containers or freeze in portions, wash and dry your salad leaves. Make a batch of your ‘dip of the week’ to take to work with you so it makes a quick snack with crudités or oatcakes.

  1. Keep your meals super simple

Develop an easy pattern, you could make ‘bowls’ for example: a grain (cooked barley, quinoa, or brown rice), some veg (pre-steamed or pre-roasted), some protein (cooked fish, halloumi, feta, lentils, beans, tofu), a dressing. Done. You could make quick salads: leaves, veg (e. g. tomatoes, spring onions, cucumber, sun-dried tomatoes, olives), some protein (see above), a dressing. Done. Stir-fries and curries are quick, too. Wraps, stuffed pita, quick pasta dishes. Search the net and you won’t be stuck for quick recipe suggestions.

  1. Cook more than you need

Once you’re at it, you may as well cook double the recipe. If you’re on your own, cook for two. If there are two of you, cook for four. Leftovers can either be frozen for a day when you’re really stuck for time or be your lunch for tomorrow.

  1. Have all the fast food you want …

 … as long as you cook it yourself.” (Michael Pollan) There’s nothing wrong with pizzas, burgers, curries and fish and chips. As long as you cook them yourself.

 

Got fat? Appreciate it!

Fat is not popular. We don’t want it on our body because it’s unsightly, and we don’t want it in our food, because it makes our bodies fat and sick. Or so we thought. Lately, fat has had bit of an image makeover, and that’s a good thing.

We need fat inside and around our bodies and in our diet. ‘Essential’ fats are called that, because they need to be part of our diet. The body cannot manufacture them. (The same is true for proteins: Proteins consist of varying combinations of 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential. Before you ask: No, there are no essential carbohydrates.)

But where does fat actually go?

Let’s start with the fat that we can see and feel, or some of it at least: adipose tissue. It is distributed around our bodies in different ways, depending on whether we’re male or female. In women, it tends to be distributed around the thighs and bottom, in men it tends to accumulate more around the middle and abdomen, but this is not necessarily written in stone. Where we accumulate fat matters to our health as well: Abdominal fat (the fat around the middle) and visceral fat (the fat around the organs) are now known to be detrimental to health whereas fat around the thighs and bottom is considered benign. In other words: Being pear shaped is healthier than being apple shaped. But we need some fat! Adipose tissue insulates us, protects our internal organs and cushions our bones.

Fat cells also store energy for us. If necessary and depending on the amount of fat we carry, we can survive on those energy stores for quite a long time. For many years scientists thought that that is all it does, and it’s a function that we should appreciate. We need to store calories in order to be able to sustain our greedy brains. Our brains are very large in comparison to our size, and to sustain a human brain requires a large amount of calories. Throughout most of the history of humanity, there was never a guaranteed safe calorie supply, and our adipose tissue is there to keep us going in lean times.

It was only fairly recently, in 1987, that research revealed that fat cells don’t just sit there doing nothing much (apart from the above), but that they actually manufacture steroid hormones (including oestrogen and testosterone). In 1994, it was discovered that adipose tissue also makes hormone-like substances called adipokines, which can act no only inside the cell they were made in and its immediate vicinity, but also around the whole body including the central nervous system. Together, hormones from adipose tissue and adipokines influence appetite and energy balance, insulin sensitivity, immunity, blood pressure, blood vessel formation, lipid metabolism, bone health and even reproduction. Adipose tissue is now recognised as an endocrine (ie hormone-producing) organ, and considering how many bodily functions are influenced by the hormones made in fat cells, it is not surprising that carrying too much or too little body fat has profound effects on our health. For more on those health effects, read Nutrilicious News, my newsletter which is due out tomorrow. It is not too late to subscribe!

Body fat is necessary to sustain life and the ability to reproduce. The ideal body fat percentage varies according to sex, age, and activity level. It can be measured using calipers, bioelectrical impedance analysis, a Bod Pod (a machine used at health centres) or DEXA Scanning, an X-ray method. All of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages. The last two are the most accurate, but are also the most expensive and least accessible. I offer bioelectrical impedance analysis at The Body Matters in Leigh-on-Sea, so if you are curious about your body fat percentage, why not book in with me?

Fat’s other essential jobs

The brain consists of 60% fat, 25% of which is cholesterol. Fat also coats all other nerve cells around the body, forming the Myelin sheath, which acts like the insulation around electrical cables, making sure nerve impulses can go where they are meant to go and not all over the place. But fat does not only make up the insulation, it is also an essential part of every cell wall. That is every cell wall, not just the walls of nerve cells.

The better the quality of fats you put into your body, the better the material your body has to work with. Unsaturated fats enhance the flexibility of cell walls, and flexible cell walls are what you want, because there is a lot of traffic into and out of cells. Flexible cell walls are what keeps your skin supple, your hair shiny, your heart beating strongly, your joints moving, your gut wall healthy, and much more. Having said that, cell walls can’t be too flexile either, or the cell might fall apart. Cholesterol has the job of keeping cell wall fluidity just right. Fats are not only a vital component of the membranes that form cell walls, but also the membranes of cell organelles, tiny structures inside each cell which perform vital functions, including the nucleus and mitochondria.

Cholesterol – a fatty substance, which really deserves its own blog post one day – is secreted by glands in our skin, which ensure that we remain waterproof, protects us from drying out when exposed to sun and wind and strengthens the skin’s barrier function that keeps undesirable microbes out.

So, be thankful for your fat. It provides essential functions without which we could not live.

There’s much more to say about fat. Today’s post was about fat in our anatomy. Watch this space for further posts about fat in our physiology, fat in our diet, and fat in our kitchens.

 

Peanuts – a mixed bag

Peanuts may not be the first thing that comes to mind if one was asked to list some healthy foods. They do, however, always top any list of highly allergenic foods, because peanut allergy is the most common food allergy in the UK: 1 in 50 people suffer from it. For those who are allergic, peanut consumption – even in minute quantities – can cause anaphylactic shock and even death. Strict avoidance is absolutely crucial. It is due to this prevalence of peanuts allergy that airlines have stopped handing out peanuts as a snack on planes. But even aside from allergies, peanuts are not getting much credit, because they’re fattening and unhealthy. But is this true?

Just to clarify – and I’m sure you already know this – peanuts are not as much nuts as they are peas: They are classed as pulses, just like peas, not that it matters all that much to the consumer, really. Originally at home in the South American Andes, they were discovered by the Spanish conquerors who took them to Africa. They grew so popular there that they soon formed a staple in many African cuisines and were later taken back to America with the slave trade. Today, Americans consume approx. 5.5 kg of peanuts per person per year, whereas in the UK we eat only about 1 kg.

Half of a peanut consists of fat, a quarter is protein and the remaining quarter are carbohydrates. This and the fat phobia of the last 60 years or so play a big part in the peanut’s poor reputation. Now that we know that fat is not what makes us fat – hooray – we can eat peanuts again! Or shouldn’t we?

Group of lumbermen trying to open a peanut
(c) GraphicStock

Continue reading “Peanuts – a mixed bag”

Plugged up?

It’s not something that is discussed much in circles of friends and colleagues – for obvious reasons – but constipation is common. In the UK, approx.12% of the general population suffer from chronic constipation. Twice as many women than men struggle with it, and the over 65s are most affected: 25% of free living older people experience constipation, but a shocking 80% of the elderly living in nursing homes.

Because bowel habits are not a popular topic of conversation, it is hard to know what is normal and what isn’t. If you can answer ‘yes’ to two or more of the following, you are probably constipated:

  • Do you ‘go’ less than three times per week?
  • Do you often strain (at least 25% of the time)?
  • Are your stools often hard or lumpy (at least 25% of the time)?
  • Do you often feel that you haven’t been able to excrete everything (at least 25% of the time)

A comparison with the Bristol Stool Chart may also help you see where you are.

Man sitting on toilet bowl
Continue reading “Plugged up?”

Vegetables are compulsory

If you regularly read my blog or newsletter or follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that I feel very strongly about “eating real food”, which of course includes vegetables, ideally in copious amounts and in great variety.

For many years I was incredulous when I came across people whose diet does not include vegetables, but apparently it really is not uncommon even for adults to have a diet free of vegetables – in any shape or form.

We can get away with avoiding lots of things in our diets: meat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free … This is our great advantage over most other animals. We can be very flexible with our diet, and this has allowed us to survive in all sorts of different climates. What we cannot do without, however, are vegetables. Cannot.

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Continue reading “Vegetables are compulsory”

Grandma didn’t need to know

We have so much information on nutrition available to us today. Newspapers, books, television, and of course the internet are full of it. Much of it is conflicting, much of it confusing. It seems incredibly hard to stay on top of things, and to know what’s best. Which sometimes make you wonder: Why do we need to know all this? For centuries, people didn’t know, yet they managed. Even our own grandparents didn’t know much about diet and nutrition, and they were absolutely fine. Why do we need to know?

It’s true, my grandparents probably didn’t know an awful lot about nutritional requirements or the nutritional properties of different foods. I was told to eat my carrots for better vision (true!), and to clear my plate for better weather (not true!). After that, there wasn’t much to say.

But then they didn’t need to know. When my grandmother was growing up, all food was organic. Pesticides and factory-farming where yet to be invented. Eggs came, of course, from free-range hens. All food was seasonal and local, fresh from the garden or field. Produce didn’t have to travel very far and so it stayed put to be harvested when ripe and ready, having accumulated plenty of vitamins and phytonutrients in the process. My grandmother didn’t care whether her carrots were wonky or the apples different sizes.

My family preserved the summer and autumn harvests of fruit and veg by canning, making jam and apple sauce, sauerkraut and pickles. Potatoes were dug up and kept in the cellar, where we slowly worked our way through the pile until it was almost gone by the time the next harvest came along.

Yes, sugar was in their lives – not least as a preservative for some foods – but if they wanted cake, waffles or biscuits, they had to make them. Such things were not available in the shops, and there wasn’t any spare money to spend it on such frivolities anyway. So they made their own cake, one a week, shared with the family on a Saturday or Sunday, birthday cakes as required, and once it was gone it was gone.

In her youth, my grandmother never saw a pineapple, avocado or coconut. Didn’t know tofu, soya sauce, miso or quinoa. But she also didn’t see crisps, bottled salad dressings, ready meals, pot noodles, chocolate spread and multi-coloured breakfast cereals.

Our culinary horizons are much wider, but so are our opportunities to make poor choices. My grandmother’s diet contained organic meat from grass-fed cattle, pork from pigs she had known in person, lashings of butter, lard and bacon, lots and lots of superfresh fruit and veg from her own garden. The food she cooked was stodgy and fatty and abundant – apart from wartime meals of course. And yet she was not overweight. Not everyone was slim back then, of course, but overweight and obese people were few and far between. Yes, people died from heart disease, diabetes and cancer then, too, but numbers have been growing consistently since the introduction of factory-farming, grain-fed cattle, hormone and antibiotic use in animals, pesticides, herbicides, environmental pollution, modern preservation methods such as radiation, high-fructose corn syrup, food processing on a large scale …

I grew up just when all that was changing. My grandmother carried on growing, preserving and eating food as she had always known how, so I still saw how it once had been done. But I have always known the shops to be full of convenience foods and as many sugary treats as I wanted. My mother – a young housewife in the Fifties – was thrilled when convenience foods became available. Not only was she not a keen cook, she also loved the modernity of it all. Cooking was so pre-war!

So, growing up I had my fair share of ready meals, fried and deep-fried foods, sugar and fizzy drinks. I always struggled with my weight, but I always had an interest in food and nutrition, so I read and learned and cooked and eventually got an education in diet and nutrition. Over time, I retrained my tastebuds, and most junk food doesn’t appeal anymore – no willpower required. That was quite a liberating experience. I am no stick-insect and never will be, but yo-yo dieting is a thing of the past.

What our grandparents ate is not a million years away. Instead of turning up our noses to the old-fashioned ways, maybe it would be worth looking at their menu with a fresh eye, give it a modern twist and enjoy the foods of our childhood again. Maybe it’s not necessary for everyone to go quite as far back as Paleo. Start by eating real food again. It’s a huge step in the right direction.