Intelligent Eating Blog
Protein holds a special place in nutrition, a powerful word linked to so many connotations.
When protein is mentioned, people immediately have an opinion, probably more so than any other nutritional term. Gluten free, omega 3, vitamin D, these terms seem to come and go with media presence, but protein, it’s an incredibly powerful term and one that isn’t going away anytime soon – in fact it’s on the rise in marketing.
So why is protein deemed so important?
There’s a lot of reasons why people place so much emphasis on getting ‘enough’ protein. Certainly there’s a few key reasons. Protein is essential for survival, if we don’t consume protein we will eventually die. We also must consume oxygen, but very few people are concerned about their oxygen intake – the drive behind this is marketing really, but the quest for more protein has stemmed from a few sources. One is the great depression in the United States, during this time it was more difficult to acquire foods thought of as essential for protein intake, namely animal based foods. This problem doesn’t exist now.
Protein and the authorities
The medical profession, health organisations, and universities have presented advice for a long time that protein is critically important for human health and specifically that we must get enough of it and often. Unfortunately their advice really can lead to ill health due to over consumption of protein.
These statements have now all been deemed as incorrect: (McDougall J. Dr) https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2005nl/050100pupushing.htm
“Although plant proteins form a large part of the human diet, most are deficient in 1 or more essential amino acids and are therefore regarded as incomplete proteins. (American Heart Association)” http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/circulationaha/104/15/1869.full.pdf?ijkey=bb50bbddf6e7f5d32226a52632df941c5de41993 – this was presented in 2007, and whilst has changed slightly, the emphasis is still on ‘getting enough protein’..
“Other protein sources lack one or more amino acids that the body can’t make from scratch or create by modifying another amino acid. Called incomplete proteins, these usually come from fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. (Harvard School of Public Health)” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/
How much protein do you need?
In short, this is really a non topic for the vast majority of people, in fact almost everyone living in the western world. There are exceptions, but they are rare and the people affected usually know about their condition. (some autoimmune diseases and congenital heart conditions linked to conditions such as PLE)
Yes, absolutely – some athletes and bodybuilders do demand more protein than the general population, but we’re talking about those who are training for hours and hours daily, not your average gym goer or amateur runner. The actual amount of protein required is far less than many people think, and certainly less than companies selling protein rich products would have you believe.
The general agreement now (-2016) is that 10% of calories should come from protein to meet an adults requirements. WHO – http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/nutrientrequirements/WHO_TRS_935/en/
So, for an adult consuming 2500 calories a day, 250 calories should come from protein to meet requirements. Protein provides 4 calories per gram, so 250 calories divided by 4 gives the number of grams of protein recommended per day, 62.5 grams. The NHS quotes lower at 50 grams. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/reference-intakes-RI-guideline-daily-amounts-GDA.aspx
There are other calculators, such as those that appear high in Google search results. These often quote daily requirements as hundreds of grams per day – note that these sites often sell ‘protein products’, so you can draw your own conclusions as to why they recommend consuming more (of their product!).
Most people consume a LOT more than this each day, which can often be problematic when the protein comes from animal sources (meat/fish/dairy/eggs). It’s problematic because these foods are good sources of protein but they also provide a lot of fat and cholesterol, in particular, saturated fat.
Do you get enough protein?
It’s as if people are concerned with making sure they’re getting enough protein, almost out of a fear that they’ll stop growing, or become deficient and die.
In reality, in the western world, the problem is excess, not deficiency. There is a disease caused by deficiency of protein and starvation, called Kwashiorkor. It’s extremely serious but very, very rare. In reality, starving people die of fat deficiency, not protein – from a lack of food. Not really a concern as such in the western world.
As you can see, the prevalence in the country you’re likely in right now is extremely rare. Contrast the cases of protein deficiency to the cases of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, kidney stones, arthritis, and obesity – all linked to high consumption of animal protein (protein from meat/fish/dairy/eggs), because the amount of animal protein is correlated to the amount of fat in most animal foods.
Protein deficiency, around 1 in 50,000 in the western world.
Diseases from overconsumption, around 1 in 2.
Whatever dietary patten you follow, you will get enough protein if you get enough calories; it is that simple.
Even the foods lowest in protein, such as potatoes at around 8% of calories from protein will provide enough following the NHS guidelines. Since you likely eat other foods than just potatoes, it’s really not a concern.
Nonetheless, if you really do believe the hype and want more protein then look to beans as a very clean source of protein, most come in at around 20% of calories from protein, with almost no fat and zero cholesterol. The same is true of common legumes, such as peas!
In short, yes – you get enough protein. You are marketed to believe you need more; and this message is relentless. In fact, you probably get too much protein. If you are going to be concerned about protein, be more concerned with the dangers of consuming too much protein, not too little.
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Now, a lot of people in the western world celebrate Christmas. However, whether you celebrate it or not, you’re likely to be exposed to a whole lot of information concering your diet and lifestyle in the time from now until Christmas. Some diet and lifestyle changes are completely natural, some less so!
Let’s break it down with a run up from mid October until the end of the year!
In the northern hemisphere the days get rapidly shorter throughout October and the weather becomes colder. This causes people to be less active because we are less likely to be outside during darkness (a survival mechanism). It also encourages higher car usage – the net effect is more time spent indoors and less physical activity. The result is a requirement for less calories to maintain bodyweight.
October also brings two other key events. One is Halloween and the other is the yearly adjustment of one hour back (a return to GMT for the UK) for the timezone.
These two events are a food marketers dream as the colder weather keeps people indoors longer in the evenings. This time of day is when many people still watch television and the television networks know this. By releasing addictive episodal shows, campaigns for food can really get a lot of advertising impressions. This includes halloween specific offers for foods in supermarkets and also food delivery companies.
The combination of colder weather, shorter days, and decreased physical activity alone present the opportunity for weight gain, but the additional food marketing really serves up a problem!
Much of the halloween food is junk food based around refined sugars, extremely easy to eat and extremely marketable. It’s often at point of sale near checkouts in supermarkets and where people queue to pay at petrol stations. Regardless of whether you celebrate halloween, you will be exposed to the junk food, and most people will succumb to the marketing at some point.
November means halloween is over and the real hard marketing campaigns get underway – food is a fundamental part of the marketing, but also shopping. Advertising campaigns encourage both online and physical shopping, both come with their advantages – most people will do both. Physical shopping leads to over indulgence, a mentality of ‘well it’s only once a year’. The entire season is geared up to spending, and that includes food – the quick fast food meal as a ‘reward’ after a day of shopping or the coffee shop coffee with the christmas (chocolate + cream) blend in the morning before work. It all adds up.
Even shorter days lead to more television watching, more advertising and less physical activity. For weight gain , it’s all very synergistic yet most people are unawareness of what is happening to them.
This is where the countdown really starts, a lot of people have just been paid, some have received Christmas bonuses, and again, the mentality of ‘it’s only once a year kicks in’. A lot of organisations have Christmas parties, a lot of bars and restaurants offer deals and the advertising campaigns become enormous. There’s also a friendly childish style to a lot of the marketing, which subconsciously reminds people of their own childhood and a no rules attitude towards food. At age 7, type 2 diabetes and heart disease probably isn’t on the radar, but at age 47 it should be something to be aware of!
Nonetheless, on goes the party – and that’s ok, life is about having fun and being happy. The time of year can bring people together, but through peer pressure into the mix and there’s a cocktail for a public health disaster, which is exactly what starts to happen.
Throughout December, people start to get ‘the flu’, and pharmaceutical companies know this. Television adverts for ‘cold and flu’ remedies appear. On the back of low physical activity, over indulgence, and stress, it may not be ‘flu’ at all…
Weight loss companies also start their marketing in December with their ‘new year, new you’ campaigns. Whilst very few start to build their best versions of themselves in December, the knowledge that this resource is now available drops the guilt threshold somewhat, allowing a bit more unhealthy behaviour.
This pattern continues right up until the start of January, and then suddenly a lot more people get ‘the flu’ – the mainstream media get involved at this point, naming flu strains and offering public health advice. After 3-4 months of relentless food marketing, low levels of physical activity, low levels of outdoor activity, and over indulgence, again this ‘flu’ may not be a surprise to those who have read this far!
It’s not all bad news, and there’s a lot of simple things you can easily implement to avoid gaining weight, and actually lose weight before Christmas!
These are likely the most effective strategies,
- Think about your future, not the short term future you’re ‘sold’ through advertising.
- Really become aware of the advertising and have a plan to counter it.
- Plan your meals through cooking batches of meals, so that you ALWAYS have a meal ready within a few minutes.
- Accept that those around you will not fully support you! Avoid confrontation, just accept their behaviour.
- Keep vegetables at eye level in the fridge, not in the bottom trays! (This is powerful)
- If you must have nuts during December, go for nuts that must be cracked, never ever ready to eat nuts – small quantities of nuts become huge quantities when watching television.
- Drink more water. With the exception of some people, most people are dehydrated – drink water on waking (at least a pint), and drink throughout the day, and evening.
- If drinking alcoholic drinks, alternative between water and alcoholic drinks (hangover and inactivity go together).
- Consider starting an exercise class (zumba, yoga, running, walking). The actual exercise may well not cause you to lose weight, but they will provide accountability.
- Be aware of the meals you’re eating when it’s not from your kitchen! (most people probably eat 4 ‘Christmas dinners’ that they haven’t cooked. Think lots of oil, lots of salt, a LOT of fat.
- Try to be very mindful of meal deal style offers, particularly from traditionally good food suppliers such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencers. The meal deal desserts are often extremely high in calories.
Think of the last quarter of the year as a time for companies to make money out of you, rather than a time where they have your best interests at heart – they don’t. They just want your money. Remember, they will be selling you diet foods in January!
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Carbs? Where to start…
What an incredible topic, it’s as if no one can decide if carbs are good or bad for you, or if they make you fat or not!
And it is almost as if the perceived experts change their stance (for and against… repeatedly) as more research is published, but in reality this research is all incredibly recent. Recent, meaning it’s in the last 100 years, when our species has been around for perhaps 200,000 years.
For a more empowering, logical, and sensible approach, let’s discard the recent ‘noise’ and start to take on board ALL data and work with that. A holistic scientific approach, rather than a single study approach.
Firstly, we need some definition.
Carbohydrates, or ‘carbs’ for short refer to many many different foods. That’s the first problem with a definition. The second part of the problem is most people don’t have an understanding of biochemistry, and so an article about the structure of molecules and so on isn’t going to help here, and it certainly won’t be helpful at 7pm after a long day at work when staring at the aisles in Waitrose.
Simplicity wins on this occasion. Carbohydrates are really just sugar, starch, and/or fibre. Now we can get down to a bit of logic using this definition.
Keeping it simple..
You’ll hear all sorts of things about carbs. Let’s keep it really simple.
With the except of milk and honey, all carbs come from plants not animals.
The way to decide whether a carb is healthy to eat or not is by looking at it, and asking yourself whether it looks like the actual plant.
An example might be a baked potato. It still looks like a potato. That’s good. It’s minimally processed in the fact it’s been cooked, but it still definitely looks like a potato.
Now, if you were to remove the skin of the potato, slice it into strips and fry them, it doesn’t look like a potato anymore. That’s not good.
Of course, it’s your choice what to eat but you can start to see how people can get confused easily.
Another example is sugar. Very rarely in the western world does it look like the sugar cane plant and that’s because it’s been heavily processed.
Stick to the advice, does it look like the actual plant – if not, proceed with caution.
Processing is the main mechanism for changing a carb that looks like a plant to one that doesn’t. Other mechanisms include decay and parasite damage. Ultimately, processing typically does one or more of the following to any plant:
- Removal of water
- Removal of fibre
- Removal of vitamins
- Removal of minerals
This is problematic for many reasons. Water and fibre in particular provide satiety (feeling full), removing them completely or partially means people have to eat more just to feel full; this is over eating.
Removing vitamins and minerals mean that people can satisfy their calorific requirements without getting their requirement for micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
When people think of malnutrition, often they think of children starving and they’re right. Malnutrition is happening much closer to home also, likely in your town, in your street.
With a calorie requirement met but a micronutrient requirement not met, we have malnutrition. This is seen across society and it affects people who are underweight, and overweight.
Symptoms can range from easily curable headaches, tiredness, and lethargy through to more aggressive conditions such as heart disease, cancers, obesity, and so on.
Malnutrition ultimately can be fatal.
Common carbs, and their attributes
Common carbs that people will think of are bread, rice, pasta, and perhaps potatoes.
Rice and potatoes are purchased looking quite similar to when they were grown.
Bread is a product of processing wheat usually. Bread doesn’t look like wheat.
Pasta is a product of processing wheat usually. Pasta doesn’t look like wheat.
The point to understand here is the level of processing can be so great that the actual food we consume can become so far removed from the raw material that it becomes unrecognisable. That’s not a good thing, the water has gone, the fibre has all but gone, and the vitamins and minerals will be massively reduced. This is malnutrition.
Carbohydrates which are most sensible to eat will contain both a lot of water when eaten and also closely resemble their original plant.
- All potatoes (including sweet potatoes and yams)
- All rice
- All corn
- All wheat
- All barley
These are all complex carbs, starches. They are powerhouses of nutrition in their whole natural form. When processed they lose their attractive attributes and are problematic as described above. Think of corn becoming high fructose corn syrup. Wheat becoming white bread. Potatoes becoming potato chips, crisps, and fries.
Other carbs, less common carbs…
The above are all complex carbs, and in the unprocessed form are superb – but what about simple carbs, are they sensible offerings?
The exact same guidance applies; does it look the same as it did when grown?
Examples of foods less commonly thought of as carbs are mostly fruits and vegetables:
You get the idea. Now, these all contain a lot of water, fibre, vitamins and minerals. They’re carbs and they’re a sensible bet.
And when they become unrecognisable…
Fruits and corn are the biggest culprits in this scenario, and they’re used for their sugar.
This is the real dark side of carbs, and they give carbohydrates a poor reputation.
- Fake fruit sweets
- Fruit juices
- Dried fruits
- Doughnuts ‘donuts’
These foods are devastating for health and make poor choices. They have under similar processing mechanisms to remove the water, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Being sugar, they are extremely addictive and extremely easy to overeat on.
Do these examples make sense globally?
The information is not simply opinion, it is based on observational science. Take the following populations and consider their native diet staple food and for how long we have data.
- North America – Corn (7,000 years)
- South America – Sweet potatoes, Potatoes (13,000 years)
- Africa – Millet (6,000 years)
- Europe – Potatoes (6,000 years)
- Middle East – Wheat (11,000 years)
- Asia – Rice (14,000 years)
These populations would have long died out if they were either not getting sufficient calories or were not getting sufficient nutrition. All these foods grown in abundance, and carbs really are the calorific and nutritional engines of human civilisation.
To remove these foods from your diet isn’t a sensible option. Absolutely it can lead to weight loss, but only because of calorie restriction. Our modern ancestors didn’t have the problems our western civilisations face today – we must take clues from our past, it holds valuable evidence to solve our present day health problems, and to a healthy future.
To conclude, consume carbs that as closely resemble the plant they are grown from as possible. Avoid carbs that don’t look like the plant they are grown from. Take cues from the large long term successful populations, not from food marketing, the media, the medical profession, or any other modern source.
Carbs that look like the plant that they come from will not make you fat – quite the opposite, slim and trim!
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It’s possible that your healthcare system will kill you.
This might sound outrageous, but read on.
In most of the western world, healthcare is free at point of service and is paid through public taxation. However, the perception is typically that the health service is free.
This is the scenario in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and most of Europe. Although hybrid systems may exist, ultimately if you want to see a doctor, there’s no bill at the end, or invoice before to consider. If you have heart surgery, it’s the same.
In stark contrast, the USA doesn’t have this system and it’s commonplace for a medical bill to be presented after treatment, or even in some cases prior to treatment. Of course, medical insurance exists but it’s expensive and the cost is really felt by the service user.
So why is free healthcare a problem?
Perception of responsibility is a big deal here.
If healthcare is free in your country, then surely if you get sick then you just use the service, simple stuff.
But what if by the time you come to use the service, you’re ‘beyond repair’. A very common scenario when treated by most healthcare systems.
With free healthcare systems, the typical mindset of the general population is that health isn’t something to be overly concerned with because it’s up to the health service to look after you should you become ill.
And they do, somewhat, but what if you had to directly pay the bill if you needed medical help?
How would this change your attitude towards your health?
Attitudes & Mindsets
With the attitude that a healthcare system is there for you, when you need it, with no bill – it’s very easy to see how the burden of trust can sit with the healthcare service.
It provides a very nice comfy safety net, but it has a lot of problems. Free leads to abuse, in every public service.
Very few people set out to abuse their national health care service, but in reality, that is exactly what happens. There’s almost no accountability, and this allows a lack of awareness to prevail. Consider a typical GP doctors appointment, you go there, see a doctor for 10-15 minutes and typically leave. There’s no bill, and there’s also no accountability.
Yet there’s been a cost to the health service. The receptionist has to be paid, the building rates have to be paid, the doctor has to be paid. And if you received a prescription, then the pharmacist, dispenser and drug company have to be paid.
Now, the point of this isn’t to suggest you should think twice before visiting your doctor; the point is to make you think,
Could I have done anything to avoid this problem?
How can I best implement the advice I have been given to avoid having to use the service again?
Yes, the service is free at point of use, but the costs are enormous. Very few people think about this, ever.
If you go beyond primary care and consider procedures such as bypass surgery, which is now commonplace (this is just absurd), the costs are enormous. Hundreds of thousands of £’s on doctors visits, hospital fees, surgeons, food, logistics, equipment and then typically a lifetime of medication. (For those who survive the procedure).
Healthcare must be viewed as a cost far beyond health, because it is.
But what’s the point?
The point of this post is to raise awareness of preventative medicine, not last resort medicine.
The medical profession are extremely talented and well resourced in most western countries, but this may not continue to be the case if people continue to abuse (unknowingly) the system.
The goal here is to start to think about what changes you can make to your lifestyle yourself to avoid needing to rely on public health indefinitely. Absolutely, the service is there and in cases of medical emergency this is a truly wonderful asset to have.
However, with the average age for a heart attack decreasing year on year, and the same for cases of type 2 diabetes, and the average lifespan increasing due to increased reliance on medication, the system is extremely strained.
There has to be a shift towards self care. The single most powerful tool we all have available to us is freedom to choose what we eat, and this is single most influential factor on our health – especially our long term health.
Taking responsibility for your health increases your quality of life, and typically quantity too. It’s that important.
The choice to think about is whether you want to live out your last decade happy and healthy (contributing to society) or in a care home, unhappy (costing society). The choices you make now will impact these outcomes as the data is showing us.
Think carefully about your health; you likely have a lot more influence over it than you think.
The false sense of security
The reality is this. No healthcare system can bring you back from the dead.
Even if healthcare is free, consider other costs. Loss of earnings, stress on you, on your family, these ‘uninsured losses’ are time and emotion you can never change.
Free healthcare lures people in to a false sense of security. It’s great to have, but think of the bigger picture, and aim to avoid ever using it!
Healthcare systems at point of service contribute to killing people through allowing a lack of awareness. The United States has often been referred to as the fattest sickest country on the planet, but actually much of Europe and Australia is set to surpass the USA.
The United States will vote with their insurance companies and coverage will become more expensive which forces a change in thinking somewhat. The ‘free’ healthcare systems battle on with more timid messages to promote better public health. This approach often leaves people beyond the point of no return in many cases.
Other important considerations
If you had to pay for all healthcare and treatments would you choose your state healthcare provider?
Most people probably would, simply out of convenience, loyalty, or because ‘that’s what most people do’.
But what about all the alternative healthcare and medicine out there? The work that falls outside of mainstream healthcare. The acupuncture, the healers, therapists, nutritionists, and so on… Even this organisation, Intelligent Eating, is considered alternative healthcare.
Would you choose those if you didn’t have to pay? What about if you were suffering from depression and you had the choice of laughter therapy versus taking an antidepressant drug for the rest of your life. When considering your health, your most important asset, cost really should be the last factor influencing your decision.
Think about universal healthcare as there for those who really need it, the man with rare cancer, the car crash survivor, or the girl with a young baby experiencing complications. The future of the health service in the UK, and any other country isn’t going to be defined by cost cutting procurement measures, brexit, government, management, or any other factor other than the health of the nation. We all have a burden of responsibility to ensure these precious resources are there in times of need.
Free healthcare paradoxically limits peoples choices. You have the choice to treat your health in whichever way you want, and sometimes the free system isn’t the best, and in worse cases, it’s the worst option. Choose wisely.
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A Whole Potato Diet
In 1927, ‘THE VALUE OF WHOLE POTATO IN HUMAN NUTRITION’. was published by Stanislaw Kazimierz Kon and Aniela Klein at the the State School of Hygiene in Warsaw, Poland.
The results were incredible, yet this short paper remains fairly unknown.
The paper is available by clicking on the image below.
It is taken from the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1252113/ also lists further information and citations.
The important point to note is that potatoes are powerhouses of nutrition when consumed as whole foods; the demonisation is usually down to the addition of oil… chips or fries!
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Of all the foods people consume, the toughest one for many to stop eating is cheese.
There’s so many emotions around this potent substance… To many, it’s the food of the gods, to some, it’s revolting. But what’s really going on? Why do people struggle to stop eating cheese?
Fortunately evolutionary mechanisms can explain this riddle relatively simply.
But first, let’s consider what cheese actually is.
What is cheese?
Quite simply cheese is milk that has coagulated. Milk is loaded with nutrients, particularly protein, fat, and salt. To form cheese, a principle protein that’s in milk, casein, coagulates, and this forms cheese. Whilst there are thousands of different flavours of cheese, the process to produce them all is essentially the same.
The key to addiction lies in this protein casein. Let’s explore that.
Addiction, by design.
Mammals produce milk when pregnant. Humans, cats, dogs, cows, sheep, goats, gorillas, and so on…
The purpose of this milk is to provide total nourishment to the infant. The milk is delivered to the infant via the mammalian breast. Milk is designed to nourish, and grow the infant as quickly as possible to the point that the infant can feed itself. For example, to grow a 50kg calve to a 500kg cow in approximately 6 months. It’s the perfect food to do this.
Most mammals are born with limited senses, be it blind, deaf, unable to move quickly or other limitations, however, they must absolutely be able to feed to survive.
Consider kittens, calves, or puppies in the wild. They will feed from their mother immediately after birth, and typically also use their mother for shelter and to keep warm during the most vulnerable times.
Here’s where the addiction part comes in.
Infants are naturally curious to explore their environment and even though with limited mobility, are able to move freely away from their mother. There needs to be a system to reward the infant to return to the mother to feed. A guidance system.
This reward system is essentially powered by the protein in all mammalian milk, casein.
Immediately on commencing digestion of breast milk (which starts in the mouth), casein becomes casomorphin, a peptide (a fragment of a protein).
Casomorphin is further metabolised into morphine. This provides a release of dopamine and other chemicals in the brain that cause the infant to feel good; simply put, the infant is rewarded for returning to the mother to feed.
This mechanism has ensured survival of a huge amount of species and continues to do so. It’s as if nature has designed the perfect reward system, and that’s exactly what it is.
All dairy products contain casein, and therefore the same process takes place with consumption of any dairy product. It’s an amazing system, but taken beyond design can cause huge problems.
Milk is high in casein, but foods such as cheese are incredibly high in casein and so the reward system is amplified.
Quite simply, when you put that piece of cheese in your mouth and it tastes ‘oh so good’, it actually doesn’t really, but the morphine does.
You’ve probably heard that dairy isn’t good for you, and that there are better alternatives, yet so many people struggle to kick dairy from their diet.
It really is physically addictive. Morphine is a psychoactive drug, just like heroin, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, caffeine, MDMA, ketamine, lsd, and so on.
Substances that artificially reward the pleasure circuits in our brains are big business, regardless of legality or social stigma.
In fact, you can now have cheese delivered in some parts of the world in an hour.
Broccoli is yet to achieve such status.
If you are finding it tough to give up cheese, or simply don’t want to, then you are likely addicted. However, why should you?
You’re not weaning from your mother anymore. The cheese is made from the milk of a different species. It is not normal, natural or necessary. Cheese is absolutely loaded with saturated fat, and cholesterol – it is one of the biggest, if not the biggest single contributor food to weight management problems, and coronary artery disease.
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You might be surprised.
Cholesterol is a hot topic, and has been for quite some time. There’s been lots and lots of research and many chart topping books on the substance.
But what actually is cholesterol, and why should you care?
Cholesterol itself is a waxy, fatty substance that is essential to a huge array of functions within the body, most notably with respect to the walls of every cell in our body. Our body produces cholesterol and produces as much as we need.
Problems often start to occur when we have too much cholesterol. This is most commonly caused by eating foods which contain cholesterol. The waxy substance causes our blood to become sticky, creating the conditions for damage to the inner lining of the artery to occur.
There’s much talk about good and bad forms of cholesterol, but really it is much more complicated.
All you really need to know is that high levels of oxidised bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or LDL) hugely increases risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Which foods contain cholesterol, and which cause oxidation?
Fortunately the answers are very simple.
No food made from plants contain cholesterol. That’s fruits, vegetables, grains, starches, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
All food made from animals contain cholesterol. That’s beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, rabbit, cat, dog, tuna, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs, and butter.
Oxidation of cholesterol is caused by many factors such as consuming saturated fats, trans fats, pollutants. These fats in particular are found in a huge variety of processed foods such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, deep fried food, meat, and dairy.
Notice that the foods which contain cholesterol also cause oxidation. This is a big problem, and this is how data is manipulated to suggest that cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, which is true. Cholesterol alone doesn’t cause heart disease; our bodies produce cholesterol and as a species we’re not in the business of building disease.
The problem is that consuming cholesterol without also consuming large amounts of fat is extremely difficult, and not realistically possible. The only logical solution is to exclude these foods from your diet to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
So, which meats are the lowest in cholesterol?
This is almost a trick question, yet so many people are blinkered by food marketing that they will typically jump to suggesting chicken is the most healthy meat. Perhaps, it is, in the same way low tar cigarettes are more healthy than regular cigarettes. Consider the data.
Here’s the amount of cholesterol in 100 grams of different animal products:
Salmon – 55mg
Chicken – 88mg
Prawns – 189mg
Pork – 80mg
Beef – 90mg
Duck – 84mg
Turkey – 130mg
Eggs – 373mg
Cheese – 103mg
As you can clearly see, all of the foods contain a lot of cholesterol; there are no low cholesterol animal products.
This is where we have a problem. The above foods are marketed as high in protein, which only tells part of the story, and it sells.
They are high in protein, most are extremely high in fat, and high in cholesterol.
But marketing them as high fat, high cholesterol, and high protein wouldn’t sell as well.
All foods derived from animals contain a lot of cholesterol, from the leanest chicken to the most fatty duck. Don’t be fooled into thinking that simply because a meat is marketed as being lean that it won’t contain a lot of cholesterol.
The recommended daily allowance of cholesterol is 300mg, yet it’s not a substance we require at all. This guideline ensures we continue on our current path as having extraordinarily high rates of cardiovascular events in the western world.
In reality, the recommended daily allowance for cholesterol is zero. Cholesterol is essential, but you don’t need to consume it in your diet in the same way that blood is essential but you don’t need to consume it in your diet.
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Do you eat out for breakfast frequently?
As the saying goes “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”…
Well maybe. But what’s important is what you have for breakfast!
Many of us travel for business, attend networking events, and eat out first thing. That’s a great thing, but it can be challenging to eat well when you’re not the chef so to speak!
If you’ve eaten out for breakfast more than just a few times, you’ll know that very often the menu isn’t delicious fresh fruit, with the finest fresh produce from the local orchard.
No, in most cases, hotel and business networking breakfasts are ‘full english breakfasts’, doses of strong coffee, washed down with butter sodden toast.
Now, by the time most people arrive at breakfast when eating out, they’ve been up a while, sometimes having to drive a considerable distance before eating anything.
This causes extreme hunger! And so, the ‘full english’ may well seem like a great proposition to solving the hunger problem by the time it’s dished up in front of you, but deep down you know it’s ultimately not healthy.
But I’m starving!
And indeed, this is part of what making eating a healthy breakfast difficult. But it’s not the only part.
Perception also comes into play; but I’m starving, I can’t just have a bit of fruit – especially when I’m paying for this. The perception of a healthy breakfast leaving you starving is very powerful, and our evolutionary psychology has this hardwired into us. In times of food scarcity, which is all of human history until modern times…. we would consume as much food as possible because we wouldn’t know where the next meal is coming from. This was fundamental to the success of our species in the times of our ancestors. Paradoxically, this same mechanism is now, in part, responsible for the disease of our species.
Belief systems play a part also, as does peer pressure. In times past, we would be part of a tribe or a village. If our behaviour was different to the rest of our tribe we might be seen as a threat, or an outcast. In some cases killed. Our brain still thinks like this. Fitting in ensures acceptance in the tribe; the threat feels real, but fortunately few people, if any are killed at networking breakfasts or hotel buffets!
The consequences of instinct, beliefs, and perception.
One consequence that’s quite visible is weight gain. It happens. Most breakfasts in hotels, and business networking events come in at around 1500 Calories with 100 grams of fat, and 25 grams of saturated fat. This is more artery clogging fat than is recommended over a whole day. Tough start.
As for the poly and mono unsaturated fat at this dose, well that isn’t good – it just ends up being worn around the waist. Food you take home with you and wear for life. Not a particularly thrilling prospect.
A lot of this fat and huge amount of Calories comes from oil. Fried bacon, fried potato, fried mushrooms, fried bread. And that’s just the fried foods. Eggs, bacon, and bread all contain a lot of calories, as well as salt.
A lot of salt leads to high blood pressure, and an excess of fat in the diet leads to plaque build up in the arteries.
- Weight problems
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Prescription medication for life
Not nice consequences… and that’s before I dare to mention black pudding (the superfood)
Now, most people’s beliefs are that they know it’s bad, but it tastes good. Could this be our primitive brain at work fooling us into survival mode? Perhaps so, and the data suggests this. We have a lot of data on this subject.
In reality, the perception is ‘this little bit won’t hurt’…
Now, you have got to eat!!!
Food is ESSENTIAL for survival and it goes far beyond simple nutrition. Eating in a group enhances community, and safety, as well as growth. But what can you sensibly eat?
And what can you sensibly eat that tastes good?
Most hotels and venues have a full kitchen, that’s great news. All you have to do is tweak your options by asking the question. And in some cases, for example,where a buffet breakfast is served, you don’t even have to ask.
Examples of foods you can eat which are more healthy include:
- Oatmeal (porridge)
- Plant based yogurt (Alpro yoghurt)
- Plant milks
- Baked beans
- Veggie sausages
- Wholegrain crossiants
- Fruit compote
Yes, I know – some of these are ‘high in sugar’ because that’s what the marketing says. But is that a problem? It depends. Pure sugar is high in sugar. Melon is high in sugar. Some muesli is high in sugar. Unless you’re eating a bag of haribo and having a builders tea with 13 sugars, it’s not much of an issue.
But let’s keep it relative, you’re unlikely to score a perfect 10 and discover the epitome of a healthy breakfast when out of your home, but you can hit an 8 or 9, and that’s a lot lot better than a 0 or 1 where most full english breakfasts will score.
Consider the breakfast below:
It’s a 3 course breakfast.
- Fresh fruit (look at the gorgeous colours!)
- Muesli with hot water
- Baked beans, mushrooms (looked for grilled rather than fried), and cooked tomatoes.
Is it exciting? Maybe. Do you miss the full english? Well, if you’re starving, you’ll probably want the full english – that’s the survival instinct kicking in.
But really, what you’re doing by eating this way is insuring your health, you’ll likely feel great after eating and you absolutely WILL feel more energised after breakfast.
A stark contrast to the full english outcomes.
This isn’t simply a result of placebo; the effects are very real. You’re consuming fibre, water, complex carbohyrates, sugars, good fats, vitamins and minerals.
And, no cholesterol. That increased energy and productivity is down to your arteries loving you and being able to expand to provide more nutrients through blood flow to your organs, particularly your brain!
Now this creates a positive talking point, I assure you!
Here’s another example:
- Nuts and seeds with a raspberry compote in Alpro yoghurt
- 3 types of fresh melon
- A wholegrain croissant
It requires little explanation.
The ‘take away’ measure from this post is that you CAN attend business breakfasts and eat well, and if you do, you will improve your health.
You can also attend business breakfasts and eat poorly. If you do, your health will erode.
I encourage you to be creative, have fun, and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
The biggest influencer for your health lies at the end of your fork.
Think about yourself, not tomorrow but in a years time, 3 years time, 5 years time, and imagine your future self looking back. Will you look more healthy or less healthy?
Right now, you have a choice, that’s all.
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What really makes up a healthy breakfast?
Around dieting, weight loss, weight gain, and health, there’s a huge amount of information about what is healthy and what isn’t. Some people will swear by just a black coffee in the morning to kickstart their metabolism, and then not eat until lunch whereas some people will argue it’s better to have a huge breakfast so they’re not hungry all day.
Then there’s the superbly marketed smoothies… are these good? Well, you’ll notice to make a smoothie you’ll need to buy a smoothie machine. Being cynical, one could argue this is partly responsible for the marketing drive to promote smoothies as healthy, and it is.
Anyway, many approaches can work but it depends on the health goal. The most sensible approach is considering what to eat, or perhaps not to eat with a more logical and open minded approach than simply absorbing marketing messages (often subconsciously).
What does your body need?
Yes, every body is different, that’s true, but the variations are typically very minimal except in the most rare of circumstances (<0.1%). To honour this argument, consider that there’s over 10 million estimated different species of animals on our planet. All animals need food, and within the same species it’s the same food. Yes, your cat or dog may well turn its nose up at carrots whilst your neighbours cat adores carrots, but in the wild, have you ever heard of a fussy giraffe, or a polar bear that just ‘didn’t like that’….
We can take clues from weight management. Of the estimated 10 million+ species, only 3 really ever suffer from weight management problems. They are, humans, cats, and dogs.
You can easily spot the problem here. We have introduced foods into our diets, and that of our pets that is not natural to the foods found naturally in the environment.
Through scientific methods we can use this information to conclude that all humans can typically eat the same foods, and that food choices and preferences are really only down to availability, which is a result of modern agriculture, not evolution.
So, the bottom line; our bodies need nutrition. And nutrition is can be broken down into constituent parts such as water, fibre, and then terms such as macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, sugars), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). You may have heard these terms thrown around by nutritionists, health gurus, and the media. It’s big business telling people what to eat because everyone has to eat!
So how can we decide which nutrition is correct?
The answer here is more simple than it may first be perceived and that’s a result of the mass confusion from food marketing, the media, friends, family, and other influences.
We should ultimately take clues from nature because this is the most unbiased source available.
Latitude determines the type of food availability to a degree (intentional pun), so at the poles there’s very little food available; perhaps some fish and a few land animals but that’s it. They’re very hard to catch and use a lot of energy to do so – this is one of the reasons why populations don’t thrive at such latitudes. At the equatorial latitudes, fruit grows in huge abundance, with fruit acting as water storage organs to nourish the fruit as it grows, and it grows fast in the intense relentless sun – food here is limited and somewhat scarce. And, no – it’s not just fruit, there’s other crops too, but they tend to struggle with the long dry seasons, and it’s the same for animals (including humans) living here. Animals here have to expend a lot of energy just to survive.
The polar and equatorial latitudes are tough for food sources.
Moving to the temperate latitudes, things become interesting! In this region, most of the world’s population live and thrive! Mostly in the northern hemisphere, but the same is true in the southern hemisphere also. At these latitudes, fruit grows well, vegetables grow well, beans, legumes, starches, tubers, in fact almost all crops thrive in these latitudes.
This is no coincidence that almost all of the worlds population live at the same latitude as their food source. It just makes sense. And you thought you clicking on an article about healthy breakfasts…. You have, but it requires some background to make sense!
And so, back to the title…
A healthy breakfast is most logically going to consist of the foods most native to your environment, and in the abundance that is provided in that environment.
These foods are essentially unprocessed, they are made from plants, not in a refining plant or factory and they will be based around complex carbohydrates. These foods are readily available, easily harvested, and store relatively well.
Examples of these foods with a high abundance around temperate latitudes (where you likely are right now) are:
Now, starches grow in abundance, as do fruits and non starchy vegetables. You should, by now, start to see where this leads to. The conclusion is one of logic and reason. Pick the foods most in abundance in your natural habitat and build breakfast around those.
It’s not to say don’t eat animals, it’s too suggest that prior to modern agriculture and tools, animals were extremely difficult to catch, and in many cases killing animals was different and dangerous! We have thrived without habitually eating them.
A few examples..
Let’s take oats, which grow in absolute abundance and are quite similar to wheat. With minimal processing oatmeal is produced. It’s packed with complex carbohydrates, protein and a modest level of fats. Interestingly, it’s also packed with fibre and a lot of vitamins and minerals.
However, the point here is that it is close to the whole natural food. You may hear stories from all types of sources that ‘carbs make you fat’, this is simply a poor understanding of carbohydrates and to be detailed in a later post.
With a solid base of oats, fruits and vegetables can be added.
Very simple, and one definition of a healthy breakfast. You are receiving a lot of starch, which is a great source of energy for your body, protein, essential for growth (but not in excess – as marketed), and fat. You do indeed need fat in your diet, but very very little. Most people in the western world are overweight, and by overweight really we mean overfat. Their bodies are carrying too much fat. In our diets, we really only need around 5% of the total calories to come from fat as long as we are consuming the essential fatty acids (EFA), and to do this, eating whole natural foods is a sensible way.
With respect to supplementation, we simply don’t have enough data. With whole natural foods as described above, we have tens of thousands of years of data.
It’s not you, it’s the food.
So really, when we look at what makes defines a healthy breakfast, it’s nothing to do with the latest marketed product, the coolest smoothie or most endorsed or popular food at all.
The definition comes from history, and success leaves tracks. By tracking the foods consumed by all the evolutionally successful healthy populations on our planet the evidence is very very clear.
The issue we now face in the western world is one of availability and that’s where education such as Intelligent Eating provides comes into play.
Take a look at the following breakfast..
Rice, beans, tomatoes, spinach.
Perhaps not conventional? Not quite coca pops or blasted in a vitamix?
But is it healthy? Absolutely.
Is it practical? Well, you can buy a rice cooker for £6.50 and have it delivered tomorrow if you’re a member of Amazon prime… And cooking, well it takes around the same amount of time for rice to cook as it does for the average person to have a shower and get dressed.
As for chopping a tomato, throwing in a few beans and spinach leaves…. suddenly this has become almost as simple as toast, butter, jam, etc…
But it’s the health benefits that you really want to hone on in here. Eating the way healthy people eat (not western nutritionists, dieticians, doctors) but healthy people in populations around the world with low incidence of disease will give you similar benefits.
Benefits such as
- Low cholesterol (in the UK, under 5mmol/l is deemed as healthy (193mg/dl)), but in reality a significant proportion of those who have heart attacks and strokes have cholesterol in the range of 4-5mmol/l, so it would make a lot of sense to ensure your total cholesterol is under 4mmol/l (154mg/dl). And optimally, under 3mmol/l (116mg/l). Of course, cholesterol isn’t the only risk factor, nor is simply looking at only the total cholesterol, but it’s still significant and important. Millions of people are prescribed statin drugs – I propose that this is a better and safer method.
- Lower blood pressure. Again most people in the west world have high blood pressure. It might not be deemed high by their doctor, but it’s likely higher than it should be. For brevity, just think about whether you’d prefer to consider eating well or take prescription medication for the rest of your life, and a LOT of people end up on medication to lower blood pressure, often with awful side effects.
- No hunger. This is a big point, because it’s all great to suggest the above benefits but it has to be sustainable, and building a breakfast around a base of starch will keep you full until your next meal, typically lunchtime. Ask yourself this of the latest fad diet, smoothie, juice, or fast food breakfast.
- Money. Starting your day off with food like this saves you money. 1kg of rice? 1kg of oatmeal? Incredibly cheap food sources… You save money because the food is cheaper, and you save money because you don’t end up buying incredibly expensive junk snacks.
It’s definitely the food.
Think carefully and with rationale about this point.
In populations where availability of processed foods is low, disease is low. Where the availability of processed foods (in particular animal products) is high, disease is high. The importance of detail and understanding is crucial, in the average supermarket there will over 30 different types of breakfast oats for sale. They’re all different, some are exceptionally healthy, some are the reverse.
Do you know how to make the right decision? The fact you have such a choice is a huge huge part of the problem, you’re being marketed to. Relentlessly, because it’s commercially of interest to pharmaceutical companies, food companies and the health service to have you less than optimally healthy.
For all animals, including humans, the problems are the same, but availability is not..
When did you last hear of a giraffe with type 2 diabetes? Or an elephant with high cholesterol?
This is about education, not marketing noise. The education is required because of the society you live in. Without this critical education, you are ultimately no more than a helpless victim and that’s why there’s so many people who are desperately unhappy with their health, weight, prescription medications, and future.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Should you have reached the end of this post, then I applaud you for doing so. Most people won’t, they’ll have become distracted by something else. However, If you think it would be useful for anyone you know to read this then please do ping them the link.
If you’d like any of the sources used to compile this post then please feel free to ask.
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Oh, and want to see some real world examples of implementation of this? Have a look at my latest case studies
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People always have questions about food labels and very often people don’t trust them – and rightly so. Food companies aren’t stupid, whether they are a big company or a small company; marketing is at play so it’s right to be cautious! The bottom line is that food companies exist primarily to make money, i.e. sell as much of their food as possible. Yes, some companies may promote that their food is more healthy, more sustainably sourced or some other ‘feel good’ term, but ultimately this is marketing. This might sound cynical, but food is business, and big business. Everyone has to eat, so it’s a very, very competitive marketplace.
Now, this is quite a long post, and its intended to give a solid overview of how to read food labels, and define some guidelines for them. If you take the time to understand how to read food labels, you will have a massive advantage when it comes to choosing foods with informed consent. Yes, this is some work required, but remember, the food companies have invested a lot of time and money into coercing you into buying products that may not have your best interests at heart.
All of this you’re about to read is about foods that come in packets, not whole fruits, or vegetables. Eat those, as much as you like, whenever you like!
Food that comes in packets is massive arena – pastas, rice, cereals, ready meals, cakes, ice creams, biscuits, drinks, tins, pies, bread, chocolates, crisps, jams, desserts and the list goes on….
There’s no doubt that there’s confusion about how to understand what’s actually in a product, so let’s break this down into something simple, eventually. Something that you can actually understand and use in the heat of the moment when shopping.
So, first of all two golden rules.
1. Never, ever, believe anything on the front of a product, ever.
2. Always read the nutritional information and ingredient list.
Everything on a food or drinks packaging except the nutritional information and ingredient list is marketing. Everything, from the shape of the packaging, to the colours, to the fonts and graphics – Ignore it all, the only information that we are concerned about is the nutritional information and the ingredient list.
Using this way of thinking allows you to actually evaluate a product objectively, rather than a subjective opinion influenced by marketing.
First of all let’s understand how to read a food label properly. There’s two parts, the nutritional information and the ingredients and they both are written to a set of standards, which the Food Standards Agency define.
The easy bit: Ingredients lists the ingredients in descending order of weight.
Nutritional information is a bit more tricky to understand; it lists the amount of energy a product contains, typically per 100g and per serving, as well other information including the macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein) and often the amount of salt and fibre, either per serving or per 100g. The information is provided as a weight, and this is a really important point because our bodies don’t really care about the weight of a food for energy purposes, they care about the calories. That isn’t to say that water and fibre don’t fill us up, they do, however, there’s some understanding here in the systems used on food labels.
The goal now is to move away from how much fat or carbohydrate weighs in a product and towards what percentage of calories come from the fat or carbohydrate and this needs a little understanding of how much energy each macronutrient contains. Fortunately it is very simple and once you practice it, it becomes very easy to work out the numbers when out and about – you’ll likely become obsessed to some degree, and this is a good thing which really gets you thinking about what you are buying.
Let’s take a fictional food label, which says the following,
10 g sugar
10 g fat
10 g protein
1 g salt
1 g fibre
Most people would see this as being 10% fat, and it is by weight but that is not how we use food internally, we use the energy, which is measured in calories.
In order to work out how many calories come from the carbohydrates, fats and proteins we need to know how much energy each of these provides, and it’s easy.
Protein and carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram.
Fat provides 9 calories per gram.
So, using the information above we can work out that this,
10 grams of sugar provides 40 calories. (Each gram is 4 calories)
10 grams of fat provides 90 calories (Each gram is 9 calories)
10 grams of protein provides 40 calories (Each gram is 4 calories)
This gives us a total of 170 calories per 100 grams.
Now is where it gets interesting and diverges from the way a product is marketed to the way your body uses food.
Take fat in this instance. By weight there’s 10 grams per 100 grams, so by weight it is 10% fat.
But, as a percentage of calories it isn’t 10% at all.
Here’s how to work it out,
Take the number of grams of fat, multiply it by 9 and then divide that number by the total number of calories and then multiply by 100 to give a percentage.
So, 10 grams multiplied by 9 is 90 calories. 90 calories divided by 170 calories is 0.53. Multiplied by 100 is 53. This means the product is 53% fat, not 10% as the label shows.
The difference is massive, and this is why people are so incredibly confused about food labels, and why they don’t trust them. The system is wrong from the start!
Intelligent Eating is here to change this, you now know what very few people know about food labels!
So let’s have a look at a few real world examples.
Let’s work out the percentage of calories from fat in this product.
It has 28.3g of fat per 100g. Multiplying 28.3 by 9 gives us the number of calories from fat per 100g. 28.3 x 9 = 255.7 calories.
That is, in each 100g of this product there’s 332 calories and 255.7 come from fat.
To see this as a percentage, divide 255.7 (calories from fat) by 332 total calories and multiply the result by 100.
So, 255.7/322 = 0.77. Multiplying by 100, gives 77%.
This is organic natural hummus, and it’s 77% fat.
In this product following the same formula,
(Calories from fat / total calories)*100 = %calories from fat.
Calories from fat is the weight multiplied by 9.
4.6 x 9 = 41.4 calories from fat per 100g.
Then, plugging into the above formula,
(41.4/181)*100 = 22.8% calories from fat.
This is a premade aromatic Asian rice.
Now you understand how to calculate the percentage of calories from fat it allows you to work to a guideline. This is important as food labelled as low fat or low sugar are often defined as low fat or sugar, by weight but not as a percentage of calories. The reality is that usually they have simply been diluted with water. This would change the fat content by weight, but not by calories.
So, some guidelines to work with.
Ok, so a bit of background on what is actually required by our bodies…
Your body requires around 3-5% of calories from essential fatty acids (fat). If you are getting all the essential fats and then consuming more than this, unless you are using more than you consume, you will gain weight.
The average intake is about 35%. (and often not even the essential fatty acids. Immediately there’s a problem, people consume far too much fat.
The recommended ranges for the percentage of calories from fat in our diet vary from who you listen to and that’s a critical part of the foundations for understanding why these guidelines are using by Intelligent Eating as a recommendation for a diet that is sensible and sustainable.
The guidelines are about 10% of calories from fat from Esselstyn, Ornish, Mcdougall (you can search for these people online, they have successfully and repeatedly shown that a diet containing around 10% of calories from fat results in lower bodyweight, lower cholesterol, low incidence of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, gout, acne, eczema, hypertension, and lots and lots of mental health problems).
The guidelines are about 30% of calories from fat from the NICE guidelines, the UK government, the British Association of Nutritional Therapists, The British Dietetic Association, The British Heart Foundation, The American Heart Association, The National Institute of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture. (These guidelines are influenced by industry significantly).
From the extensive project, The China Project, we know that a diet with 30% of calories from fat is very problematic and results in increasing chronic health problems.
Let’s keep it simple, especially for label reading and say less than 20% of calories from fat in packaged foods is sensible.
There’s also types of fat to avoid specifically and these can be found on the ingredients list.
Saturated animal fat (lard, butter, chicken fat, dairy, cheese)
Saturated vegetable fat (mostly tropical oils – coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm oil, palm kernel oil)
Man made saturated vegetable fat (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, margarine, shortening)
To conclude, ignore whether a product is called ‘low fat’, ‘reduced fat’ or any other marketing term, look at the nutritional information and aim for less than 20% of calories from fat. Simple.
Excess sodium intake is a big big problem in the western diet, most people have no idea where the sodium they consume comes from or how much.
We talk about sodium rather than salt because there are different types of salts and they all affect the body differently. Sodium chloride is the most common and is often referred to as table salt. It’s also the salt used in industry for packaged foods.
To move from the amount of sodium to salt you multiply by 2.5, and from salt to sodium, divide by 2.5.
Again, the daily requirement depends on who you listen to…
250mg from the National Academy of Sciences. – and this is all you actually need to function.
Which is just 0.6 grams of salt.
There’s no daily requirement set by anyone officially just an upper limit of 2400mg, which is 6 grams.
That’s a huge difference there, an order of magnitude – tens time the amount from the amount that you actually need and what the maximum amount is recommended.
The term maximum amount has become blurred with the term ‘reference intake’ in the UK.
That means that the maximum amount has become the recommended amount with respect to food labelling. This is lethal and must be understood!
The guideline to use is simple, aim for 1:1. That’s 1mg of sodium for every calorie.
So if a food contains 100 calories, the maximum amount of sodium you’re aiming for is 100mg.
The most guilty foods are ready meals, processed foods, all restaurant foods, and take aways.
Interestingly, only about 15% of the sodium you consume will come from salt you add to your diet using a salt shaker. 85% of the sodium you consume is already in the food.
This means that if you want to reduce your sodium intake significantly, change the foods you eat, not the addition of salt during or after cooking!
Sugar has received a very bad press in recent years, especially in these no/low carb diets. However, to avoid sugar really doesn’t show a good understanding of biochemistry and physiology, because almost everyone knows that our body runs on sugar and carbohydrates!
We can also use fat as a fuel but there’s one part of the body that can only run on sugar and that is the brain!
You need sugar everyday, sugar isn’t the problem at all – it’s the form in which it is presented and that’s what to look at.
There’s no requirement for added concentrated refined sugars – these are often seen on ingredient labels as, sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, molasses, barley malt, fructose, corn syrup and many more!
The trouble is with packaged foods, these added sugars alone often add up to 20% of your daily calorie intake alone!
So what we want to do is limit these by understanding where we can see them on the ingredients list.
Ingredients are listed in order of descending weight and so to keep it simple, so avoid products, which listed an added sugar in the first 4 ingredients.
Refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta)
This term gets confused a lot, ultimately what is means is taking a raw carbohydrate and removing the water, fibre, vitamins and minerals so the food is more calorie dense.
Examples of these are white bread, white flour, white rice and white pasta – you can spot the theme here. The trouble with these foods is that you can eat a lot without feeling full and so you have to overeat just to feel full. That’s not good at all for many reasons, however, the biggest problem with this is weight gain.
To solve this problem it’s a case of looking at the ingredient list, and what we are looking for is the world “whole” and it must be spelled “whole”. You may see companies cheating on this regulation by spelling it differently to get around the guidelines!
You often see words such as wheat, semolina, bleached, unbleached, enriched flour, durum and so on – these are not whole carbohydrates but refined carbohydrates and should be avoided.
As a guideline, look for at least 3 grams of fibre for every 100 calories – that is often the best way to see if a product does indeed contain whole, unrefined carbohydrates.
Unrefined carbohydrates are the types of carbs that we do want to be eating and those are potatoes, rice, barley, millet, corn, wheat and other starches that look like they do naturally.
- Never ever use any information on a food packet other than the nutritional information and ingredients to make a decision about whether it is sensible to eat.
- Understand that food labels list nutritional information by weight, not as a percentage of calories. To evaluate a food, you must look at the percentage of calories, not the weight.
- Aim for less than 20% of calories from fat.
- Avoid added sugars in the first 4 ingredients of a food.
- Aim for less than 1mg of sodium per 100 grams of food.
- If a food is whole, it must have the word ‘whole’ in the ingredients.
With this rules and guidelines, you will be able to quickly learn about the foods you eat, and make intelligent decisions. Almost all of the health problems that people suffer from are a result of a lack of genuine understanding of food labelling.