Today I am writing about food. I am not a nutritionist but I am very interested in the food we eat and it’s effect on our health. I’m going to attempt to come up with some simple guidelines for healthy eating based on everything I have read and researched, and on my own experience of what works and what doesn’t. Samuel Hahnemann, the founding father of homeopathy, recognised the need for a moderate, nutritious diet, and realised that poor or excessive diets could be “obstacles to cure”. If the soil is not fertile, seeds cannot grow, and if the body is struggling to find enough nutrients to function, it will not have the energy to heal itself or to respond as effectively to medicine that is put in.
Sugar is bad for us. Our bodies try to balance the glucose intake by producing more insulin. Over time this can lead to insulin resistance, glucose build-up and type 2 diabetes. It also produces mood-swings, cravings for more sugar as energy levels drop, and inflammation in the body. As you start to become insulin resistant, the liver produces more triglycerides (fats in the blood) which the body finds hard to process, and we end up with more fat in the body. Glucose attacks proteins and ages us: we might notice the wrinkles on our face, but it also ages the cells in our bodies, leading to greater risk of disease and problems with fertility, where the ideal is to keep the egg and sperm young and healthy for as long as possible. By sugar I mean, of course, refined sugar but also most of the sugar substitutes such as honey, maple syrup, agave, etc. While they may have some nutritional benefits that sugar lacks, they still cause similar problems with blood sugar. The only substitute that seems to have no down-sides is stevia in it’s pure, plant form.
Sugar is of course a carb, but I’m talking here about starchy carbs, grains, potatoes and so on. There is some debate about whether we’re designed to eat this food group at all given that grains were only introduced to the human diet about 10,000 years ago and weren’t eaten widely until much later, leading some to suggest that our systems are not sufficiently adapted to deal with the quantities we eat today. I don’t feel qualified to offer an opinion on this but I do know that some starches are better for you than others and that if you want to lose weight, cutting down on carbs is a good way to go. The more refined the carb, the more it acts like sugar in the body, leading to the problems described above. So, choose whole grains, brown rice, sweet potatoes over regular potatoes, and grains such as quinoa which also provide some protein. Many people have problems digesting wheat and gluten, so if you think that might be you, try cutting them out for a while in favour of other grains.
Contrary to popular belief, fat does not make you fat. As we have seen, sugar leads the body to produce fat that it cannot process, and without that glucose the fat we eat does not get stored as fat. Studies have shown that low-fat diets are not effective for weight loss. Dr John Briffa even goes so far as to write in his book Waist Disposal that, “Taken as a whole, the scientific evidence simply does not support the notion that saturated fat is bad for the heart.” Partially hydrogenated and trans fats are found in processed foods and should be avoided. Fats that are good to use are olive oil (though not at high temperatures), avocado oil, butter and coconut oil.
Dairy foods can be a source of calcium but many people don’t tolerate them well and milk is the most common food allergen in the western world. As we grow up we lose the ability to process lactose, which can lead to mucous produced as part of an immune response. Also associated with this problem may be mood swings, aches and pains, arthritis, infertility and some cancers. If you don’t experience any negative affects from dairy produce, it might still be worth limiting the amount you consume, and certainly choosing organic wherever possible for the most nutrients.
Fruit contains many wonderful, nutritional benefits. It is good to be aware that it contains a lot of fructose (fruit sugar) and that some fruits contain more than others. For example, apricots are quite low in fructose whereas mangos are relatively high. So, don’t go mad on fruit with high fructose levels, but overall it’s a good thing.
Vegetables are amazing! Eat as many as you can cram in during the day. They are packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals as well as containing complex carbohydrates and protein. The body receives different benefits from raw and cooked foods so it’s best to have a mixture. A recent study shows that organic vegetables have a higher level of nutrients than non-organic, they also contain much much less pesticide residue, cadmium and nitrogen. Go organic!
7. MEAT & FISH
There is controversy over whether meat is good for you or not. It is an excellent source of protein and protein is great for sating the appetite, and essential for building tissue and fuelling cells. My advice would be to eat it in moderation (especially red meat) and to try to avoid processed meat, which is full of chemicals such as nitrites and nitrates. Fish is fabulous, but try to avoid farmed or the larger fish such as tuna and swordfish, because they contain high levels of mercury. Instead you could have wild salmon or haddock, for example. We all could do with more omega 3 and it’s great for the brain, so if you don’t eat fish, try a supplement. As with vegetables, go organic for meat and fish wherever possible: the animal conditions are much better and you won’t be on the receiving end of a chain of antibiotics. It also tastes much nicer.
Everything in moderation seems to be the key with drinks, with the exception of sodas (whether sugar-full or sugar-free), which have a similar affect to sugar and can contain nasty chemicals to boot. A little alcohol or coffee are fine, but mostly it’s important to drink at least 1.5 litres of water a day.
There’s so much more I could have written but I wanted to keep it as simple as I could. These are the guidelines I live by, but I hope no one would ever become too inflexible or dogmatic about them. If you, like me, are lucky enough to have as much food as you need, I believe it can be a wonderful vehicle for creativity, sharing and pure pleasure.
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