7 things what stops you from becoming healthy and how to overcome them

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Imagine if you had a magical machine that can print money around the clock. But in the manual you read that once a day the machine must be turned off for 8 hours, and once every couple months you have to turn it off for two weeks so that it does not work at all – what would you do? Would you print the money recklessly 24/7 – who cares it will break at most? Or you would do as instructed?

Your body is that kind of machine. I like this analogy because it shows that we are more mindful about the machines than about ourselves.

But in fact our body works better if we eat better, if we have enough rest and sleep, if we spend some time outside in the sun and fresh air. If we have deficiencies in any of these areas, or in all of them, it’s really difficult to get yourself together and start becoming a healthy person. If you’re so tired, enervated, you can barely organize more than basics, it’s hard to expect from yourself that you will get your shit together and reorganize every aspect of your life. And usually we become angry with ourselves if we truly want to make a change, but it always come out different than expected. It’s like you would throw a seed on the concrete floor and expect it to grow. Seed has plenty of potential but the conditions are not suitable for it to sprout.

Sometimes we set up goals that may be too big and too difficult for us. And when we fail achieving them, we abandon these goals thinking that they are unattainable for us. What we can do instead, is to break one big goal into several smaller ones and/or think about which elements of our goal are the most difficult for us and why.

So it’s good to have a seat and analyse which aspect are problematic and why? We are not living in perfect conditions. Contrary to what it seems to us, we have influence on these conditions. Perhaps it won’t be a spectacular and dramatic change, but it will be enough for our seed to slowly sprout.

These are the 6 things that may stop you from becoming healthy, I have learned that from my experience, from other people and books. I have noticed these obstacles in my life that often prevent me from making progress in many different areas, not only healthy eating and physical exercise but others too.

Boredom

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Have you caught yourself going to the kitchen several times, and opening the fridge and all the kitchen cupboards looking for something to eat? You kind of feeling hungry, but you would rather eat a snack or a sweetie rather than a proper meal?

We have two types of hunger: physical hunger and psychological hunger. It’s good to know which one you actually feel. The first one is when your body needs fuel to produce energy, usually happens if you haven’t been eating for couple hours, you start feeling weak, cannot focus, your stomach is empty, you might feeling cramps. It happens gradually, until you feel you really need a proper meal (some people starting to have a headache). Psychological hunger on the other side, doesn’t really show in your body, it’s more in your mind. You rather think about food, you’re craving something specific, without experiencing physical symptoms.

What is boredom? Boredom happens when a current activity or situation isn’t providing engagement or meaning, may occur when our energy isn’t channelled into an outlet that provides meaning or fulfilment. A lot of people eat when they are bored. According to some researchers, the excitement or stimulation of food can be used to create a sense of escape and cope with boredom. So in some way we are trying to eat our emotions. We are trying to cover lack of positive emotions with tasty snack, instead of generating these emotions from other activities. Why? Because it’s easy? Downside of this method is, that having a chocolate bar or a bag of crisps will fulfil this lack of engagement and positive emotion only for the time we consume the food. After the last chunk of chocolate vanishes in our mouth all the magic is gone. And then we go to the kitchen again… Ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are craving food for another reason. If you’re not sure the answer, make yourself a tea or drink glass of water. Many times it helps. Some people have more tendencies to generate state of boredom, some people are less prone to that. If you recognise yourself as boredom eater you can do couple things.

Put a large sticky note on your fridge that will divert your attention towards more mindful direction: am I bored or hungry? So each time you mindlessly go to the kitchen you will see this question. Have on hand a list of things you can do to occupy your mind until the craving stops. Whatever floats your boat: reading, knitting, drawing, colouring, going for a walk, playing with your pet, dancing. Anything that will draw your attention and create positive emotions. Keep sweets and snack out of sight or even better – don’t keep them at home.

Stress

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Stress often becomes a trap it’s hard to get out of. When you experience permanent stress, you’re feeling under pressure most of the time, it’s not only hard to relax, but you don’t even think about implementing healthy habits. Stress and pressure make you look for quick solutions that will give relief immediately. You do not anticipate the long-term effects of your daily decisions, or the effects of bad habits. You find yourself in vicious circle, where bad habits produces more stress to the body, and stressed body gives more stress to your mind. The longer you stay in bad habits, the more you consolidate them and the harder it becomes to deal with them. It is good to have someone with you who will help you notice these bad habits, change them and persevere without them or change them into positive ones. It could be a partner, friend, mum or even a good work colleague, who reminds you that a quick Mac for your lunch is not the best idea. Ask someone to pay attention to your behaviour. Choose a person who will be meticulous and in front of whom you will want to do well. It will be an additional motivation for you to consolidate good behaviour and give up bad habits. It is important to choose a kind person, someone who will not cause additional stress in you. Look for alternative behaviours together – with benefits similar to or even greater than those caused by bad habits. Maybe it’s time to learn relaxation techniques? Reach for soothing music? Start playing sports to defuse bad emotions or get creative and start some DIY project? If you do not have such a person next to you, look for support groups, people who try, for example, to eat healthy or get rid of a bad habit. There will always be someone in the group, who at the moment will give you support or a positive kick, even if it’s only virtual.

Social interactions

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When we were on a strict keto diet, attending to birthday parties or meeting friends was kind of awkward food-wise. While everyone were tasting a slice of birthday cake, we could taste only a strawberry from the top. But that was a unique situation, that we decided we will stick to the diet as prescribed without exceptions. Apart from that I don’t see any reason why would you should refuse to try someone’s birthday cake, even if you decide not to eat sweets. Obviously if you’re able to restrain and finish after a slice. But I can’t see any reason why you would need to feel awkward or embarrassed in social situations. Don’t be afraid to be that weirdo who doesn’t want to go to Mac, or that weirdo who doesn’t drink alcohol at the party (that’s me – my body has low tolerance to alcohol). Try to find a different place to eat with your friends, and if they still insist or laugh, maybe you should consider looking for new friends. In general people get used to your eating habits and do not insist when you explain them your new lifestyle.

Lack of regularity

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I am the prime example of that. I used to set up plenty of goals and ideas what I would like to do regularly and 90% of the times I would fail. I also get distracted easily. So even if I remember to do something I planned, I often get distracted by something else and I’m out of my track. Have you experience something like that?

Healthy lifestyle requires regularity and permanence. Learning new habits takes time and some effort at the beginning. What can help in introducing new habits into your daily routine? What works best for me, is to attach new habits to the old ones I already have. For example straight after I finish my morning coffee which is a strong habit of mine, in the same mug I prepare myself linseed and cacao drink. If I would like to drink it any time of the day I would probably forget, and instead of drinking it daily, I would have it 2-3 times a week. It’s also a great idea to connect new habits with things we do to entertain ourselves. For example if you have a habit of watching one or two episodes of Netflix series each evening, connect a new habit to it. Exercise watching an episode. Or always prepare yourself a portion of smoothie and drink it while watching.

Other idea I’ve heard about that people do, is making one plank on the bath tub or pull up on the door frame each time they go pee. Try to connect somehow a new habit with the old one and this way the new habit has a bigger chance to stick for longer.

Other way you can do is make a habit tracker – simply draw a table with all your habits you would like to implement and cross out each time you comply a task. It didn’t work for me, but maybe it will work for you. Next thing you can try is to set up an alarm that will remind you about something you would like to become a habit. Like drinking more water. There’s plenty of apps you can download on your phone, to help you remind and track how much water you should drink. Or simply set up multiple alarms on your phone that reminds you to drink water (set them up according to your daily routine, so you will be able to actually drink some water when the alarm rings). On the other hand if you want to get rid of a bad habit, try to replace it with a good one, that will replace the same need. My personal example: it has become a habit to watch my favourite youtubers to relax after work or with my morning coffee. Sometimes (often) it gets out of hand, and a few or several minutes of YouTube watching turns into an hour or two. While several minutes can actually be relaxing, an hour or two is a waste of time. So now whenever my hand wants to reach for the phone to watch YouTube, I rather grab the book and not the phone. Reading is far more relaxing and has lot more benefits.

Old believes

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We have a lot of beliefs about food and health, that we are not even aware of and which have an influence on our daily decisions. And often, until we are aware of them, we will not be able to move forward with healthy lifestyle. Many of our beliefs are old, resulting from ignorance or the willingness to mislead us by food producers. Let us recall how many times you have heard that eggs are not healthy, and then that they are healthy, the same with butter, idea that to be healthy you should eat fewer calories. That breakfast is the most important meal of the day, that there should be 5 meals a day, etc. Let’s try to think about common food and healthy lifestyle believes that stops us from taking action:

“Eating healthy is too expensive” – basic types of veggies are far more cheap than processed foods, and the ratio of the number of meals that you can prepare from them is several times greater than, for example, buying ready meals. Good quality meat and fish is a bit more expensive than meat from the supermarket, but you save up quite a lot of money when you stop buying all the junk food, snacks, processed foods, sweets and fizzy drinks you were buying up until now. Also pre-washed, pre-cut, individual servings of produce as they are often more expensive. So if you actually think and calculate, eating healthy is not as expensive as you might think. This is an entire topic I could start, but we would never get to the end of this post.

Eating fat will make you fat” – that’s an old belief from the 80’s and 90’s when the infamous Ancel Keys published epidemiological data linking fat-consumption to heart disease. While this type of data doesn’t prove cause and effect, markets were swarmed with low-fat, fat-free, and 0% fat products. These items were marketed as “diet” products and promoted as being helpful at helping people lose weight. Over time, society grew fearful of fat, and people started to believe that eating fat will make you fat. The fact is that carbohydrates, protein, and fat can all be stored as fat. There is also evidence that low carbohydrate (high-fat) diets may actually be more beneficial than low-fat diets for weight loss, when healthy sources of fat are included.

You shouldn’t eat anything after 6 pm” – late night eating can lead to weight gain not just because it’s late. Our strong will tends to get very weak till the evening, and in the evening we make the worst eating decisions. Lots of highly processed food we tend to eat late at night are rather a reason for our problems. This myth also does not take into account a lifestyle of a person, lumps everyone into one basket.

“Salt is unhealthy” – Excess sodium in the diet can cause numerous disorders in our body. The most serious of these is the increase in blood pressure, which causes heart disease. That’s why it’s often said that we shouldn’t use salt if we want to lower our blood pressure. Too much salt in the diet can also cause the body to excrete more calcium. Which, in turn, can cause cramp problems or osteoporosis. On the other hand, sodium is an electrolyte that helps water balance, and is necessary for our muscles and nerves to function, including our heart and brain. But we often can’t see how much of the excess sodium is consumed from the salt added to processed, ready-to-eat foods and fast food meals. Limit the processed foods and enjoy more fresh, home cooked meals. Also type of salt you use has a big impact. Natural rock salt, sea salt or Himalayan salt contains plenty of minerals that our body needs. Supermarket salt is a highly purified product and devoid of naturally occurring microelements, almost always sold with addition of anti-caking agent.

This kind of believes and hundreds more as a rule, they build our concept of healthy or unhealthy lifestyle. Most of us doesn’t verify if the information served by mainstream media is true or false. We assume that everything we hear is the truth confirmed by “experts”. But if you dig a bit in the subject, you discover that “experts” are not always quite right and information providers not always have pure intentions.

What to do? If you catch yourself with a thought that is a belief, and does not come from your experience, take a little bit of time to dig deeper to see what’s beneath. Check if it works for you. Free yourself from stereotypical thinking according to well-established patterns. They limit our field of view, narrowing down the possibilities of choice. Ask yourself: on what basis do I think so? Since when do i think so? Who showed me this way of thinking/who did I take it from? What could prove the validity of such a view? What do i really think about it?

You don’t want to take an effort

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Let’s be honest – most of the best things in life comes with an effort. You want to have a beautiful garden? – you need to take an effort to grow and maintain it. You want to have great kids? – it needs an effort to raise them well. Clean and organised home? Look fabulous and put together everyday? – some effort will be needed. It’s the same with your health. If you won’t take time and effort to take care of it, no one else will do it for you. Most of us would like good things to come to us effortlessly, myself included. Imagine going to the doctor with some health problems that bothers you. Doctor makes an exam, some blood tests and say: “you have some vitamin deficiencies, you should loose some weight and maybe work on your sugar levels that are a bit too high. Eat more veggies, stop with junk food and fizzy drinks, and exercise everyday – then you should feel much better”. What is a typical answer of the patient? “Is there any kind of a pill I could take instead?” How wonderful it would be if we could eat junk food, sweets, drink fizzy drinks, lay on the sofa all day watching Netflix and look and feel fabulous with just one magic pill?

The truth is our brain always wants to follow the path of least resistance.

“Our brain tricks us into believing the low-hanging fruit really is the ripest,” says Dr Nobuhiro Hagura. University College London study from 2017 shows, not only that humans are simply quite lazy but also that the amount of effort required to do something influences what we think we see. 52 participants took part in a series of tests where they had to judge whether a cloud of dots on a screen was moving to the left or to the right. They were instructed to move a handle to the right if the dot cloud was moving right and to the left if the cloud was moving left. Easy and simple so far. But when researchers added a directional load to the handle, making it slightly harder to move it the way the dots were going, participants avoided the response that caused more effort and moved the handle in the opposite direction of the dots. Participants didn’t realize that the researchers were manipulating their decisions, instead becoming convinced that the dots were actually moving in the direction of least resistance. Their motor system automatically adapted, triggering a change in their perception.

What does that prove? The researchers believe that our daily decisions could be modified not just through deliberate cognitive strategies, but also by designing the environment to make these decisions that cause you more effort. So what doest it mean in our situation? Maybe if you have issues with sweets, fizzy drinks or unhealthy processed snacks it would be better not to have them at home? It cost more effort if you actually need to go to the shop and buy something (and it’s raining, it’s far away, or it’s middle of the night). So if you won’t have these foods around you, at home, it will be easier for you to stay away from them. Maybe it’s a good idea not to keep “snacks for guests” in your kitchen cupboard? Or if you’re like me avoid going to the shop to buy your groceries, if it’s more tempting to grab something from the shelf that you might regret buying (and eating) and do your shopping online instead?

You’re still not convinced?

Try baby steps, to overcome your lazy-self. Let’s say you want to exercise everyday but you’re tired, not motivated enough, not in the mood or you just feel lazy as hell, but you know deep down inside that you would really like to exercise everyday. Set up a timer for 5 minutes and exercise whatever you like. You like squats, do squats, you like stretch, stretch for 5 minutes, if you like jumping rope, jump for 5 minutes. But not more. Only 5 minutes. When the timer rings, stop and give yourself a high five. Next day do exactly the same. Only 5 minutes. 5 minutes is so short, that your brain won’t be able to talk yourself out of it. When this 5 minutes of exercise becomes a habit, and you will not have to convince yourself to do it every time, switch the timer for 10 minutes and add some more type of exercise (or more repetitions of the same exercise). And then exercise for 10 minutes each day until it becomes a habit. I know it’s a tiny baby steps and it seems like it 5 minute exercise wont change much, but remember that the best exercises are the one that you actually do. Not the on that you think would be the best, but you’re not able to do them at the moment. Someone will tell you that an hour training a day gives the best results, but at the stage you’re at the moment, you’re not able to workout for an hour. But that 5 minutes a day is better than nothing at all. That’s how I started exercising. Just 10 minutes every morning. When this became a habit I added a bit more exercise. After some time your body gets used to exercise so much, that it will feel the urge to move even if your brain won’t feel like it.

Exactly the same situation with food. You’d like to include more veggies into your diet? But it’s difficult for you to start preparing meals full of veg, or simply you don’t like cooking. Find one vegetable you really like and have it on hand. You don’t have any particular veg you like, but you actually like smoothies? Make yourself an everyday smoothie. Explore smoothie world. Everyone say: avocado is the healthiest veg, but you absolutely hate it? It doesn’t mean that you can’t eat healthy, because you hate avocados. Eat carrots or beets. Or green beans. Or challenge yourself trying all veggies in the shop you can find. Everyday different veg.

And for God’s sake don’t punish yourself if you fail. You failed because you were stressed/sad/angry/tired and you ate a pack of doughnuts, and now you think all your healthy life went to trash because of that, and you will never ever become healthy? Start brand new tomorrow. You can always do better.

We usually underestimate things we can do little but often. I love the example that one of the authors always gives: what will be better in the long run – exercising 5 times a week for 15 minutes, or going to the gym once a month for 10 hours? Ignore the fact that no one would be able to exercise for 10 hours in the gym, but we actually underestimate what we can do by taking small steps. Perhaps the effect will not be visible and noticeable immediately, but going to have better and more long-term effects, than single outbursts of motivation.

You don’t have good enough reason

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Maybe becoming healthy is not good enough reason for you? How come? – how just being healthy would might not be good enough reason?

Being healthy is not good enough reward – you’re healthy, so what? Why do you want to be healthy? What does it mean for you? Maybe you love hillwalking and being healthy and strong will let you go for longer distance trips and see places you’d love to see? Maybe you would like to be able to play with your grandkids and see how they grow? Maybe you would like to have a dog that requires lots of activities, and you would like to be able go for long walks? Find a good reason, whatever floats your boat. So when your brain will try to lead you astray, remind yourself that reason. You can also pop a sticky note on your fridge: I EAT HEALTHY – that might help you making better decisions, because you will feel committed to that sentence.

Remember that food should not only be healthy, it should also be tasty. Unfortunately, lots of tasty food we are used to eat is not necessarily healthy. Combination of sugar and fat (that I believe doesn’t exist in nature) actually has a narcotic effect, so we are not always able to manipulate our mind, so it’s better to manipulate our environment. I’m sure you noticed that in the morning you’re more motivated to make healthy decisions. It’s easier to eat healthy breakfast than healthy supper, to workout in the morning rather than in the afternoon. Take advantage of it, and when you prepare your healthy breakfast, make your healthy dinner ready, so when you come back home in the evening, you will have it ready in your fridge. And you will be less tempted to order some junk food or dig in the cupboards looking for some snacks.

Ask yourself whether what I eat helps me to be who I want to be or doesn’t help?

Have you noticed any of these issues that stops you from taking action and becoming healthy? I would be happy to read your tips ans your ways to deal with them, so do not hesitate and leave a comment or send a feedback.

Source of knowledge:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170221101016.htm

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139817

angry chef made me angry – processed foods

I stepped upon “The Angry Chef” e-book couple times in my local library, and eventually decided to borrow it, simply because other I wanted to borrow were unavailable. The whole title is: “The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating” and it’s written by Anthony Warner – blogger and a chef with 20 years of experience. I’ve never heard about him before, so I was curious about why his anger is so big?

If you’ve never heard about Angry Chef I will briefly outline what the book is about, so you can see what we are talking about. I will use a description from the back of the book:

“Never before have we had so much information available to us about food and health. There’s GAPS, paleo, detox, gluten-free, alkaline, the sugar conspiracy, clean eating… Unfortunately, a lot of it is not only wrong but actually harmful. So why do so many of us believe this bad science?”

So basically author tries to debunk nonsensical pseudoscience that diets are based on. I’m not going to talk about the style or form of how it’s been written, because that’s not the point. The point is that Angry Chef made me thinking about some things, which is good, but also made me angry about others. But we will get there. I would really like this post to be the start for discussion rather than the way to unbosom my frustration. Because I feel like there’s a lot to discuss, and Angry Chef rises a lot of important issues in this book, although I cannot agree with lots of his opinions. I have an impression, but maybe I’m wrong, that the book is dominated by the author’s opinions, not facts established by scientific research. Because as Angry Chef claims established scientific research should be the only source of knowledge and opinions of sensible and intelligent people. So it’s going to be a lot of reading, if you’re ready for it, grab yourself a cup of tea or coffee and dive in.

Actually it’s very good that I don’t agree with Angry Chef’s opinions, because at this point we can discuss (not in the conversation though but still) all the different points of view. I have this strange trait, that I always try to look on a given situation or person’s behaviour from a different (than others) point of view.

Angry Chef vs processed foods vs me

Processed foods, are widely discussed in the book and it’s quite sensitive subject as Angry Chef is employed by one of the food manufacturers. The author praises processed foods, as a rescue from diseases, lack of hygiene and poorness. As if processed foods would not exist we would still be sitting at the table next to the gutter with rats and poo as our entourage.

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Don’t confuse the processes thanks to which food can be kept and transported in a safe and hygienic way, with processes in which couple different chemical substances are joined together to become something that looks like food. But Angry Chef likes extreme examples to prove his theory.

As one of the book reviewers from Good Reads (yes, I read the reviews to see if it’s me or the book) noticed that it’s “incredibly naive in his thinking that governments wouldn’t allow something into the market that wasn’t good for us. He greatly underestimates the phenomenal power and influence that the lobbyists of these multi-billion conglomerates employ.”

I’m the most naive person I know, but even I know that in global food industry (in every big industry actually) the only thing that counts is money. The same Good Read reviewer Keen gives a perfect example of tobacco industry: “remember that big tobacco claimed for decades to have health benefits in moderation, using images of babies, Santa and it was endorsed by athletes, and doctors in the US who publicly advocated the health benefits of smoking. They were doing this for years and this was still happening in the second half of the 20th century. These are not the rantings of conspiracy theorists, or paranoid extremists. These are highly educated people with power and influence.” Sadly I have to agree, even though I would like to think, that governments, manufacturers and simply people who runs this world wants only our own good. I think 2020 showed us in what a mess we live in, like monkeys in the circus. But obviously “The Angry Chef” was published in 2017, so the author haven’t experienced 2020 yet.

Money, money, money as ABBA sings

When I started digging deeper after Keen’s review I stepped upon New York Times article (link is down below) from 2016 about documents that has been discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. According to them a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. And they were not some kind of scientist that nobody knows. One of them become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture, another one was the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department. You might say: that was over 50 years ago, that was an incident.

Here you have: another New York Times article (again link down below) revealed that Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers who sought to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity. Even though Sugar Association still claims that sugar “does not have a unique role in heart disease.” In June 2016, The Associated Press reported that candy makers were funding studies that claimed that children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not. Can you believe it?

So what it tells us? That documents published in very prominent and popular scientific journals does not give us any guarantee, that what is written in them is true. Not because scientists might be wrong, or make a mistake, they might be wrong on purpose.

As Angry Chef writes: “facts produced by science will always change, sometimes fundamentally”…”because they are based on evidence-based scientific research and the sort of systematic reviews of evidence that get us as close to the truth as possible”. What I can say: follow the money. If facts produced by science changes frequently and fundamentally, that should ring us a bell that something might be wrong in that science business. And the word “business” is the key.

Bring your papers

That’s why it’s hard for me to understand why Angry Chef puts so much trust in titles. Having MD or PhD before your name doesn’t make you last instance of knowledge. And not having a history of writing for medical journals or being approved by some kind of authority does not mean that your knowledge is less valuable. Even though author plays down medical doctors he mention in his book and glorifies the ones with titles or registered with authorities: “All registered nutritionist I have met over the years have a passion for rising evidence-based to improve people’s health through diet”.

It’s like you would say someone is not an artist because his art work wasn’t shown in National Gallery. It’s like not holding the title of a well-known university excludes having great knowledge and passion in helping people. Obviously it should be controlled somehow, since you cannot harm anyone with art, but you can with bad treatment. But such claims are grossly unfair for those doctors whose diploma has not been approved in a given country (he gives example of a Russian doctor practising in UK), as well as for those who have great knowledge, very often from many different fields but doesn’t have a diploma of a prominent university.

McDonald’s again?

I know I still didn’t start talking about processed foods but, believe me I’m getting there. It’s just that highly unfair opinions like that (not scientifically proven by the way) makes me feel sad and angry.

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OK, lets get to the point. This should be written on every McDonald’s happy meal bag ( if happy meal still exists). After Angry Chef:

“As I write these words I am sat in McDonald’s on a bright Summer’s evening toward the end of Summer school holidays. I am watching the succesions of families returning from action-packed busy days, many irreplaceable and fractious, yet all full of irreplaceable and joyous memories of time well spent. They are rounding of their day with the unhealthiest of convenience foods: burgers, fries and sugar-laden drinks. They are doing this for pleasure and because they want to be filled without having to think about it. They are willing to trade away the healthier option of a scratched-cooked meal because the memories they have created today are vastly more important. This is not an illogical choice, it is more than worth a trade. Conveniences foods enhances lifes because it frees people to live them how they choose.”

That should be an ad of McDonald’s – don’t use your head, just fill up your belly. Seriously Angry Chef? Maybe I’m the only weird person who value more sitting in the park on the grass with homemade sandwiches? Through the whole book Angry Chef tries to prove us that we should not draw conclusions from random situations, and secondly, the fact that something happened (accidentally) does not mean that it always happens:

  1. Anecdotes are not evidence – his almost idyllic McDonald’s story is just an anecdote. His subjective assessment of this situation, unless he interviewed whole family to prove that his image of that situation was actually truth.
  2. Correlation is not causation – Angry Chef keeps saying this million times – end of Summer holidays and family visiting this “restaurant” does not mean that it’s their special day “full of irreplaceable and joyous memories of time well spent”. Maybe they come there every second day, because parents don’t want to be bothered to cook? We don’t know that unless we make a research and ask at least a hundred families about their reasons and frequency of visiting McDonald’s. At his point it’s the only facts we have, is that it was end of Summer school holidays and that the family visited McDonalds, the rest is a story imagined by the author. There’s no science there.

And one more thing “Conveniences foods enhances lifes because it frees people to live them how they choose” – I’m really glad that when I was a kid there was no McDonald’s and no conveniences foods (in the 80’s and beginning of 90’s there was no such thing as ready meals and first McDonald’s was built in my home town last year) and my grandma was making sandwiches for my school trips. They were wrapped in paper that become greasy from the butter, but they were delicious and made with love – butter tasted like butter not margarine and tomatoes smelled from far away with their red juiciness. So Angry Chef if you let them eat in McDonald’s, also give me a freedom to eat paleo, GASP, no sugar or any other, OK? Without judgement.

BTW don’t you think that we’ve been modified to this impatient and demanding society that wants everything right now and right here? Like burger from McD. Meanwhile cooking from scratch is not only time consuming activity that’s only purpose is to fill our stomach. But it also socialize people, teach them how to care about each other. Cooking is spending time together and bonding relations.

After idyllic McDonald’s scene I’ve been even more motivated to dig deeper and deeper. And I stepped upon another article, this time The Guardian (link down below).

Over half of Britons eats highly processed foods

Cambridge University Press in 2017 published a research about “Household availability of ultra-processed foods and obesity in nineteen European countries”. Estimates of highly processed foods was calculated from national household budget surveys conducted between 1991 and 2008, so quite a long time ago. And I’m really curious how it looks right now, I hope that someone will make that research so we could compare it with this one.

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This article leaded me to professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team. Professor Monteiro used a method of food classification called NOVA. This puts foods or ingredients in to one of four categories depending on their level of processing:

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods (e.g. fruits, grains, meat, milk) – natural products which may have been processed in some way but have had no sugar, salts, fats or oils added.
  2. Processed culinary ingredients – ingredients derived from nature usually used in combination with ingredients from the group above – examples are salt, sugar, honey, vegetable oil.
  3. Processed foods – ‘relatively simple’ products made by adding ingredients from category 2 to category 1 – usually two to three ingredients. Examples include canned vegetables, fruits in syrup, cheese, freshly made bread, salted/sugared nuts or seeds, smoked fish and cured meats (preserved, pickled, fermented or salted foods).
  4. Ultra-processed food and drink products – described as ‘industrial formulations’ with five or more ingredients: for example, ice-cream, chocolate, sweets. This also includes foods from category 3 which have had ‘cosmetic/sensory additives’ added. Ingredients from category 2 are now transformed through colours, emulsifiers, flavourings and other additives to become more palatable. They contain ingredients unfamiliar to domestic kitchens such as soy protein isolate (in cereal bars or shakes with added protein) and “mechanically separated meat” (turkey hotdogs, sausage rolls). Examples include yoghurt with added sweeteners and non-artisanal bread. 

Anyway, what they discovered? Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is highly processed (exactly 50.4%), made in a factory with industrial ingredients and additives invented by food technologists. After the research:

“A significant positive association was found between national household availability of ultra-processed foods and national prevalence of obesity among adults. After adjustment for national income, prevalence of physical inactivity, prevalence of smoking, measured or self-reported prevalence of obesity, and time lag between estimates on household food availability and obesity, each percentage point increase in the household availability of ultra-processed foods resulted in an increase of 0·25 percentage points in obesity prevalence.”

Researchers concludes that the consumption of highly processed foods is associated with an increased risk of diet-related non-communicable diseases. And that there’s need for public policies and actions to promote consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and make highly processed foods less available and affordable.

However British Nutrition Foundation has found a number of issues because of “correlation is not causation” statement:

  • cross-sectional study, it can only show that there is a relationship between these variables; it cannot show whether availability of ultra-processed foods actually caused an increase in levels of obesity,
  • looking at averages within populations, it cannot show that individuals within countries who consume the ultra-processed foods are most likely to be obese,
  • for many of the countries studied the data on obesity and food availability were not from the same year, in fact they were sometimes 5 years apart. While the authors stated that they used methods to account for this time difference, this means that the paper only provides a theoretical snapshot of these factors in time,
  • most of the data on obesity was self-reported and so likely to be inaccurate,
  • NOVA classification does not take the nutrient content of foods into account,
  • study suggests an association between ultra-processed foods and obesity, it cannot tell us anything about why this association might exist, as it provides no information about the levels of macronutrients or energy in the foods within the different categories.

These doubts are obviously logic, but it doesn’t mean that we should throw the whole study to rubbish and go for happy meal.

Everything comes from China 😉

I would like to mention about China Study. “The China Study” book is based on “China-Oxford-Cornell Study on Dietary, Lifestyle and Disease Mortality Characteristics in 65 Rural Chinese Counties,” In 1983 two villages were chosen at random in each of 65 rural counties in China, and 50 families were chosen at random in each village for a total of 6,500 people. The dietary habits of one adult member of each family were examined—half male, half female—and the results compared to the death rates in those counties from around 48 forms of cancers and other diseases during 1973–75. The study compared the health consequences of diets rich in animal-based foods to diets rich in plant-based foods among people who were genetically similar. You’ll find lots of different statements about if this study conclusion is truth or not, and lots of debunking opinions. And I’m not going to debate about is the plant – based diet the healthiest in the world or not. But I want to mention about other things, that I noticed in that book, because by accident I read it couple years ago, that is in my opinion can refer to highly processed foods.

Dr Campbell and his team discovered couple very interesting facts:

“Atlas of cancer and morality in the People’s Republic of China. An aid for cancer control and research.” was created in the 1970s and contained information on mortality from more than 60 different diseases. Thanks to this data, Campbell team was able to distinguish two groups of diseases:

  • diseases that usually occur in more economically developed areas (diseases of civilization) like cancer (anus, lung, breast, brain, stomach, liver), diabetes, heart disease
  • and diseases that usually occur in rural areas (poverty diseases): pneumonia, digestive disorders, peptic ulcers, tuberculosis, parasitic diseases, rheumatic fever, birth complications, etc.

The results were interesting enough because the differences in numbers turned out to be huge. The provinces with the highest cancer rates had over one hundred times more cancer than the provinces with the lowest cancer rates. For comparison, in the USA, the incidence of cancer in different regions of the country will not exceed two or three times.

Study also showed that when over the years the more civilized cities of eastern China began to include highly processed western diet, it caused an increase in the so-called civilization diseases. Chinese consumers prefer the imported products than the local ones due to the impression of the product’s reputation of foreign brands. I fully understand it, because in the country I come from, for many years there there was a belief that everything that comes from the West is better (and this belief still exists unfortunately). On a China Highlights website you can find an information that there are now more KFCs in China than even in the USA and more get built every week. We can read there: “only few Chinese have ever been to a Western country. While having dinner at a “Western restaurant”, they might happily eat something no Westerner has ever seen…”, “McDonald’s is a big chain in China. They’ve had about 25 years to experiment with their food. Younger people especially like their hamburgers. It is said to be made with real beef patties, and it tastes authentic”. So we should not be surprised to see that in China, one in five children is classified as obese. This is even more shocking when you consider that back in 1995, that number was only 1 out of 20 children.

What’s wrong with this food?

Photo by Mehrad Vosoughi on Pexels.com

OK, so let us go back to ultra-processed foods. I found an article related to Dr. Monteiro’s research, the author Bee Wilson, just wrote everything I’ve been thinking about in this subject. Author recalls the times of her childhood full of toasted bread, Pringles and breakfast cereals. The guilt she had after eating with no limits made her thinking there must be something wrong with her. Today she asks: what’s wrong with this food?

“As I ate my Pringles and my white bread, I felt like a failure for not being able to stop. I had no idea that there would one day be a technical explanation for why I found them so hard to resist”. Do you recall anything like that in your life? I do.

We eat processed food every single day, cooking is a process, fermenting is a process, peeling is a process. And it just came into my mind, so please don’t feel offended, but that’s a comparison that popped into my mind. It’s like you have two beautiful woman, one is full of her natural beauty, the other one is…uhm…spiced up here and there by plastic surgeon. Hyaluron lips, silicon breasts, maybe silicon bum, one pair of ribs less to make waist thinner, maybe some extension hair and glam make up for nicer finish. Honestly, which one would you like to spend your time every day until the rest of your life?

After Bee: what characterises ultra-processed foods is that they are so altered that it can be hard to recognise the underlying ingredients. These are concoctions of concoctions, engineered from ingredients that are already highly refined, such as cheap vegetable oils, flours, whey proteins and sugars, which are then whipped up into something more appetising with the help of industrial additives such as emulsifiers”.

And lots of these ultra processed products are existing in our everyday life. I just ate Quorn mince for my dinner and have long life plant milk in my fridge. It’s really difficult to eliminate all the processed foods from our diet. The question is what happens with the body when these foods replace unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits and meat? Question number two that Bee asks is: “consumers may blame themselves for overindulging in these foods, but what if it is in the nature of these products to be overeaten?” Moreover, there’s “adage repeated constantly by the food industry and adopted by politicians – that there’s no such thing as bad food, just too much food – Bee said. It’s like with alcohol and cigarettes – they are strongly addictive, but politicians, health care providers tells us it’s our fault that we drink and smoke too much. The truth is that no one cares about you, the only one who should truly care about you is YOU.

Life is difficult

And here we are going back to Dr Monteiro. He had started off in the 70’s treating poor people in rural villages, and was startled to see how quickly the problems of malnutrition were replaced by those of tooth decay and obesity, particularly among children. When Monteiro looked at the foods that had increased the most in the Brazilian diet – from cookies and sodas to crackers and savoury snacks – what they had in common was that they were all highly processed. And what’s even wore they are advertised as a replace to freshly made regular meals and dishes, with snacking any time, anywhere.

Soon after the arrival in Nepal of brightly coloured packages that, as Victor Aguayo, chief of nutrition at Unicef describes them, “look like food for children: the cookies, the savoury snacks, the cereals”, aid workers started to see an epidemic of “both overweight and micronutrient deficiency” including anaemia among Nepalese children under the age of five. That’s another example.

But as I already mention lots of people decided that Monteiro’s classification makes no sense. Bee reminds a story of Kevin Hall of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland who was very sceptic about ultra-processed foods theory. Just because people who eat a lot of ultra-processed foods are more likely to be obese or get cancer does not mean that obesity and cancer are caused by ultra-processed foods. At the end of 2018, Hall and his colleagues became the first scientists to test whether diets high in ultra-processed foods could actually cause overeating and weight gain.

For four weeks, 10 men and 10 women agreed to be confined to a clinic under Hall’s care and agreed to eat only what they were given. For two weeks, Hall’s participants ate mostly ultra-processed meals and for another two weeks they ate mostly unprocessed food. The subjects were told to eat as much or as little as they liked. It turned out that, during the weeks of the ultra-processed diet, the volunteers ate an extra 500 calories a day, equivalent to a whole quarter pounder with cheese. Blood tests showed that the hormones in the body responsible for hunger remained elevated on the ultra-processed diet compared to the unprocessed diet, which confirms the feeling I used to have that however much I ate, these foods didn’t sate my hunger. Over just two weeks, the subjects gained an average of 1kg. Came out that after publication of Hall’s study results, Monteiro’s study started being treated more seriously.

I think I know why my perception of processed foods is so different that Angry Chef. I grew in a country where highly processed foods started being sold in the 90’s, so in the culture of my country homemade, cooked from scratch meals are the one that we love, the one that are our soul food. In Britain or USA highly processed foods where normal from the 60’s, so their food memories are much different than mine. So when Bee dreams about Iced Gems (ultra-processed cookies topped with ultra-processed frosting), I dream about juicy, red tomatoes that had a smell and taste as real tomato. Not wrapped in plastic tomato-looking veg that taste like absolutely nothing. Or little wild strawberries and blueberries that grandma was bringing from the forest.

Surprise!

What was a surprise when at the end of Bee Wilson’s article I stepped upon the information that Angry Chef, the same Angry Chef from my book, argued that Nova was stoking fear and guilt about food and “adding to the stress of already difficult lives” by making people feel judged for their food choices (it’s like he’s not judging everyone in his book about their food choices). Moreover after having read Kevin Hall’s study, Angry Chef wrote an article in May 2019 admitting: “I was wrong about ultra-processed food – it really is making you fat.”

Ta! daa! What can I say?

And what do you think about processed foods and this luckless McDonald’s? Shall we eat whatever we want, because we have only one life and it’s already hard? I know people from both sides of the spectrum, some of them are surprised that I don’t go to McDonald’s, they eat whatever they want and complain how bad they feel. But that’s their thing. Thanks God in the subject of food we still have freedom of choice 😉

Source of knowledge:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/02/ultra-processed-products-now-half-of-all-uk-family-food-purchases

https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/feb/13/how-ultra-processed-food-took-over-your-shopping-basket-brazil-carlos-monteiro

https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritioninthenews/headlines/ultraprocessedfoods.html

https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2001/06/china-study-ii-western-diet-might-bring-western-disease

https://biuletyn.servier.pl/38977/wysoko-przetworzone-produkty-zywnosciowe-pierwsze-badanie-oceniajace-wplyw-na-wskazniki-umieralnosci

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/household-availability-of-ultraprocessed-foods-and-obesity-in-nineteen-european-countries/D63EF7095E8EFE72BD825AFC2F331149

https://daxueconsulting.com/processed-food-industry-in-china/

https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/article-western-food-in-china.htm

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/19/health/china-obesity-kids-intl/index.html

homemade black pudding dumplings

Let me tell you that, despite the seemingly dull and boring work that must be put into their preparation, making dumplings gives me a lot of joy. It’s like yoga for chefs 😉 When you can let go of all your thoughts and focus only on sticking together pieces of dough, pinching a nice frill on each one. It’s even more fun to eat afterwards, because nothing tastes as delicious as freshly cooked dumplings. That’s what I love about cooking from scratch – you’ll never get the same taste even from the best, most expensive store-bought food. It’s the same with homemade pasta – when you eat it once, store-bought one will never taste the same.

And because now we rarely eat pasta, I decided (similarly to bread making) that I will try to make my own when we fancy to have some. The same with dumplings. I never found store-bought dumplings good enough to replace the homemade ones. That’s why I always make my own dumplings.

Homemade dumplings are so delicious! Sprinkled with a large amount of fried onions – tastes like heaven 🙂 I love leftover pieces of dough, cooked and drizzled with butter and crispy onion.

I decided to fill them with Scottish staple food: black pudding (which is very similar to Polish “kaszanka”), but you can use another Scottish delicacy – haggis. They both will be great and easy stuffing to make. But you can fill up your dumplings with all sorts of ingredients, depending of your liking. If you’re a fan of black pudding and dumplings – this combination will not disappoint you. If you want to make a bigger batch it’s time consuming, but for me the reward is worth time spent in the kitchen.

Dumplings are suitable for freezing, you can do so by placing them on the kitchen board and freeze, then put to a freezing bag (this way they won’t stick together and won’t break while cooking from frozen). But in my opinion they won’t taste as delicious as when fresh. But I’m a bit picky about dumplings and in this case I don’t like compromises.

I hope I encouraged you enough to go to the kitchen, grab some flour, black pudding and make your own black pudding dumplings. Maybe you’ll even enjoy the process 🙂

homemade black pudding dumplings

NOTE: my measuring cup is regular 250ml glass

INGREDIENTS:

  • about 400g black pudding
  • about 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2 brown onions
  • 3 tbsp butter or lard

DIRECTIONS

Heat a frying pan adding 1 tablespoon of butter or lard and add sliced ​​black pudding. Fry stirring occasionally until black pudding is cooked, then switch off the heat and leave it to cool it down – stuffing is ready.

On a large kitchen board make a small mountain of flour with the hole on top, place the egg in the hole and slowly start mixing flour with the egg. When the dough starts to crumble add a little water and start kneading. Slowly try to knead the dough, if it is too dry add little water. After a few minutes, everything should combine. Knead the dough until it’s smooth, elastic and quite loose – so that it can be rolled freely. If necessary, either add a little water or sprinkle it with flour. I used less than 2/3 of a glass of water.

When the dough is ready, take a portion and start rolling out. Sprinkle kitchen board with a little bit of flour. Don’t use too much flour to roll the dough, because it will become dry and will not stick together and there is a chance that dumplings will fall apart during cooking. Roll it to a thickness of about 2 mm, as evenly as possible, too thin dough may also break during cooking. Cut out circles with a glass, put some filling on each circle, fold and stick edges together with your fingers – I always connect the edges, and then additionally pinch the edge into a “frill”. Place each dumpling on a clean cloth while waiting to be cooked.

Put dumplings on boiling salted water and cook for about 3-5 minutes on a low heat (high heat may break them) from the moment they flow out to the surface. Garnish with salted onion, diced and fried with butter or lard.