Balancing a Diet

Hardly a day goes by without some new edict from an expert telling us what we should be eating or drinking. The advice is usually confusing, often contradictory and, frankly, requires more effort than I’m inclined to make over every meal.

Hubby and I eat a varied diet, heavy on tasty veg and fruits, with one portion of protein each day, including oily fish most weeks. That used to be enough – but expert opinions are going further. It seems that we’re meant to reflect the appropriate proportions of different foodgroups on every plateful. So I’m only allowed to eat a snack if I check that it’s properly balanced between protein, carbs, sugar, fat and micronutrients.

Come ON!

Did our remote ancestors hesitate during a mammoth hunt to wonder if they’d had enough greens that day?

We’ve become obsessed with tick lists and numbers. Every meal has to tick every box and have exactly the right number of Calories and grams of fat. We have several different labelling systems for our food and unregulated claims splashed across the packaging in big, bright letters.

At the same time, manufacturers and retailers are doing their best to make it too complicated for us to work out just how little nutrition we get from their food. They’re determines to hide the outrageous sugar content of their foods by highlighting the “low-fat” message. We crave fatty food and sweetness – it’s part of our DNA. The two factors are intrinsically linked – if you reduce one, you have to increase the other to compensate. We are also programmed to seek out saltiness – our bodies need salt to function, but too much is dangerous.

Processed foods are made attractive to us by playing on this trinity of basic desires. Unfortunately, competition has driven manufacturers to add more and more of each one. Just look at the ingredients list for things you would never expect to see – sugar in savoury sauces, salt added to sweet treats. This is how the Western diet has got so bad – we don’t realise what is being smuggled into our bodies by food we assume is good for us.

And as a result, we see diet fad after diet fad, exercise craze after exercise craze being advertised, endorsed by celebrities and people making money from our credulousness.

A healthy diet is not rocket science. If you strip away all the advertising, hype and deliberate complicating by food manufacturers, we can all improve our diets by following a few simple rules:

* Eat fruit and veg. Recommendation is five potions a day – just aim to eat one more than you do now. A portion is the size of your fist. Tinned is fine – but check the sauce / syrups they’re packaged in.

* Reduce fat. Avoid fried food and cut the fat off meat before you eat it.

* Ask your doctor’s advice on your weight and activity levels. Most of us need to shed a few pounds and exercise more, some are the opposite. Listen to your doctor and make small adjustments to your lifestyle.

* Pay attention to your food – enjoy it, savour it. Avoid snacking while you work or watch telly, etc.

* Be honest – with yourself if not your doctor. There are Calories in drinks, sauces and dressings – don’t assume these are too small to count.

* Don’t make excuses – make yourself a promise.

* Cook at home. It’s easier than you think and you can be sure what’s in it that way!

* Don’t let anyone make money out of your wish to be slimmer or fitter.

It’s hard to make big changes in your life, so just do it for one day a week. Cook a meal from scratch on a Sunday, dig out your exercise video for each Wednesday evening – whatever. If it makes you feel good, extend to another day. My chronic condition makes it very hard for me to exercise and my body doesn’t absorb nutrients properly, but that doesn’t stop me balancing a diet and keeping as fit as I can. Give it a try – what have you got to lose?

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Carnivores, Vegetarians and Corporate Dishonesty

So the news this morning is full of scandal that a major supermarket chain has been selling beefburgers that contain non-beef meats. One frozen burger was found to consist of 29% horse meat. 10 of the 27 tested contained meat from pigs. The media aren’t forthcoming about what else was in there – they just comment on the ingredients that are likely to upset people.

Now I’m a carnivore – I do eat meat, although I prefer to be sure it’s been treated humanely throughout its life. That’s my choice and I don’t try to force it on other people. I respect the fact that many people are vegetarians, or pescetarians or avoid certain meats on religious grounds. That’s their choice as long as they don’t try to impose it on others. But if I buy beefburgers, I don’t expect them to contain other meats.

There are laws in the UK and many other countries regarding ingredient lists on food products and I’m quite certain the supermarkets don’t list “horse meat” as one of these. As someone who has food allergies, I have a problem with manufacturers who list ingredients as shellfish or spices as if we don’t have a right to know which ones are present, but at least they’re being honest. If they claimed it was scallops and my allergens reacted to the prawns they’d put in, I’d have a right to sue. I don’t think you’d get very far claiming compensation for being fed horse meat when you thought it was beef, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lie!

It’s not common to eat horse meat in the UK, or guinea pigs or jellyfish. They’re all perfectly edible, but we either think the animal is too cute, or somehow disgusting. In other parts of the world, each of these would be acceptable table-fodder. As the human population grows, meat-eaters may need to broaden their horizons. The issue here shouldn’t be about what animals we should or shouldn’t eat – it’s about honesty. If we’re lied to, we no longer have a choice.

Supermarket chains have been criticised in the past for all kinds of rule-breaking. I don’t think a company that regularly builds stores that are significantly larger than they’ve got planning permission for will be worried about customers complaining they’ve been fed meat from the wrong animals. If it isn’t something they can be taken to court over, they aren’t going to worry. The publicity won’t hurt them in the long run and they’ve been making a good profit from their dishonesty for however long this has been going on.

Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Flogging a Dead Horse,” doesn’t it?