For the first time in history, human life expectancy is declining, not increasing. This is due entirely to the obesity epidemic caused by excess sugar and consumption of unnatural foods.
When I talk about ‘real’ food, I mean food in a state as near to natural as possible. I also mean local and seasonal food. Food (particulary fruit and vegetables) that is in local and in season is far richer in nutrients than out-of-season food with jet lag. Added to this, we need more of certain nutrients at different times of the year. For example, in summer, melons and figs are in season, both of which are excellent souces of potassium needed to replace electrolytes lost through perspiration. Citrus fruits — which ripen in winter — are full of vitamin C and immune-boosting powers. Asparagus, ready to eat in the Spring, is an excellent detoxifier and diuretic to get the body ready for Summer.
Plastic food on the other hand, is food that has been tampered with – processed, injected with chemicals, subjected to procedures of one kind or another. I also consider unripe fruit and vegetables that have been picked before they are ripe and then travelled half way around the world to be ‘plastic’ to some extent. Even the humble egg can come into this category. (Don’t even get me started on egg-whites in cartons. If eggs were meant to have no yolk, chickens would be born anaemic.) And egg-white omelettes – what on earth is that all about? Go on! Live life on the edge and eat the yolk as well. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s got a list of ingredients printed on the side, don’t eat it!
Although, strictly speaking, this doesn’t fall into the ‘healthy eating’ category, I would like to mention a very important and much maligned ‘nutrient’ here: the sun. Unless you absolutely cannot avoid being in the sun when it’s at its strongest and run the risk of getting burnt, lose the sunblock. The sun’s rays are necessary for production of vitamin D which is absolutely vital; a lack of vitamin D is in fact the most common nutritional deficiency and has more health implications than I can begin to list here. Of course, I’m absolutely not advocating getting burnt, but sensible exposure to the sun could literally save your life. For more information see here.
Back to nutrients by eating, Nigella Lawson is a good example of the real food versus ‘plastic’ food phenomenon. She always uses ‘real’ ingredients : butter, double cream, full-fat milk etc. and is horrified by the likes of margarine, artificial sweetners and low-fat yoghurt. Even at her heaviest, she had a beautiful, healthy hourglass figure with little abdominal fat. Admittedly at one time there was definitely too much of her, but she was always a healthier shape than a ‘plastic’ food eater, who carries fat around the middle (due to the insulin spiking and endocrine tampering). I was absolutely horrified recently to see someone create a supposedly ‘calorie-light’ version of Nigella recipes; all this will do is ensure that people end up eating more (nutrient-poor) food and feeling less satisfied. My only criticism would be that Nigella could use more unrefined products such as whole flour and cane sugar in her recipes.
People don’t expect their cars to run on fuel that has been bleached, bloated with water and then mixed with salt, sugar and citric acid. Yet some expect this of their bodies when they eat food virtually devoid of nutrition. While a car thus treated would end up on the tip, the miracle of nature is that our bodies try their very best to compensate for a lack of nourishment. If we’re too ‘acidic’ for example, we leach alkalising calcium from our bones to try to rectify the situation. But you can imagine the alarming scenario if this goes on too long. (Cars, being man-made, are less forgiving.)
One of the more bizarre examples of plastic food is a spray-on margarine called ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’. Frankly, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Illegal! Its claim to fame is that it contains zero calories per spray. That alone should set off alarm bells. To add insult to injury, I saw an advertisement suggesting that pancakes made in this way would be a healthy choice for children. Err no, a healthy choice for children would be a couple of pancakes (as opposed to a great stack) made with whole milk, free-range eggs and cooked in butter. If children are becoming obese it’s because they’re consuming too many ‘empty’ calories and products such as this. Their bodies are sent into panic-mode, wondering when they will next see proper nourishment.
For each teaspoon of margarine consumed each day, risk of cardiovascular disease is raised by 10%. This is not the case with butter or duck and goose fat. The problem is that people in industrialised countries have been told for so long that animal fats are The Devil’s Work that they have developed a Pavlovian response of disgust to anything cooked in it.
When I was a growing up in England, it was commonplace to eat things cooked in lard or suet and I have no recollection of obese or even particularly overweight people. The first time I ever saw somebody who would now be described as morbidly obese was in the USA when I was seven. Unfortunately the UK has followed on fast. The latest statistics show that 23% of the British population is obese and that deaths from cardiovascular disease are 122 per 100,000. In France the obesity figure is 9.4% and the cardiovascular disease death rate 39.8 per 100,000. Yet it’s in France (particularly here in the south-west) where the consumption of food rich in saturated fats in greater and where people live longer, healthier lives.
These statistics are of great inconvenience to those who propogate the idea that eating fat, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease are all linked. They get round this by calling it The French Paradox. But it’s not a paradox at all! The theory that there is a link between saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular disease took root in the 1970s following a seminal study by American researcher Ancel Keys. The study has been disproven numerous times since. But the damage was done and the food and pharmaceutical industries were keen to sustain the theory that created a niche market for them. For more information see here.
The simple truth is that we are designed to digest and metabolise animal fats and other naturally-occuring fats. We are not designed to deal with oils and fats that have been tampered with.
Now that I’ve vented my spleen on the subject of oils and fats, I’m going to turn to sugar. There is no doubt whatsoever that sugar in excess is very bad for you. Numerous studies have linked it to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, cancer, lowered immunity and behavioural problems (particularly in children). As if all this isn’t enough, consumed in excess it also causes weight gain and gives you wrinkles. In short, sugar shortens your life in the same way that tobacco or other drug use does.
The more quickly sugar hits your system, the more damage it does due to the insulin surge it creates. Sugars and starches eaten in their natural, unrefined form as part of a meal also containing fats and protein, will be digested slowly and enter the bloodstream over several hours. However, when sugar (particularly refined sugar) is eaten alone it enters the blood stream quickly causing a ‘sugar rush’. The body tries to protect itself by flooding the bloodstream with insulin, but repeated sugar onslaughts will end up wearing this finely-tuned process down, which is when health problems start to appear.
Did you know that in order to eliminate the sugar in one can of coke, you would have to run for an hour? And don’t imagine that a ‘light’ option is any better; in many ways it’s worse because there are certain ingredients that aren’t eliminated by the body at all, no matter how far you run. So, while coke is second-to-none for dissolving rust and for general heavy-duty household cleaning tasks, for drinking; not so much.
Artificial sweeteners, most of which are toxic chemical cocktails, are not the answer either. Not only are these substances toxic, causing mayhem in the endocrine system, they also have extremely undesirable actions on the brain. They send messages to say that chemicals have been consumed that contain absolutely nothing of nutrional interest and the brain responds by sending hunger pangs and the body cries out for more food.
The good news though is that if you’re as partial to sweet treats as I am, there are many natural sweeteners that are less damaging and may be consumed in moderation. These include cane sugar, raw honey, maple syrup, yacon syrup, agave and stevia. All of these natural sweeteners have lower glycaemic indexes than refined white sugar and are of some nutrional value.
Finally, it’s important to eat a wide variety of food. The healthiest food in the world will produce counter productive side-effects if consumed alone. Foods that are eaten in the biggest quantities are the most likely to cause intolerance, wheat and dairy products being prime examples of this. Wheat is particularly ubiquitous (look on the label of any ‘ready to eat’ product). Although there is no overall ‘healthiest’ grain, it is very important to eat a wide variety for optimal nutrition. Whole wheat, for example, does not supply the full spectrum of B vitamins and is a poor source of iron and zinc and brown rice and cornmeal contain no protein (more information).