Lockdown with closed restaurants and and a desire to hunker down and stay safe at home gives us opportunities to make more meals ourselves and experiment a bit more. If you’re not feeling confident enough to try your hand at exotic dishes, keep it simple. I came across a recipe book a few years back called Three & Four Ingredient Cookbook this is one of those rare books that reads exactly as it says on the cover – It’s not only easier to cook with fewer ingredients but I found there’s a truism in ‘less is more’!!! Another option is to use one of those many companies that will for a reasonable price send you all the ingredients you need for a slap-up meal and a recipe card with how to do it instructions. We have had a few of these and were seldom disappointed.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Transition to retirement has been shown to be associated with unhealthier dietary intake. A decrease in the overall diet quality and intakes of recommended foods and nutrients and an increase in nutrients or foods of which consumption should be limited. Negative changes in dietary intake appear to be particularly marked in men with low income at baseline and so may reflect food choices made when money is short. However, some forward thinking about your post-retirement diet especially if your main meal is at the works canteen might be in order.
The saying ‘everything in moderation’ is perhaps apt in this discussion. There are few if any ‘never foods’ so the advice here is to just be ‘sensible’. Knowledge is power, so here’s a little information – much is common sense and some controversial! However, the advice for weight loss (or gain) will be very different. This is about health and staying well not changing your size!
A food pyramid is a chart that can be used to see how many servings of each food should be eaten each day. It is for having good health. Grains give carbohydrates and some vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits give a lot of vitamins, some minerals, and few fats, but fruits often have more calories and sugar.
Prepared foods are convenient by their nature. However, to make them look and taste better additives are used, colouring, stabilisers etc. Most would be pretty bland without the addition of flavour enhancers and we are not just talking E numbers here but the rather more traditional Sugar, Salt and Fat. Most will be aware that sugar and salt can enhance flavour but fat? Yes! Simply think of the difference in taste between a boiled potato and a French fry! But watch out for “low fat” options with high sugar and/or salt or any other combination such as “low sugar” with high fat.
The GI is a number from 0 to 100 assigned to a food, with pure glucose arbitrarily given the value of 100, which represents the relative rise in the blood glucose level two hours after consuming that food. The GI of a specific food depends primarily on the quantity and type of carbohydrate it contains; but also is affected by the amount of entrapment of the carbohydrate molecules within the food, the fat and protein content of the food, the amount of organic acids (or their salts) in the food, and whether it is cooked and if so how it is cooked.
Meat, Fish, oils, eggs and dairy do not contain carbohydrates and thus do not have a GI Index.
Cooking method and food combinations affect the Gycaemic Index (GI) of a meal.
As an example, these factors affect the GI of Potatoes
Variety – GI can vary from 53 to 111
Preparation – Leaving skins on adds fibre, which can reduce the potato’s effect on GI.
Cooking Method – We wouldn’t contemplate eating raw potatoes but cooking a sweet potato approximately doubles the GI. The longer the cooking time at high temperature the more simple sugar formation occurs and the more its GI is likely to increase. (It seems chewing is important in digestion breaking down large pieces of food into smaller parts allowing salivary Amylase, the enzyme that catalyses the breakdown of starch (Latin amylum) into sugars, thus starting a process that increases the GI)
Baking also employs dry heat, which dehydrates and degrades starches, concentrates sugars and therefore increases GI. Conversely, the microwave exposed the food to heat for the shortest amount of time and increased the sweet potato’s GI the least where the rapid heating mechanism is responsible for deactivating the process that turns starch into sugar.
Boiled potatoes have a lower GI and interestingly even lower if eaten cold or even reheated!
Food Combinations – In a single meal Fat – oil, Acid – Vinegar or citrus and Protein can lower the GI of a meal so, steak and chips might not be so bad after all and certainly better on the palate than the same number of calories in potatoes alone!
However, GI isn’t everything and although French fries have a lower GI than boiled potatoes they have many more calories in the fat!
Isaac Newton 1643 – 1727
Newton’s first law of thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. This has sometimes been used rather simplistically to describe maintaining a healthy weight – Energy in (Calories in food IN) = Energy out (Calories burned during exercise and metabolism) thus weight remains stable, eat too much or exercise too little and you will gain weight.
FRUIT & VEGETABLES
Scientists at University College London analysed the eating habits of 65,000 people who had responded to the Health Survey for England over eight years and found that the more fruit and vegetables people ate the better and that vegetables had a greater protective effect than fruit.
Eating at least seven portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day was associated with a 25% lower risk of cancer and 31% lower risk of heart disease or stroke.
However, it may be that that seven portions are too much for many and thus a disincentive for some to even try. The good news for them is that a new and even bigger study carried out by Chinese and American researchers says five will do.
The two teams agree on the main issue that eating more fruit and vegetables than most of us currently do is a very good thing. The evidence suggests that it lowers the risk of dying from heart disease or cancer. They found that the average risk of death from all causes was reduced by 5% for each additional daily serving of fruit and vegetables, and the specific risk of cardiovascular death – from heart disease or stroke – was reduced by 4% for each additional daily serving of fruit and vegetables. But the risks did not drop any further for those people who ate more than five portions a day.
They also found that eating more than five portions of fruit and vegetables did not from cancer. Other risk factors may be more important such as obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and drinking.
Small-sized fresh fruit
A single portion is 1 piece of fruit such as an apple, banana, pear, orange or nectarine. Half a grapefruit, 1 slice of papaya, 1 slice of melon (5cm), 1 large slice of pineapple or 2 slices of mango 2 plums, 2 satsumas, 2 kiwi fruit, 3 apricots, 7 strawberries or 14 cherries.
A portion of dried fruit is around 30g. This is about 1 heaped tablespoon of raisins, currants or sultanas, 1 tablespoon of mixed fruit, 2 figs, 3 prunes or 1 handful of dried banana chips.
A portion is 2 broccoli spears or 4 heaped tablespoons of cooked kale, spinach, spring greens or green beans, 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables, such as carrots, peas or sweetcorn or 8 cauliflower florets.
A portion is 1.5 full-length celery sticks, a 5cm piece of cucumber, 1 medium tomato or 7 cherry tomatoes.
Pulses and beans
A portion is 3 heaped tablespoons of baked beans, haricot beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, butter beans or chickpeas.
Potatoes don’t count towards your 5 A Day as they are classified nutritionally as a starchy food.
Juices and Smoothies
A small (Max 150ml) glass of unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies can only ever count as a maximum of 1 portion of your 5 A Day. However when blended or juiced fruit it releases the sugars much like cooking and reduces the fibre increasing the GI. Whole fruits are likely to cause tooth decay because the sugars are contained within the structure of the fruit.
Dairy and alternatives Try to have some milk and dairy food (or dairy alternatives) – such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais. These are good sources of protein and vitamins, and they’re also an important source of calcium, which helps to keep our bones strong.
EGGS (…and the cholesterol debate!)
The perfect fast food? Cheap to buy, come in compostable packaging, high in protein and easy to cook! Eating eggs alongside other food can help our bodies absorb more vitamins, too, adding an egg to salad can increase how much vitamin E we get from the salad.
However, for decades there has been debate on the health benefits of eggs with cholesterol front and centre. One egg yolk contains around half the daily amount of cholesterol that dietary guidelines recommended until recently. But cholesterol is crucial to our functioning, a building block in cell membranes and requited for the synthesis of vitamin D, testosterone, oestrogen and many other essential molecules.
Cholesterol is exclusive to animals, we as animals produce all the cholesterol, we need in our liver but also consume it from animal products, meat dairy and eggs etc.
Cholesterol is transported around our body by lipoprotein molecules in the blood. Every person has a different combination of various types of lipoproteins and our individual make-up plays a role in determining our risk of developing heart disease.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – referred to as “bad” cholesterol – is transported from the liver to arteries and body tissues. Researchers say that this can result in a build-up of cholesterol in the blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. But researchers haven’t definitively linked consumption of cholesterol to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease rather the emphasis is on limiting how much saturated fat we consume, which almost certainly does increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Foods containing trans fats increase our LDL levels and thus our risk. Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat associated with several negative health effects. Artificial trans fat is created during hydrogenation, which converts liquid vegetable oils into semi-solid partially hydrogenated oil, margarine etc. Along with prawns, eggs are the only food high in cholesterol that are low in saturated fat and while the cholesterol in eggs is much higher than in meat and other animal products, saturated fat increases overall blood cholesterol. Prof.Maria Luz Fernandez, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut in the US, found no relationship between eating eggs and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Eggs may pose even less of a health risk as cholesterol is more harmful when oxidised in our arteries as when cholesterol is oxidised, it can be more inflammatory. But we find that there are all kinds of antioxidants in eggs that may help prevent this.
Also, some cholesterol may actually be good for us. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol travels to the liver, where it’s broken down and removed from the body. HDL is thought to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease by preventing cholesterol from building up in the blood.
“People should be concerned about cholesterol that circulates in their blood, which is the one that leads to heart disease,” says Fernandez.
What matters is the ratio of HDL to LDL in our bodies, as elevated HDL counteracts the effects of LDL.
Trials have found that lean and healthy people are more likely to see an increase in LDL after eating eggs. Those who are overweight, obese or diabetic will see a smaller increase in LDL and more HDL molecules, So, if you’re healthier to begin with, eggs potentially could have a more negative effect than if you’re overweight – but if you’re healthier, you’re also more likely to have good HDL levels, so an increase in LDL probably isn’t very harmful.
However, researchers looking at data from 30,000 adults followed for an average of 17 years and found that each additional half an egg per day was significantly linked to a higher risk of heart disease and death. (They controlled for the subjects’ diet patterns, overall health and physical activity to try to isolate the effects of eggs.) They also found that each half egg per day led to a 6% increased risk of heart disease and 8% increased risk of mortality.”
Many studies suggest eggs are good for heart health. An analysis of half a million adults in China, published in 2018, even found the exact opposite: egg consumption was associated with lower risk of heart disease. Those who ate eggs every day had an 18% lower risk of death from heart disease and 28% lower risk of stroke death compared to those who didn’t eat eggs.
Egg yolks are one of the best sources of lutein, a pigment that has been linked to better eyesight and lower risk of eye disease, for example.
GOOD & BAD EGGS
Eggs contain Choline, which may help protect us against Alzheimer’s disease. It also protects the liver. But it may have negative effects, too. Choline is metabolised by gut microbiota into a molecule called TMO, which is then absorbed into people’s livers and converted to TMAO, a molecule associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Nuts are high in fat, low in carbs, and a great source of several nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium. An interesting study by Physiologists David Baer and Janet Novotny looked at how many of an almond’s, walnut’s, and pistachio’s calories can actually be used by the body rather than how many calories are in each nut.
For example 100 g of almonds contains 579 calories but not all of these may be available to be used as although nutrients are present this doesn’t mean the body can readily use them. This is the concept of “bioavailability.” Many factors beyond a food’s basic composition can influence the bioavailability of its calories. As was mentioned above preparation and variety matter so it’s no surprise that with nuts it depends on whether they are raw, roasted or ground and even how well they are chewed! The protein in nuts will also lower the GI of the whole meal.
LEGUMES & PULSES
Legumes are a family of plants foods. They include peanuts, soya, lupin, green beans, green peas and fenugreek. Dried seeds known as pulses are also part of the legume family. These include chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and other dried beans.
These foods are sources of protein, vitamins and minerals, so it is important to eat some foods from this group. Beans, peas and lentils are good alternatives to meat because they’re naturally very low in fat and high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Soya beans eaten as Tofu is another good source of protein.
Aim for at least two portions (2 x 140g) of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Fish is a low-fat high quality protein. Fish is filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D and B2 (riboflavin). Fish is rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium.
When buying meat, remember that the type of cut or meat product you choose and how you cook it can make a big difference. Choose lean cuts of meat and avoid mince which is high in fat, cut the fat off your meat and the skin off of chicken.
Grill meat and fish instead of frying.
Eating 50 grams of processed meat daily also increases the risk of prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and overall cancer mortality. A study of more than 200,000 women found that eating about 20 grams of processed meat each day increased breast cancer risk by 21 percent.
Rasher of bacon is about 30g, a large slice of ham 60g.
OILS AND FATS
Oils and spreads Although some fat in the diet is essential, generally we are eating too much saturated fat and need to reduce our consumption. Unsaturated fats are healthier fats that are usually from plant sources and in liquid form as oil, for example vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil. Swapping to unsaturated fats will help to reduce cholesterol in the blood, therefore it is important to get most of our fat from unsaturated oils. Choosing lower fat spreads, as opposed to butter, is a good way to reduce your saturated fat intake.
Hydration Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid every day. Water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee all count.
Fruit juice and smoothies also count towards your fluid consumption, although they are a source of free sugars and so you should limit consumption to no more than a combined total of 150ml per day. Swap sugary soft drinks for diet, sugar-free or no added sugar varieties to reduce your sugar intake in a simple step.
Alcohol also contains lots of calories (kcal) and should be limited to no more than 14 units per week for men and women. The calorific content of an alcoholic beverage depends on the type of alcohol, the volume served and the addition of mixers. As an example, 1 pint of standard strength lager contains approximately 136kcal, a 175ml medium glass of wine contains approximately 135kcal and a 25ml shot of spirit (40% vol) contains approximately 56kcal.
In spring and summer, most people will get all the vitamin D they need through sunlight on the skin and from a healthy, balanced diet. However, during the autumn and winter those of us well away from the equator will need to rely on dietary sources of vitamin D such as oily fish, fish liver oil, red meat, liver, egg (yolks) and some dairy foods, including full fat milk and yogurts. It is difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from food alone and so you should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micro-grams of vitamin D during autumn and winter.
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
So, lets finish where we started – ‘everything in moderation!’