Last month I wrote about the science behind all the advice we get on healthy eating. These studies take many years, involve many thousands of individuals and cost millions of pounds. We should be grateful to the farsighted men and women who initiated this field of research from which we all can benefit.
The question "what is a healthy diet" is not as simple as it first appears. There are many different eating patterns which are thought to convey different health benefits, For instance, there are diets that are thought to reduce our risk of developing heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity etc etc. Thankfully all these different diets have many features in common.
For a diet to be considered to provide health benefits it must meet a number of criteria -
Experience has shown that people need more than just the basic research findings. We need to find ways to incorporate the advice into an eating style that we can sustain for the rest of our lives. I have grouped some of the major findings below together with some suggestions on how we can change our eating habits for the better without becoming too obsessive about it.
Fruit and vegetables
Just about every study there has ever been has demonstrated the importance of including a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in our diet.
Potatoes in themselves are not particularly fattening although deep fried potato chips certainly are. We have got round this by oven baking potato wedges brushed with a teaspoon of oil. I think these taste better than ordinary chips and they are much lower in calories.
Having less meat on your plate leaves more room for the vegetables but, as I mentioned earlier, a plateful of broccoli is pretty boring. A few weeks ago my wife came up with a brilliant solution - a macedoine of vegetables. We now prepare small amounts of four different vegetables with a resulting improvement in the variety of taste experiences. We use a steamer as this method retains more of the vitamins and the vegetables cook really quickly.
A great way to get more berries, seeds and nuts into your diet is to use them as a topping on muesli. A recipe I have used consists of three tablespoons of porridge oats, three dessertspoonfuls of apple juice and a teaspoonful of runny honey. I add a desert spoonful of raisins and some chopped walnuts and leave this mixture in the fridge overnight. In the morning I add a slice of apple chopped into small pieces, a splash of milk and whatever berries we happen to have. I have found this to be both a delicious and a refreshing breakfast and, importantly, I don't feel hungry for the rest of the morning.
Most people nowadays know that dietary fibre is an important constituent in our food but did you know that the first person to make this connection was Dr Dennis Burkitt, originally from Enniskillen? Fibre, as an important part of a healthy balanced diet, can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, bowel cancer and weight gain. It can also help improve digestive health. Most vegetables are reasonably high in fibre but especially peas and beans.
Meat including processed meat
The World Health Organisation has classified processed meats - including ham, salami, sausages and hot dogs - as a class 1 carcinogen which means that there is strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. In the studies, the risk generally increased with the amount of processed meat consumed. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork has been classified as a 'probable' cause of cancer. Red meat is a very nutritious food and medical opinion is reluctant to rule it out altogether. At the moment the advice is to limit consumption and only include red meat in your diet "occasionally".
FishThere is a growing evidence showing that consumption of fish has many health benefits including lower blood pressure, reduced risk of blood clotting and lower incidence of heart arrthymia. Fish is also the original "fast food", taking only minutes to cook! Some studies have also linked fish consumption to a reduced risk of Alzeimhers.
The Mediterranean Diet
The diet which seems the best match to the above recommendations is usually known as the "Mediterranean diet" as it is the kind of food eaten by people living in the mediterranean region, an area known for the health and longevity of it's peoples. It favours fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans and peas, nuts and olive oil. Fish is eaten several times a week. Poultry and dairy products are eaten in moderation and red meat is saved for special occasions. Wine is drunk with meals, but in moderation. It certainly doesn't sound like deprivation!
Health and Nutrition Updates
If you are interested in keeping up-to-date on the latest research into healthy eating, you can register for a free Health and Nutrition Newsletter from Tufts University in Boston by clicking here
Casserole Club is a new kind of community project - specially designed to connect people who like to cook with their older neighbours who aren't always able to cook for themselves. The first Casserole Club started in 2011 and already there are Casserole Clubs in local areas across England and in Australia. More than 7,000 people have signed up to take part in the service to share thousands of tasty, home-cooked meals with their neighbours who need it most.
Casserole Club works because it takes something volunteers are already doing - cooking meals at home - and transforms it into a service that helps make local communities stronger. And since there are few requirements about how and when extra portions of food are shared, both Cooks and Diners are able to choose the meal sharing experiences that work for them
Through the simple act of sharing food, new friendships and connections develop. Whether Cooks and Diners have been sharing for years or just a few months, nearly everyone who takes part in Casserole Club is happier for having done so.
Potential Cooks are required to sign up on the website (https://www.casseroleclub.com) and undertake a short safeguarding process before they can search and contact local Diners. As they will be visiting the homes of older and potentially more vulnerable people, Casserole Club have to take safety very seriously. All volunteer Cooks have to complete a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check before they are introduced to Diners. Casserole Club work with recognised providers who can process DBS checks online. They will need to check your ID as part of the DBS check, which is arranged with you personally at a time that suits you.
The Casserole team works with local organisations to help reach Diners, they also take direct referrals including from friends and relatives. The organisers of Casserole Club understand that people are busy, and Casserole Club is a flexible volunteering project. They make sure that Diners understand that they shouldn't expect to receive a meal from a Cook on a regular, routine basis. How often and how much you cook is entirely up to you. Before you cook a meal for your Diner, you will be put in touch by phone so that you can discuss what you might cook and when.
To learn more about Casserole Club, watch this short video -
Michael McSorleyI suggested to Michael that he might want to write something about the referendum decision for the UK to leave the European Union. He has provided a thoughtful and thought provoking analysis of the situation we now find ourselves in. Click here to read Michael's views.
Like many of us Jeanette has been troubled by the constant diet of bad news fed to us by the media. In her article this month Jeanette considers how to cope with the flood of pessimistic reporting of events and offers some "coping strategies" to help us stay sane amid the seeming madness! Click here to read Jeanette's article.
Reflections is intended to showcase short pieces of poetry or prose that reflect on our life experience. This month features another poem by my late friend and colleague, Philip Clarke.
To read "The Summer OF Your Smile", by Philip Clarke, click here.