For a Healthy Diet Stop Dieting!
Yes! To really have a healthy diet, on a long-term basis, you need to ditch the diets and adopt a healthy eating lifestyle instead! I haven't much time for the faddish food crazes that capture the public imagination for a while and then fizzle out.
If you scroll down the page, you will find my assessment of some popular eating philosophies that are well worth incorporating into your own healthy eating lifestyle, without being obsessive about it! But, firstly, to eat a healthy diet all the time, it is important to have healthy cooking habits.
Tips on Cooking for a Healthy Diet:
While sugar, salt, fat and refined flours are not healthy in large amounts, I believe a little of everything, every now and then, does no harm and can be enjoyed. In general, I cut out salt when cooking, except on rare occasions. For sweetness, where possible, instead of sugar, I use honey, maple syrup, molasses, or raw cane sugar as a last resort. I try to use wholemeal pastas, breads and flours as much as possible. But if a dish demands otherwise, I will sometimes do otherwise. It’s what you do most of the time that’s important.
With food, the more you eat a certain way, the more you will naturally want to eat that way, and your body, or your appetite, will develop its own natural discipline, which you won't have to impose artificially upon yourself. Whatever regime we adopt, we don’t have to be absolutist. We can be all too eager to make a religion out of every new diet fad and follow it like the members of a cult, unquestioning, with an all-or-nothing approach. It is important to bear in mind, with food, as with everything, there are no rules that cannot be broken when we choose to!
Daughters and diets:
Because so many girls and young women in our society suffer from eating disorders, I think it is important that all of us who have daughters are conscious of this and careful that we are not giving them unhealthy messages about food, eating and body image. If you have daughters, be attentive to what messages you are passing on to them about food and their bodies. I have to say that my eyes glaze over with boredom when I find myself at a table with women who, when dessert comes round, pass on it in a self-sacrificing way, because they are ‘watching the calories’. Or else they order dessert, deciding ‘to be naughty’, but don’t enjoy eating it because they ‘shouldn’t really be eating it, and will pay for it later’ etc. etc. etc.!
Even worse, is that this sort of conversation amongst women frequently goes on in the presence of their impressionable, young daughters. No wonder so many young girls develop an unhealthy relationship with food, becoming anxious, developing the chronic disease of never believing they are good enough as they are, but must be improved by self-denial, crack-pot fad diets and plastic surgery.
Eating a healthy diet has nothing to do with extreme self-denial, obsessional eating habits, excessive worrying over calories and waist measurements. A healthy diet is a normal, natural positive, balanced way of living. Women of the world, the Good Food Angel says, “If you want the dessert, eat it, enjoy it! Say how delicious it is! If you don’t want it, say ‘no thank you’ and then stay quiet!” Whew! Glad I got that off my chest, I’ve been a long time waiting to say it!
Besides, even chocolate is good for you, if you choose good quality chocolate with 70% cocoa and made only with pure cocoa butter, like Jerry Hall does. Surely this is nature's way of telling us that healthy eating should be enjoyable, and that health is about joy and happiness, not the opposite?
My favourite diet:
The healthy diet theory that is closest to how I like to eat, is best described in the book The Okinawa Way, written by three doctors, who describe the lifestyle of the residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa.
The debilitating diseases of the West, such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, are virtually unknown in Okinawa, where health and longevity are considered the norm. The core principles of the Okinawa healthy diet are: lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, (much more than we eat in the West, even when we think we are eating healthily), fish, no dairy, no red meat and lots of soy foods like tofu.
The fact that the islanders all take regular, gentle exercise, right into old age, is also a significant factor in their health. So is their spirituality and general philosophy of life. The authors make the very important point that health is not just about a healthy diet, and not even just about diet and exercise, but incorporates a non-physiological dimension as well.
The glycemic index or G.I. diet:
The popular glycemic index system, or the G.I. Diet, is one of the theories of eating which I believe has a lot to recommend it and constitutes a very healthy diet. If you are 'dieting' and are also cooking for a family and don't want the bother of catering separately for yourself, this is a good system to use.
It is, of course, is not really a ‘diet’, but a change in eating habits. The basic principle of this way of eating is that you cut out foods that enter too quickly into the bloodstream. Highly-processed, refined foods are thus eliminated and you are left with only the natural foods that constitute a healthy diet.
However, if you are using this method as a guide to what to feed your family, I emphasise you should apply it as an eating-plan rather than a ‘diet’. Make the food choices recommended by the G.I. diet, but ditch the counting of numbers, at least for your children (unless a medical or health professional has advised you otherwise, in which case you should always follow professional advice).
Introducing a healthy diet to children is always difficult at first, so do it gradually. Once they get used to the new tastes, it won’t continue to be an issue. And remember, eating well should be a normal, natural thing, not something to obsess over. You want to pass on a healthy attitude towards food to your children. If you must add up numbers for yourself, do keep it to yourself!
For a low G.I. eating-plan for all your family, all you need to do is switch to plain old-fashioned eating! Cut out the processed factory foods, with all their added sugar and refined flours. Choose no-sugar breakfast cereals, based on oats, barley and bran. Use grainy breads, with lots of whole seeds and wholemeal flour. Try wholemeal pittas and wholewheat flour pancakes. Cut down on potatoes and eat wholegrain rice and pasta instead. Eat lots of fruit, salad and vegetables. Voila! If you make these food choices, you will have a healthy diet and you shouldn’t have to worry about adding up points anyway.
All these foods are great for school-going children, because they are released more slowly into the bloodstream and provide energy over longer periods of time. This helps children concentrate better at school. It also keeps them feeling full for longer. They will be more alert at school and not tire so easily. If your child displays lack of concentration, or hyperactivity, it is especially important not to load their metabolic system with sugary, or refined products. Keep the diet healthy. A G.I. eating plan would benefit such a child enormously.
Good fats and bad fats:
When we think of what a healthy diet should be, often we automatically assume it means cutting out fats. But this is not necessarily true. In fact, many fats, the right sort, are an indispensible part of a healthy diet. It is important to know the difference between good fats and bad fats therefore.
The first important difference is in using fats for cooking. Much as I hate to conclude, the truth as I believe it, is that all fried food is probably bad and is not really part of a healthy diet.
This is the basis of the teachings of Dr Udo Erasmus, of 'Udo’s Oils' fame. Erasmus says that all refined oils are bad, as they are bleached and contain added chemicals. Cooking with them then multiplies their badness. Even unrefined oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, become bad when heated.
Erasmus is right. I cannot disagree with him, but I am just not ready to cut out all oil in my cooking. It would mean the end of, not just fried foods, but also casseroles, soups, pies, almost everything I like to cook, the way I cook it. Erasmus advises that for a healthy diet, we should boil things instead and then add uncooked, unrefined oil, on top, as a dressing.
He is right and this is good advice and I am happy to endorse it, even though I am not ready to adopt it completely myself. I know what I must do for a 100% healthy diet, but at the moment, I want to enjoy my food the way I like it, just a a little longer! However, I am allowing into my heart, the thought that I should change and gradually over time, I will move in the direction of cutting out cooked oils from my diet.
Raw food diet:
I am a great believer in the benefits of a raw food diet and there is a real health bonus to be gained from eating this way. However, I also enjoy cooked food and I think there are unquantifiable benefits to eating hot meals in winter, that are also important and should not be totally dismissed as part of a healthy diet.
During the summer, I find I eat a lot of raw foods and would often go through the week without cooking. However, to eat a healthy diet composed entirely of raw food, all the time, is very time-consuming, as it involves a lot of sprouting and making your own breads, crackers and many other things that are cooked before we buy them. This sort of healthy diet requires a fundamental lifestyle change and a real vocation for it. However, most people who claim to eat a raw food diet, in actuality, only eat about 70% raw foods.
I try to incorporate some raw foods into every meal, which is an easy compromise and I think about 50% raw is a good balance to aim for and would constitute a very healthy diet. The more you eat raw food, the more you will find that your appetite for it grows. As more raw food products (such as sprouted hummus, raw bread, crackers and cakes) become commercially available, it should get easier for more people to eat this way more often.
A dairy-free diet:
Another healthy diet theory that seems to make a lot of sense, is the dairy-free diet. I agree with the argument that dairy is not natural for humans to eat----we eat dairy without actually thinking of what it is----cow's, or goat's milk, designed by nature for baby cattle and goats, just like breast milk is for baby humans. When you think about it, there does seem to be something inherently amiss, when humans make a lifelong habit of eating the baby-milk of other mammals.
This is compounded by the fact that dairy is produced on an industrial scale and often contains traces of antibiotics, hormones and chemicals which are not good for us. Totally fresh, organic milk is difficult to source for many people.
My head tells me that dairy cannot be part of a truly healthy diet. But my heart? My heart loves homemade ice-cream, milk in my tea, butter on my toast and mashed potato, because these are the tastes of my childhood, ingrained into whatever primal part of my brain that deals with food. I have tried soy substitutes and no matter what people say, they just don’t taste good to me, even though I love tofu and eat it as regularly as the residents of Beijing!
However, in my own journey towards a healthy diet, I am cutting down on dairy, gradually and over time, I imagine I will cut it out completely. I have found that a little olive oil, or vinaigrette, drizzled over my toast, is a nice alternative to butter and since I have taken up white tea, I don't often have my traditional black tea with milk anymore, unless I am under a lot of stress, in which case I seem to revert back to the old reliables!
The cave-people diet:
Another current healthy diet theory, is that of Dr John Briffa, who urges us to cast our minds back into pre-history, to the last Ice-Age and ask 'What would our ancestors have eaten around the camp-fire?' Low-fat yoghurt and pasta? Certainly not.
In evolutionary terms, we are still designed to eat what they ate, which is probably why so many people have dairy and wheat allergies. He recommends we stick to the primal foods of meat, fruit, nuts, berries, eggs and fish. This means avoiding, as much as possible, sugar, dairy, wheat and other grains including rice.
“We’ve been around for two and a half million years, we evolve very slowly,” says Briffa. He points out that grains only entered the human diet 10,000 years ago and are responsible for much weight gain and diabetes.
Dairy is even more recent, only appearing 5,000 years ago and is not a natural food for the human body. He makes a very valid point when he argues that these foods are generally promoted by people who are trying to sell us something and it is difficult to see the truth behind all the different agendas at play. Briffa also emphasises that we all have individual metabolic requirements and should tailor-make our own diets to accommodate our own needs, using our innate wisdom.
This is good advice, although like some others, I wouldn't accept his entire thesis. Other food-theorists give advice similar to Briffa's, but differ in that they do not recommend excluding all grains and some are against red meat. Like Briffa, they recommend avoiding wheat and other refined grains, but do not have a problem with wholegrain rice, as part of a healthy diet. Our cave-ancestors did eat wild wholegrains and apart from wheat (which was cross-bred during the Neolithic era to produce a new, higher-yielding, more problematic form) I am not sure that they can be seen as universally problematic. I also do not agree that red meat is healthy for humans.
I do think, however, that there is a lot to be said for Briffa's general argument that we are not benefiting from the relatively new-fangled products we eat today, no matter how 'healthy' they purport to be. I also like the simplicity of asking 'What would the cave-people eat?' Certainly not Diet Coke. Definitely pure, unadulterated, natural food.
Remember, healthy eating is enjoyable!
Blessings on your table!
The Good Food Angel.
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