Fats shouldn’t be scary

Posted on 22 May 2010 In: Fats

We’ve eaten them for thousands of years; some are essential for our bodies. Fats hold onto flavours in a way that water doesn’t. We like the experience of eating them, but they have had a bad press in recent years.

What do we know about fats?

Have you ever watched butter melting on your toast, or in a pan, slowly and tantalisingly? If it was all one type of fat, it would go liquid much more rapidly, apparently. I could not find listed the fats in butter (there are medium and short-chain fatty acids) but I did find those for olive oil and lard, with approximate percentages.

Olive oil contains around 71% oleic acid, and interestingly, lard has about 44% of the same fat. (As natural products vary slightly, the percentages vary a little between samples.) Both have around 10% linoleic acid, which is an omega six polyunsaturate. Lard has about 26% palmitic acid, around one percent more than human milk has.

Does it make sense to swear never to eat lard and stick to olive oil? I only use lard occasionally in pastry (pie dough), and I don’t like it that much. I bought some beef dripping recently, to use for occasional hot frying, because it has a high smoke-point. From what I’ve read, it seems that when you start to see a faint blue smoke rising off the fat, the heat is damaging and changing it. I never fry in sunflower oil any more because of this, and only use olive oil for low-temperature slow cooking of onions and other vegetables.

For me, an  important area is the polyunsaturates, now often known as the omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Food Supplements

Posted on 14 Apr 2010 In: Uncategorized

This is something I mentioned in my first post. Should I feed myself or my family any tablets and capsules as well as food? Family food doesn’t really sound like the kind of thing you add supplements to, but looking back, we were raised with some vitamin C from the health visitor as small children, and codliver oil was also a favourite (among parents that is – and they weren’t eating it).

Today there is so much around, but do we really need it? I have been reading for the last several years that the food we eat is less well-endowed with vitamins than it used to be, but nothing had really persuaded me. I felt I needed to read more thoroughly, but didn’t do the research.

Earlier this year, a book ‘leapt off the shelf at me’ in my local library. I started to read the book with some skepticism, but became more impressed the more I read. I am now following up books that appeared in that book’s biography. Your local library may have it too: ‘We Want Real Food’ by Graham Harvey.

The author cites examples from around the world, but most from UK and North America. I never thought I could be this interested in a book that is basically about soil – the stuff that feeds our food plants, and everything that eats them.

Vitamin and mineral levels in plant foods and fodders are affected by the fertility of the soil, and looking after soil is quite an art. It has made me look at my garden in a new light, and think about what else I need apart from packets of seeds.

This whole book has led me to re-asses the need for some supplementation, but I need to look further into this. Meanwhile, I inflict codliver oil on my children, just in case…

Oops again, I just re-read my statistics…

Posted on 12 Apr 2010 In: Uncategorized

I just read my post for 21 February, and have realised that my waist/hip ratio then was .77! If I do it now in centimetres, I get 0.79, rather than the 0.8 I get in inches, but this is a bit depressing all the same. Easter did become a bit of an excuse to stray from my usual treat of 85% cocoa-solids chocolate! The difference between 70% and 85% is basically sugar content.

Despite this, I am still going to focus on healthy food for all the family, because I feel strongly that even if crash diets worked ( I don’t believe they do long-term) children need to see their parents eating family meals. Some people find that they get good results relying on nutritious shakes for the first few days or even a week, but I am going to stick to a food diet!

Days start well, with all of us getting a breakfast with a protein component. I have read that our bodies don’t store protein, and also that eating too much at go time is hard on the metabolism. Sounds as if little and often might work.

We don’t pay any heed to tradition here – I like kippers, but the children prefer fish fingers, and that’s fine by me – I choose the fat they are cooked in (and use very little). My favourite at the moment is to gently fry some courgette (zucchini) cut to rather chunky matchsticks, and as soon as they are beginning to colour slightly, add beaten egg, to make a scrambe/omelette. Soy sauce instead of sea salt on this goes well. Any greens can be used, but leafy ones I add when the egg has just started to cook.

Other kids’ breakfasts include: cheese on toast, bagel with cream cheese and a smoked salmon (a little goes a long way, and it is quite often found on special offer), bacon on a bagel. All simple stuff, which is necessary seeing it all has to be done in short order before the school bus comes.

If smoked salmon is about, I’ll have a bit of that beside scrambled egg – I just love eggs for breakfast, and eggs with fish is great.

I just have to keep up the good work and not reach for the biscuits at work or when I get home late afternoon. Wish me luck!

healthy food, healthy portions

Posted on 12 Apr 2010 In: Uncategorized

Ooh scary. I stepped on the scales at the pool on 23rd March, and though my BMI is still below 24, no weight shifted.

Am I surprised? No, I just haven’t stuck to my low-carb plan. Too many days have been undone in the late afternoon with a couple of biscuits.

However, spring is advancing and salad days are here, so it is the best time of the year to build better habits. Given that I want to feed the family on the same meals, how do I build better habits, when temptation is all around me?

1) Don’t buy it

It’s the snacks that I need to avoid, and I do buy some ‘junk’ treats for the children – crisps (potato chips) and biscuit bars (cookies). Trouble is, I worked out that one finger of shortbread could be fitted into the low-carb plan, but of course I need to stop at one. This leads me to rule two:

2) Be good at home

The biscuit box needs to be out of bounds to me – it gets opened when the children come home from school and have a snack, and sometimes for mid-morning at weekends and holidays. If I can resist temptation at home, then I can:

3) Indulge for special occasions

If I have a sad week with no social engagements, then I can indulge at home. This is rather like the 80% compliance rule with some diets – we all need treats and cheats, but if there is a number there then it helps us stop kidding ourselves. I would tend to indulge a bit at the weekend, but

4) Must avoid weakening at work

There’s a biscuit box here too, and I have been known to put things in it! I need to be better at bringing my own snacks, which should not be hard as I bring my own lunch every day.

So, BMI 23.7, waist/hip ratio 0.8. Let’s see how I do in the salad days! Next post will focus on family again, because my plans for me fit into my plans for healthy food for growing high-school children.

Tomorrow I step on the scales

Posted on 22 Mar 2010 In: Uncategorized

I don’t keep a set of scales at home, so I avoid the temptation of frequent weighing. My local sports centre has a machine that reads my weight and height and gives me my weight and BMI. It shows the height too, which explained why my reading was once rather more svelte than expected – I had hopped on the scale with my hair up in a sturdy plastic clip which had added an inch to my height. When I read my height I realised – and had a good laugh.

So, tomorrow I will get on the scales, and try to be light-hearted about it. Spring is coming, the birds are singing, but it is very hard to let go of the comfort of carbohydrate. The whole point of my low-carb phase is that it is just that – a phase. Once I am back on course, I will find the balance that suits me.

Unfortunately, every day I stray from the plan I make the phase longer. If I overdo the carbohydrate, then insulin is produced and extra calories get stored as fat. Avoiding overdoing the protein, I am eating fat for energy, and of course I don’t want to be storing it on my body.

The big danger, as I understand it, on a low-carbohydrate diet, is to overdo the protein. It is hard work for the body to extract energy from protein, and it is wasteful to eat large amounts of protein. The trouble is, many people fear fat.

For decades, we in the west have been given the ‘fat is bad’ lecture. In the weight-loss phase of a low-carb. diet, the carbohydrate is restricted so that insulin production is not triggered. The energy has to come from fat. It works, as long as the carbohydrate is restricted, and plenty of vegetables play their part.

I thought about this last night when I was watching a ‘River Cottage’ repeat on television. Cook and small-holder Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall was adding a jug of cream to a stew to avoid dryness in a dish made with very lean meat. I used sour cream in my beetroot soup with lush results, but it doesn’t have to be cream. I could marinade and sizzle some streaky belly of pork – a traditional addition to many dishes for its flavour and fat content.

Low-fat, high carbohydrate eating plans work for some people, but all of us need to know our fats. Carbohydrates trigger insulin production, so balance is needed. This is why a lot of people have become interested in the glycaemic index (glycemic index) which calibrates carbohydrates to the speed and rate at which they raise your blood sugar.  They use this to inform their choice of carbohydrates to allow them to keep their blood sugar level more steady.

Whatever your culture and food choices, it appears that keeping your blood sugar stable is a healthy thing to do. Understanding what this means and how to do it is a smart undertaking.

Beetroot soup – and spoons of sugar

Posted on 9 Mar 2010 In: Uncategorized

Ten days since my last post, and not as many of them as low-carbohydrate as I would like. Today I had a lovely beetroot soup at my friend’s house, and recalled two batches I made earlier this year (when I was ‘just practising’ my low-carb cooking). Batch one: beetroot fresh from my local market, boiled, cooled, skinned and made into simple soup with onion, salt, pepper and sour cream. Batch two: the same as before, except made with pre-cooked beetroot – it was okay, but lacked the earthy deeper taste of the first lot. My friend’s soup had cabbage and a hint of clove – subtle and delicious. Beetroot is a great vegetable, beautiful, tasty and healthy. It ticks all the boxes, including pleasure, which is essential.

I stamped on a food pleasure this week. Struggling to leave the rice pudding for the children, I found myself taking my younger child to task about his love of fizzy drinks (soda). I had been thinking about it, and the opportunity arose, and we got out the scales and spooned sugar into the pan of the scales until we had weighed out the amount found in a 500ml bottle. I explained that our bodies have only recently been exposed to these kind of amounts of sugar, and that we are over-burdening them. A couple of days later, he has decided to leave his sweet snack on the table, and take only crisps and a piece of fruit for his school snack. I am proud of him for taking a decision on this.

Next, investigating the effects of phosphoric acid – and would crisps (potato chips) be best fried in something other than sunflower oil?

Balancing Carbohydrates and Fats

Posted on 28 Feb 2010 In: Uncategorized

What balance of carbohydrates and fats do I want in my daily diet?

My reading leads me to believe that trying to put the exact amount of calories in so I can function but need to burn body fat to get enough is a bad idea. It will tell my body that there is famine, and make it very efficient. When I relax my diet, my re-tuned body will save as much as it can as body fat, in reserve against the next lean period.

I worry also about getting enough fat – essential fats and fats that carry the fat-soluble vitamins.

So, I’m going to try to reduce my carbohydrate intake to the point where my body’s insulin response is not triggered (at least on the days I manage to stick to my diet!). PMS is making me crave carbohydrate, so it will be easier to get going in a few days. I will count my success in days per week and month, because a ‘fail’ day is just a day, I do this diet one day at a time, the good days building up.

I hate the idea of calorie-counting, but I need to do a little bit of carbohydrate counting. I need to remember that a slice of bread is 15 grammes or so, an orange, ten grammes of carbohydrate. I cook the same for everyone, even stew with dumplings, but I cut right back on carbohydrates until I have lost the weight (in theory, I stop losing weight when I get into my ideal range – it will be interesting to see if that is the same as my idea of ideal). Sounds easy?

Before I State my Waist-to-Hip Ratio

Posted on 21 Feb 2010 In: General

Before I state my waist-to-hip ratio, I’d better introduce myself. I live in the midlands of England, and work part-time in an office. My name is Anne, and I have two children at high school. Food is on everyone’s mind – children saying ‘I’m hungry’ and ‘What’s for dinner'; adult thoughts focus on much the same things, and I am the one who does most of the cooking.

I want my kids to grow strong and helathy, and for myself, I want to be well nourished and enjoy my food without increasing my waistline. Okay, the waist-to-hip ratio is 0.77. Not too bad, but there are some tight waistbands in my wardrobe and I’d like to get into those clothes again.

Since I don’t take enough exercise to cancel out all that sitting at desks, I need to modify my diet to suit, but I want to sit down and eat the same food at mealtimes as my children. It must be a question of balance.

I am a bit skeptical about the 2000 calories a day recommended for women. I’m not average! I am also pretty unimpressed with low-fat diets, and think they won’t deliver the essential fats my children need. Since my brain is more than 60% fat, just as theirs are, I reckon we all need to know our fats.

So, where do I start with planning the family meals? Vegetables seem uncontroversial, more green stuff is on every diet list bar the most way-out. Protein is on the menu mostly in the form of meat, fish and dairy products, with a few beans and lentils. What is the right amount? Too little is no good, and too much is apparently hard work for the body to process, and hard on the budget. More research coming up.  Nutritious meals on a budget will be achieved this year!

Diet, what diet?

Posted on 7 Jan 2010 In: Uncategorized

Do I have to?  I never wanted to diet, I never wanted to give my children food supplements.  Do I have to eat differently to the rest of the family?  Do we have to take vitamins?  I want us all to sit down to the same food together, and to get all the nutrients we need from our food.  Food should be a shared pleasure, and not a worry.

This year I am going to have to look harder at our food.  I love food, I like cooking (I don’t love having to do it every night, but I do enjoy cooking).  We buy some snacks, but mostly we eat food – cooked from scratch.  I have been ignoring most of the health scares, saying to myself “all things in moderation”. I, however, have not been moderate enough of late.

My hip to waist ratio is neither flattering nor very healthy and I need to work out how to feed my family the best food I can on a budget.  I have managed my shopping well for years, but I want to be sure I am buying the best quality food I can for my money.

One meal for the family, good for all of us, is my aim.

Growing children need good nutrition, but so do parents.  We are busy, and our bodies do make less good use of the food we eat as we age, apparently.  So we should all be eating the best we can, not forgetting our favourite treats and trying new things.