We have become a nation that is completely out of touch with what we put inside our bodies. Whether it is fast food, microwave meals or the cheapest processed food, the quality of what we ingest has never been lower – and our health is suffering as a result. Obesity, diabetes type 2 and heart disease are rife, and despite the current advice to reduce fat intake, sugar, and to exercise more, the situation seems to be getting worse not better. Every newspaper supplement and talk show seems to have new advice on getting slimmer and healthier, with the information often being contradictory rather than helpful (depending on what study has just been released). No wonder people are switching off, especially when life is so hectic (and expensive) anyway.
I used to be a sugar and fast food addict, even though I had been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 2007. Last year, I came to the conclusion that my lifestyle, and my diet in particular, was killing me. And I was more than at risk for losing my sight, or a leg – or having a heart attack or stroke. There was no particular incident that prompted this revelation – just the fact that I was getting older and that I really wanted to be around for much longer yet!
Looking at all of the information available on what to eat and what to avoid, I became as confused as everyone else. So many ‘diets’ with fancy names, and so many food ‘Nazis’ with strict dietary rules. It all sounded dire, and I knew that my lack of willpower would lead me to fail on many of them. What I needed was a way of eating that would not only make me healthier, but would also be enjoyable. But surely the two were exclusive?
Instead of just relying on articles in popular magazines, or on the Internet, I decided to do my own research – reading as many books and posts on dedicated way of eating sites that actually cited scientific research instead of unsourced ‘facts’. For my problems with weight and blood sugar, I soon came to the conclusion that the best food for me was that which contained few carbohydrates (apart from fibre) and a higher amount of fat. Of course, it goes without saying that anything with sugar in was taboo, but that also meant anything that was a simple carbohydrate (anything made from white flour, pasta, rice, potatoes). I was determined to lower my blood sugar and reduce my insulin resistance enough to get off my diabetes medication.
Luckily for my sweet tooth, I found a way to both cut the sugar and still have sweet foods by using erythritol and stevia (sweeteners from natural sources). I replaced flour with almond flour, and if I craved chocolate, I allowed myself some of the 70-85% cocoa content stuff. I managed to get myself eating less than 30g of carbs per day – what is known as a Keto way of eating. When you don’t consume enough carbs or sugar to make the glucose that your body needs as fuel, it starts to use your fat reserves instead. This is called ketosis (not to be confused with the serious and often fatal condition of ketoacidosis). After four months of eating this way, I lost a stone in weight, reduced my blood sugar readings, and came off my diabetes tablets. And, thanks to the above ingredients I still managed to have my cake and eat it!
But this sort of way of eating – I say sort of because it is found in many ‘diets’: Atkins, low carb Paleo diet, low carb Mediterranean diet, and the Dukan diet (high protein, low carb). Each one is a little different in how many carbs are allowed, whether the fat or protein portion of the food intake should be higher, and in what foods are banned. Much is based on good science but you also get some unproven or exaggerated claims, depending on what the founder believes, or is trying to sell.
The biggest surprise to many with these ways of eating is that certain fats are allowed, whereas years ago they were considered to be the short cut to a heart attack. Some of the old research leading to those conclusions was, in fact, deeply flawed, and newer research indicates that saturated fats (such as in dairy and animal fat), as well as olive and coconut oils are actually quite good for use, especially when it comes to brain health and mending our tissues (including arteries). The danger comes from trans fats and oxidised polyunstaurated fats (such as those in vegetable oils – previously thought of as healthy) which end up damaging cells and arteries.
Cholesterol is another former villain that has been partly exonerated – I say ‘partly’ because it depends on cholesterol type and particle size. Most of the cholesterol in our blood comes from the body’s own production line situated mainly in the liver – only about 25% comes from the food you eat. And contrary to current common belief, it is a vital substance when it comes to keeping the body and mind healthy. Therefore, don’t be surprised at the amount of fats and eggs in the recipes in this blog. Just remember, because they also contain calories, don’t pig out on the carbs and sugars as well!
Of course, I will write in more detail on these topics in the future, but for now, if you want to look up some things for yourself, I recommend the following:
A website that is excellent if you are just starting off on the low carb/high fat journey. Packed full of information and tips.
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food (AL)
An amazing book that has all the science and has influenced much of my own way of eating. Catherine Shanahan looks at the foods that we are genetically programmed to thrive on. It’s a long, involved read, but well-worth the time.