A BBC Horizon programme presented by Michael Mosley. This programme explored the role of diet and nutrition in ageing.
At Cornell University researchers are studying a genetically modified mouse strain, which exhibits longevity (longer life) with a calorie restricting diet. This work has been extended to human study at Fontana Washington University. Here, they have set up a long-term study of dietary intervention. The principal investigator was quite confident that the people undertaking this approach are a new species. I doubt this very much. Participants are restricted to 1,900 calories a day, usually eaten at breakfast as a huge bowl of fruit. Time will tell if this approach does indeed lead to a longer life, but if positive results were needed, age-related tests were conducted. These included assessment of balance and reaction times, as well as blood tests for metabolic markers, and levels of body fat. Mr Mosley’s assessment was pronounced as ‘not good for his age’, but the balance and reaction time tests are both subjective and can be improved with practice. More alarming was the absolute declaration that following the calorie restriction programme for just one year will result in a reversal of disease progression. In fact, the researcher went on to say that after following the diet for 10 years, J (a volunteer) would never develop a stroke or heart attack.
The truth is that in order to fully assess the risk of death from cardiovascular disease or cancer, we would need to sequence every bit of DNA in every person in the world, follow those people from birth to death, and analyse their lifestyles for diet, exercise and environmental factors. Then, we might be able to say who will die from heart attack, or not. Some research, including my own, has identified important genes, which contribute to the risk. I have also found out that the normal variation of these genes, interacting with certain environmental factors, like stress, injury or infection, can affect the way the body responds. So, you see, it is a very complex picture, and not simply down to calorie restriction.
Professor Valter Longo, from the University of Southern California does add some science to the discussion. His research centres around an important metabolic protein, Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF1). Reduced levels of IGF1 in the blood have been associated with slowing cellular metabolism (the so called ‘go,go’ mode), increased repair of DNA damage and protection from age-related illness, in a genetically modified laboratory mouse strain.
Ex vivo research (that is, in cells taken from the animal’s body) have shown that cells in ‘go’ mode are more susceptible to cancer, as they do not show efficient cellular repair. Studies in humans have shown that calorie restriction together with a low protein diet leads to reduced circulating IGF1 levels in the blood. The mechanism of action for this is that as glucose (blood sugar) is depleted in the body, the body (in particular the large muscles) start burning fat for fuel. The liver stops or slows production of IGF1, pushing the cells into repair mode. This is not a happy state of affairs for the body of an active man or woman. Prolonged fasting can be dangerous and should only be done under medical guidance. Extreme metabolic changes can occur with short fasting protocols too. Proponents of the alternate day fast or the 5-2 fast regimes often report that they are unable to exercise on fast days due to dizziness and weakness.
The main tenet of the piece is portion control, which I endorse. It’s no secret that if you eat less and move more, your body will be stronger and healthier, provided of course that you maintain adequate nutrition. And the emergence of these fasting diets for sustained weight loss should be viewed with some skepticism.
There was no discussion about the role of our genetic make-up and ageing, or longevity. Yet, many of us will know people who live long and when asked the secret, simply say eat well, exercise a bit, and have fun. Sounds good to me.
It’s a sorry state of affairs to see a grown woman crying at the supermarket checkout but that’s exactly how I felt today when I saw my final food bill. Prices are now so high that we all have to make some serious changes in how we shop to survive. There are the basic options: change down a supermarket or change down a brand. However with many supermarkets price-matching at the moment that might not make much difference. What are the best ways of cutting our food bills without cutting our lifestyle?
1. Know your labels.
So many people do not understand the difference between a best before date, a display until date and a use by date on food:
Best Before means just that; that the food is guaranteed to be at it’s best before that date but is perfectly fine to eat after that date provided no signs of degradation (i.e. mould/separation of dairy products/fermentation) are visible.
Display Until dates are much the same, often found on fresh fruit and vegetables these are purely for stock rotation. They tell the shop staff when they need to remove old stock.
Use By dates on the other hand should never be ignored. They are there for your safety. Usually this date is on things like meat, fish, poultry and dairy and items which may carry salmonella. Please do not attempt to eat any of these after the use by date.
2. Make use of your freezer.
Frozen food is much cheaper and actually fresher than a lot of the ‘fresh’ produce you get in stores, especially when it comes to fish & vegetables. You’ll also find you have far less waste.
Batch cook. Freezers work more economically when full. The less space they have to chill, the better. Resist the temptation to fill it with over-priced ready meals – shop smart and batch cook your favourite family dishes. Lasagne, curry and stew are favourites in our house but pretty much anything will freeze. Just remember: if it’s already been thawed it must be cooked before you refreeze it. If in doubt, Google it.
Be a yellow sticker shopper. Most supermarkets have a reduced section. Get to know where yours is and don’t be afraid to ask staff what time they normally do the markdowns. Remember that although these products may be on their display until or best before date if you freeze on day of purchase they will last months. Alternatively you can cook up a batch of something tasty on the same day and freeze that for later.
Split meat packs. If you regularly buy packs of meat which are large enough to feed your household for more than one meal split them into individual portions before freezing. I always freeze chicken breasts, pork chops, steaks etc individually to reduce waste.
3. Be fridge smart
Can you remember what is in your fridge right now? So much of our food budget is spent on perishable items which must be stored in the fridge. Much of it gets wasted when it’s pushed to the back and forgotten until well after it is edible. Perishables like meat, fish, fresh vegetables and dairy are some of the most expensive items on your shopping list each week so think smart. Only keep in your fridge what needs to be there. This is usually only dairy products, cooked meat and enough raw meat for the next couple of days. Get in the habit of freezing all your meat and take out what you need each morning/evening for the following day. Switch to frozen vegetables,for everything but salads and you will cut down massively on waste.
Top tip: NEVER use the salad drawer. Once it goes in the drawer you instantly forget you have it because you can’t see it.
We all have foods that we loved as a kid that we feel either guilty or silly for enjoying as adult. Since most of us weren’t regularly served partridge in a red wine jus as 8 year olds, these meals are often cheap and cheerful dishes that can make us smile and save us pennies at the same time. In our house this amounts to spaghetti hoops on toast, potatoes and cheese sauce or fish fingers, chips and beans. Whip out one or two of these dishes a week and you’ve cut a chunk off your final bill.
5.Check your portion sizes
Once you have served a meal how much left over rice/pasta/potato goes in the bin and how much extra did you eat because it was there? Could you cut your portion sizes and cut your costs this way? Historically we have always used cheap carbohydrates like bread and potatoes to pad out a meal but often we take it too far and make portions far too big, making us both fatter and poorer at the same time. Even if you think your portions are about right try cutting them down a little. If you are actually still hungry finish off with some bread.
6. Dish up in the kitchen, serve to the table.
Unless it’s a special occasion, plate your food up in the kitchen and then bring to the table. By placing self-service dishes on the table you are likely to:
a) Cook more. A ramekin of peas doesn’t look right on a table so you’ll do a bowlful of unnecessary and wasteful peas to fill the space.
b) Eat more. No matter how much you’ve had you’ll have a little more if it’s right in front of you. If you have to walk to another room you are less likely to eat for the sake of it. This is also true of bread products. If you are eating something with bread only take one portion each to the table. Do not take the whole loaf or pack of rolls as they will be eaten just to empty the bowl.
7.Make use of your leftovers.
Always have a plan for your leftovers. You may wish to freeze them as they are ready for an emergency lunch or speedy evening meal. Most meats will make a great curry the day after you’ve cooked them. Keep a couple of premixed sauces in for this purpose and try and get them when they are half price. Alternatively, mix with a can of tomatoes and stock for an Italian style casserole or simply a little instant gravy and some homemade pastry for quick and tasty pie.You can always use roasted or grilled meat for packed lunches, sandwiches or salads.
8. Get inspired and learn new recipes.
Most of us have the same tried and tested recipes we use over and over again. As a consequence meal times can become quite boring. But with the same few ingredients it is possible to make several different meals (I’ll be showing you how later in the month with some of my store cupboard essentials). There are many websites out there, like www.supercook.com, which can help you by providing recipes tailored to exactly what you have in your cupboards. The more recipes you are armed with, the more successful your battle against waste and expense will be.
Fortunately I know I don’t have to blow all my plans to be healthier and less wasteful because there at the bottom, under the leftover trifle and Christmas pud, is the veg drawer. Huzzah! I think, I am saved from yet more dairy and carbs! And yet as I open the drawer I know what will greet me. It’s the little green ghosts of Christmas past; brussel sprouts, by the armful. Luckily I am armed with a secret which can turn even these inglorious little fridge squatters into an appetising and surprisingly slimming little dish perfect for the New Year detox. So here is my recipe for easy-peasy spicy-sprout soup.
1. Raid the cupboards
So we start off by raiding the cupboards for relatively few ingredients:
1-2 handfuls of sprouts (replace with any other green veg if you prefer)
Stock cube (chicken or veg work best but this is totally optional miss it out if you prefer)
And the special ingredient: Tabasco sauce
2. Heat stuff
First, get the kettle on- you will need to fill your pan in a few minutes so best get this boiling before you start. Now find yourself a decent sized pan and whack it over a low heat with 1-2 tbsps of oil while you chop the veg.
3. Chop stuff
I like my soup farmhouse style (with chunks in) so I tend to dice my veggies so that they are bite size, but it’s entirely up to you. The smaller the bits, the quicker they cook so if you want to do this for a speedy lunchtime snack dice them finely.
Start with your onion- get it peeled, chopped and straight in the pan while you finely shred the sprouts. Add two thirds of the sprouts to the pan and put the final third to one side for later. Give your sprouts and onions a quick stir before finally dicing your potato – don’t worry about peeling, the skins just add more flavour. Then simply chuck the potato in the pan and stir for a minute or so.
Next, simply cover the veg with your pre-boiled water, add a pinch of salt, stock if you are using it and 2-3 drops of Tabasco. Simmer for 10-20 minutes or until your potato chunks are soft enough to crush with a fork. Remove from the heat and mash using a potato masher.
Remember those sprouts I told you to hold back? Add them now and leave the soup to stand for a further 5 minutes. This will allow the soup to thicken and the latest sprouts to soften without losing their vibrancy.
5. Season & Serve
At last, taste time. Make sure you taste your soup before you serve it. It will need seasoning here and how much depends on the age and condition of your ingredients to start with and your own preference. I like mine very spicy so I tend to add a lot of black pepper and another 3-4 drops of Tabasco at this point. I know full well when it gets to the table my husband will always add more salt so I tend to under-salt here on purpose.
And there you have it, ready to serve, an easy-peasy lunch with minimal ingredients, minimal fuss and maximum good girl (or boy) points. I have had mine just with some breadsticks left over from New Year’s Eve broken up as croutons for lunch, but I have an adaptation of Alicia’s Bread Recipe for the Slapdash in the oven as I type to go with tomorrow lunch’s serving (if either lasts that long).
‘New Year’s Day…now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.’
It’s not just about the fun that can be had. I’ve had my share of Catherine wheels and damp squibs, and some years that I did nought but sit watching Jools Holland’s Hogmanay on television. The highlight was probably the Millennium New Year, which I spent in a hostel near a stone circle on the Isle of Arran with a bunch of strangers, singing folk songs and drinking on a seal strewn beach until the sun came up. At their low point, four years later, I was left alone, abandoned for another guy on Leeds train station by a girl I’d been obsessing about for months. That’s the kind of New Year we can all do without.
How you spend it isn’t what I’m getting at, but the attitude to it. In my experience, New Year’s Eve is a disappointing affair because it renders in sharp relief twelve months of failings and wasted potential. What are you doing now that you weren’t doing a year ago? Have you moved on or achieved something with your life? Do you really think that next year will be different?
A New Year is an opportunity to put your problems behind you, and begin afresh. But you’re off to a poor start if you spend the first hours of it drunk, and all your good intentions soon decline until they accept the status quo. Gyms see a huge swelling in memberships every January, as if we are seriously gullible enough to think we are going to stick at these new regimes, whether they are diet and exercise, fidelity, financial solvency or philanthropy. It’s a case of New Year’s Eve, same old shit.
So, with that in mind, I fully understand your doubt when I tell you that in 2012, for me at least, things are going to change.
For the past few years I have been conducting my life like trench warfare – trudging through the mud, barely sticking my head above the parapet. I am stuck in what can only be described as a rut. The inspiration for change comes from a close friend, who two years ago decided the life he was leading no longer had anything to offer him. His work, social life, relationships, hobbies and location had run aground – very much the state my life is in now – so he decided to do something drastic about it. He upped sticks, moved down south, got a new job and a new life. It involved some struggles and some ups and downs but now, almost two years on, he’s just got married, has a baby on the way, has started a very desirable new job working for the police, and has a new flat.
I’m not saying that’s the life I want – the idea of a family right now terrifies me beyond reason – but it’s the kind of difference I need in my life. There’s potential, for certain. I’ve begun a new relationship which is going better than I ever imagined it could; I’m getting away from home more and experiencing new things; I’ve begun to write again – hence this blog.
I’m not necessarily advocating a complete life transplant – the grass isn’t always greener – but sometimes these little New Year concessions just aren’t enough to effect the kind of change that is needed. A New Year could be just that – one completely different from the year before.
You might not want to read the next 2 paragraphs whilst eating.
I’m currently on a working holiday in Australia and eating within a budget. As part of this I was having Couscous with veg (Bell peppers/Capsicum, Celery and Courgette/Zucchini) every day on my lunch break at 1pm. An hour later, like clockwork, I started having bad stomach aches and breaking wind. It was foul smelling and very embarrassing. Going to the toilet was not comfortable. The only cause could be the Couscous. I did some reading and found that Couscous contains gluten, a protein that some people can’t stomach.
I started to think about other times I was having digestive trouble. When I was back home, my family would have to leave the room shortly after I’d start drinking Ale. When I was working night shifts back in the UK, I’d only eat soup and a few slices of wholemeal bread throughout the night but again my colleagues were suffering in my presence.
I tried going gluten free for a week. I swapped wheat based muesli for oat based muesli, couscous for brown rice, wheat pasta for rice pasta. And I felt incredible. Imagine, if you will, that you’d felt lethargic for years and not even known it. Suddenly, I had loads of energy and could sleep for a full uninterrupted 8 hours (even despite the snores of fellow backpackers sharing the hostel dorm).
I started paying attention to food labelling for the first time. It’s surprising the amount of stuff that has wheat flour added to it. OK, so I have to pass on biscuits and cakes when they’re being offered out but I’d rather spare myself the discomfort and embarrassment.
It was whilst searching for gluten free recipes that I learnt about the Paleo diet. Paleo= Palaeolithic. The principle is basically- if we didn’t eat it whilst evolving then don’t eat it.
This means no grains, no dairy (milk), no legumes (they contain a lot of chemicals that play havoc with the bowels unless soaked and cooked to death), no processed sugars and no oils containing a lot of trans-fats (canola oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil).
Back to food labelling again and sugar and salt seem to be added to nearly everything out there.
Some people are a lot stricter than others. Paleo 2.0 is by and large built on the same principles but allows more cooking, for instance white potatoes are not Paleo but are ok under 2.0 (so long as you peel the skins).
I eat Paleo 2.0 food in combination with the Bodytrim eating plan, this means eating at least every 3 hours to stop the body going into energy storing mode.
I do most of my cooking on a Sunday evening to free up time in the week, and freeze/ defrost as needed. I’ll cook a batch of 75 gram meatballs for my snacks in the week.
I cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil but there are other Paleo friendly oils such as Cocon
ut, Almond and Clarified butter (Ghee). I’m liberal with black pepper and Balsamic vinegar.
I give myself a free day every week but even then I try and stay Paleo. On my free day I’ll drink Cider, Perry, Mead or Wine (There is a woeful lack of gluten free beers), I’ll snack on Brazil or (soaked) Walnuts instead of meat. I’ll put honey in my tea and have dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa, normally 85%).
This is followed with a protein only day.
Just as prior to the diet, I take a multivitamin and cod liver oil pill and even though there’s a fair amount of fibre in the diet, I also take a tablespoon of psyllium husk in a pint a hot water before bed.
Reading around other aspects of the Paleo lifestyle, there are those who shun modern cosmetics and use only water to clean themselves. I’ve stopped using anti-perspirant but I am far too vain and conscious of body odour to go wholesale Swampy.
I found out about Castile soap (saponified olive oil) and as luck would have it, found some for sale in a shop the next day. I use it only on my pits and bits and use a Castile based shampoo once a week (normally after my free day), but rinse my hair in the shower every day. I’ve found that I no longer need to use hair product as my hair is a lot less frizzy now, though I’ve read that 100% Aloe gel makes a good natural hair gel (and after sun balm).
Being in Oz, sun care is important so I wear a rash vest and use a zinc cream as a sun block. I’ve started electric shaving until I can get round to finding (or making) a natural shaving cream. I’ll still put on a bit of aftershave when I go out, but aim it for my shirt collar rather than skin. My only other concession to modern cosmetics is toothpaste but I am on the lookout for a decent replacement for my Colgate.
Being on the road, I have a few concerns over being able to get Quinoa in remote places. I might have to make a concession and eat Brown rice for a while, and with soaking for a day, this still seems a better plan than other choices (Corn, Oats) as a short term thing.
This is a personalised account based on my own reading and what feels right for my own body, I don’t go about telling people how to live their lives (and expect the same courtesy in return), but if you’re interested, try going gluten free (no wheat, rye or barley) for 2 weeks or so. See if you feel more energetic. After that, try gradually cutting back other non-Paleo parts of your diet. Do what feels right for you.