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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] R[/dropcap]ecently I was chatting to my brother Dom and he asked me ‘when was the last time you were sick?’
I had to think about it for a while. And I honestly couldn’t remember.
There has been a few runny noses and some pregnancy related tiredness. But since becoming a full time Stonesoup employee, back in January 2010, I haven’t had to ask my ‘boss’ (aka me) for a sick day (even though she is very caring and understanding).
Now I can’t take all the credit for my health.
My Mum passed on her Superman-strength immune system to me so that is a huge bonus. But I do make a big effort to look after myself as well.
Meditating first thing in the morning is a habit I’m really enjoying. I try and get at least 9 hours sleep each night, although with a baby in the house that hasn’t been happening. I try and do some sort of exercise each day. It used to be running but now I’m running only once a week and walking the rest. When I walk I like to carry some extra weight either as Fergal in the Baby Bjorn or my weights vest. I also do some kettle bell swings or pushups most days for some upper body strength.
And of course I try and eat as well as I can.
But what is healthy eating?
I know it can be a very confusing topic. So when I got the following question from an anonymous Stonesoup reader I figured it was something I should write about.
“I am so confused about diets and which is better for you. Paleo diet seems to be protein based and no legumes. Dr. Joel Fuhrman who advocates all plant for health, some legumes. I have been vegetarian for 30 years and on/off vegan. Carbs are bad? Good? Help!”
Anonymous Stonesoup Reader
Before I share my opinion, I’d better be clear about my credentials.
I’m not a professional dietitian or nutritionist. However, I do have some credentials in the area. For my food science degree I did study two nutrition subjects (and got distinctions!) along with basic biochemistry. So do I understand the fundamentals.
These days, apart from cookbooks, I love reading nutrition and diet books to keep up to date. Things like Wheat Belly by William Davis, Sweet Poison by David Guillespie, Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, and The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolfe. You get the idea. So here it is…
My 6 Guidelines for a Healthy Way of Eating
1. Find what works for you.
At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I believe there are two reasons the message about what to eat is so confusing. First is the influence of big business and politics in nutrition.
The second is that we’re all slightly different in our biochemical makeup. It’s the only way to explain why some people can eat junk all day and remain lean whereas others just think about chocolate cake and they gain weight.
So really the only option is to take responsibility for figuring out what is best for you and your body.
2. Eat real food.
The rate of obesity has increased at the same rate as our consumption of processed factory food. Coincidence? I think not.
So what is real food? Michael Pollan recommends not eating anything your grandparents wouldn’t recognise as food. But that would rule out sushi for me!
I prefer to think of real food as anything that you can buy without an ‘ingredients list’ on the pack.
3. Don’t be afraid of fat. Including saturated fat.
In my first job as a young food scientist I worked on developing many low fat products. And what did we replace the fat with? Sugar. Lots of different types of sugar. I still feel guilty that I contributed to the whole ‘low fat’ fiasco.
The thing is, fat is the best fuel for us to burn for energy. I won’t go into details here but if you’re interested in reading more I recommend the following 2 articles from Mark’s Daily Apple:
– What Does It Mean to Be Fat-Adapted?
– Why Fat is the Preferred Fuel for Human Metabolism
It also turns out that saturated fat isn’t bad for us. It tends to be the most stable fat for cooking and can actually be beneficial. If you think I’ve gone crazy read 7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat.
4. Be wary of sugar, especially fructose.
So you’re probably all over the concept that eating loads of jelly beans isn’t good for you. But how about fruit? While fruit does contain vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, it’s also laden with fructose, or fruit sugar.
The problem with fructose is that it gets stored directly as fat by our bodies. Not ideal.
Then to make matters worse, our bodies don’t have a system for detecting when we’ve eaten enough fructose. So there’s no ‘off’ switch. If you’re interested in learning more about the evils of sugar and fructose ‘Sweet Poison’ by David Guillespie is a good read.
5. Go easy on grains, especially wheat.
The main problem I have with grains, even ‘whole grains’ is they provide loads of carbohydrates without enough beneficial micronutrients. So I prefer to get my carbs in the form of vegetables.
Even if you think you don’t have a problem with wheat or gluten, you may find your health improves if you experiment with removing wheat from your diet. And it’s not just a digestive thing. In ‘Wheat Belly’ William Davis links consumption of modern wheat to all sorts of ills including schizophrenia.
6. Eat lots of vegetables.
Vitamins. Minerals. Fiber. Antioxidants. Plus they’re delicious. What’s not to love about veg!
I could also add ‘watch the carbs’ but if you’re avoiding sugar and grains you’ll mostly be keeping your carbohydrate intake to a moderate level. Unless of course you have a heavy potato addiction…
Sesame Stir Fry
To give credit where it is due, my Irishman came up with the idea for using tahini in a stir fry from something he read. It works so well I had to steal the idea!
Enough for 2
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 bunch bok choy, bases trimmed
450g (1lb) minced (ground) pork
2-4 red chillies
1. Stir tahini and soy sauce together in a small bowl.
2. Heat a wok on a super high heat. Add a little oil and stir fry the bok choy for a few minutes or until it’s just wilted.
3. Remove bok choy and divide between two bowls.
4. Add a little more oil to the wok. Add pork and stir fry for about 5 minutes or until the pork is cooked.
5. Add the tahini mixture and chilli and cook for another minute or so. Taste and season with more soy if needed.
6. Serve pork on top of the bok choy.
vegetarian / vegan – replace pork with drained cooked or canned chickpeas. Or cooked lentils – red lentils would be best, just undercook them slightly so they don’t turn to mush in the wok. Stir fried quinoa would also be lovely.
different meat – feel free to use beef, lamb or chicken instead.
different veg – any stir fry veg are good – snow peas, carrot, red capsicum (bell peppers), other Asian greens, broccoli.
more flavour – a little grated ginger and /or chopped garlic are lovely added with the pork.
ps. Stonesoup Is Hiring!
As a new Mum, I’ve realised its time to grow the Stonesoup team and take on a personal assistant. So if you are based in Australia, available to work from home and love food (but don’t worry, I won’t be asking you actually cook anything) go to:
I love your tips on how to stay healthy. I wish I could sleep more. Sleep and stress are the two huge factors for me in getting sick.
Love your blog and your recipes and I have learned some great ones from your book and emails.
However, I take great umbrage with your promotion of saturated fats as healthy. The American Heart Association, Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association all strongly contradict your belief that it is fine to consume saturated fat. There is substantial evidence from long term rigorous studies that suggest a connection between saturated fat consumption and heart disease, and only much smaller studies have given any evidence to the contrary.
The reason these large organizations have not changed their stances is because it is frankly a dangerous thing to suggest given the evidence they have already gathered. As a scientist you should know this. Before recommending that saturated fat is even safe to consume as any quantity or in any form, much more evidence must be found to prove why these other studies have shown a relationship.
What you are doing is a leap of faith with saturated fat. You are not alone, but I think it is dangerous given the state of the science. Contradict at your own risk, and you should probably be noting that when you recommend doing it.
The thing, Andy is that studies actually suck to guide our decisions on food and eating.
I’ve read the books Jules recommend and trust me, IT’S NOT A LEAP OF FAITH. It makes all the sense in the world once you think of it, and once you see that evidence must not always come from a study.
Studies are normally regarded as the non plus ultra of science, but they’re not. When it comes to nutrition and food, what matters is the world’s history, and the specifics of every single body. How have humans eaten for AGES? You’d be surprised to learn, not from studies, that they didn’t eat low-fat. Far from it!
I know it’s scary, but trust me, what the AHA, the CDC and all that authorities promote is nonsense. Don’t just believe them, but please don’t rely just on studies when it comes to doing your resesarch. Maybe they’re reliable for other scientific disciplines, but not for nutrition.
Read books. Weston A. Price, Broda Barnes, Paul Campos are a nice starting point.
All the best.
Fab it would be as foolish of me to decide to simply “trust you” as you recommend as it is for you and Jules and others to disregard the science and studies put forth by these large reputable organizations. What you are doing is the definition of a leap of faith. You are ignoring what is known to be true and deciding that you know better.
The truth is you are ignoring the science because you want to, which is again an act of faith. Evidence very much needs to come from science, as again that is basically the definition of evidence.
I would be a fool to trust you, as you are a fool to trust these other sources. Not only are they not proving the safety of consuming saturated fat, but they are also failing to show a benefit through the same rigor. Clearly you and the others only want it to be true that it is fine to consume as much bacon, chocolate, butter, cheeses, beef and other such delicious items as you want. But wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true.
You are kidding yourself. That is the truth.
Interesting discussion here. I think a lot about this. I’ve read a lot of the books out there, including The China Study and Why We Get Fat.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast the vegan vs. paleo philosophies and wonder if one is right or the other is right. And of course, every body is different.
On one hand, paleo may be more historical, but paleo people didn’t live very long. On the other hand, vegans may get less cancer but there are nutrients you can get from a vegan diet.
In the end, I really enjoy reading about the “Blue Zones” and the health of certain peoples like traditional Mediterranean people or Okinawans. If you want health and longevity in the modern age, that’s a good place to start looking.
Great discussion Andy, Fab & Marcia!
The way I see it is that nutrition and health are very complicated. And given that we all have different genetics and biochemistry it’s very difficult to conduct scientific studies that actually give results that are meaningful.
I think it’s important to be wary of the results from individual studies.
For me the macro trends are the most telling…
If as a population we’ve been reducing our intake of saturated fat (which we have) and the incidence of heart disease has still been increasing (which it has), to me that indicates quite strongly that saturated fat isn’t the problem.
I’m not saying we should all eat bacon 24/7. But for me some saturated fat is a good thing.
Jules, I beg to differ on what you say about fructose.
Maybe it makes us fat, but then maybe being slightly chubbier is better than having adrenal fatigue, which fructose actually prevents.
I guess I’ll just stick to the first 3 tips. :)
All the best
If you find you need fructose for your optimum health then whole fresh fruit is definitely the way to get it!
Hi, Jules. I think fruit works in moderation because the fructose is expanded in water. Not true of dried fruit or candy. I like the tips and have been mulling for a day and need lots more suggestions for breakfast. I have had quite a few of your recipes but nothing super fast and still healthy for breakfast. I need cook-ahead or no-cook. I am at a loss if I drop grains.
Thanks for the suggestion Rachel!
I haven’t posted about breakfast for a while… I’ll add it to my list.
I’m a big fan of eggs.. and if you need cook ahead then boiled eggs are your best bet.
And you’re right… fresh fruit with it’s high water content has far less fructose than dried fruit or candy. So definitely the best choice for a sweet treat.
Your rules are very similar to my own. Eat real food, eat at least 3 veg with every meal, embrace the fat, eat protein at every meal, watch the grains and the carbs. It helped me lose over 30 kilos. Yay!
30kg! That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing
I failed to notice until now the glaring contradiction you make here between #3 and #4. First you recommend not to be afraid to eat fat (even saturated fat), but then in the next recommendation you say don’t eat fruit because it gets turned into fat?
You can’t have it both ways. You’re arguments are contradicting themselves. You can’t both find fat okay to consume directly but then pooh-pooh it when your body creates it from fructose. This makes it clear that just like Fab here (and Tim Ferris, btw), you are looking to justify something you want to believe rather then finding the actual truth.
It’s not really contradictory. In one point she is talking about dietary fat. In the other she is talking about body fat.
No, it is contradictory. She says its fine to consume fat, but not fruit because it gets turned into fat. How much clearer can the contradiction be?
It’s also just terrible advice to say that you should be careful with fruit, but not with fatty foods. It is good advice to say that you should consume as much whole fruit as you want, all day, every day. There basically is no downside.
Meanwhile, there are many things high in fat that you should be very careful about consuming in large quantities. Meat and diary products cannot be eaten in unlimited quantities without potentially gaining weight, and such high fat items like chips/crisps, dips and dressings have essentially no redeeming qualities and should only be eaten in small quantities as treats.
This is much better advice, sorry to say. I do think that Jules does give a lot of good advice and great recipes but #3 and #4 are not well thought out pieces of advice.
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.. you’re obviously very passionate!
And I can see where you could think there’s a contradiction between my thoughts on fruit and eating fat.
The reason I am wary of the fructose in fruit is because it gets processed in a special way and is stored directly as fat. Our bodies don’t get a chance to burn this energy before it’s stored.
Fat that we eat on the other hand can be used for fuel. It’s only the excess that gets stored as fat.
It’s a subtle difference but that’s where I’m coming from.
And I should make it clear I don’t think we should consume large quantities of fat. I’m just trying to make people aware that the ‘low fat’ message is not helpful for health. And there is a place for fat, including saturated fat in a healthy diet.
With the fruit thing, we’ll have to disagree on there being no downside to eating loads of fruit.
I think it’s important to note that you say that about ‘whole’ fruit because I do agree that whole fruit is much less problematic than juice, processed fruit products or dried fruit.
First of all, I would like to say that I deeply respect Jules for her blog, cookbooks and trying to help people with health advice. Nowadays it’s very easy to get trapped in reading food blogs due to their abundance, and separating wheat from chaff (apologies for the unintended pun) is becoming more and more difficult. While it’s great that we can read a lot about healthy nutrition and lifestyle, we still need to remember that most of facts in food blogs are based (and sometimes abused) on scientific research, which is the key. I’m only pointing this out as a scientist myself. I have experienced how easily scientific contributions can get misrepresented and misinterpreted.
Enough monologue for now. I usually enjoy reading the Stone Soup newsletter and don’t get involved in commenting, but the last issue made me think. How can you say that eating fresh fruit is bad for you and that it will make you fat? Fructose in natural abundance (eg. in fresh fruit) is not bad for you and is actually easily digested/absorbed in human body since it’s a monosaccharide (only one ring in its structure), just like glucose. These two sugars are foremost distributed in our blood stream and provide energy for our bodily functions. Of, course if you are consuming large quantities of products where fructose is artificially added or concentrated, there might be chemical imbalance which results in your body producing by-products, such as fat to store the energy from fructose digestion. Here is what scientists have to say about it:
Overall, eating fresh fruit IS good for you, since it also provides essential vitamins, fibre and water, afterall.
Thanks for your attention. Over and out.
I used to think the same way that Andy and most of us probably do – ‘eat fat, get fat’. And – ‘fruit is healthy, natural’ so, no restriction necessary there. I’ve learned from personal trial and error that it’s not as simple as that. Fruit really affects the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ I get from fluctuating blood sugar levels (not good!) and balancing my Omega 3 & 6 ratio with good fats has benefited me greatly. Not just with fat loss, but with feeling good and diminishing cravings/feeling satisfied.
But others I’ve spoken to don’t seem to be affected by this to such an extent. Rather than assuming that there are hard and fast rules for everything, we all need to be open to being our own ‘science experiment’. We could try to eat fruit all day (with protein of course) and very little fat, and then the next day eat just vegetables with protein and add a few healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil or olive oil, even proper butter! It goes without saying that commercial, processed chips, dips and dressings would not come under the healthy fat options. But some homemade hummus or gaucamole with veggie sticks sounds good to me!
As Jules pointed out in tip no. 1, we are all slightly different and need to work out what’s best for you and your body :) Thanks for the suggestions – they work for me!