If being healthy was straight forward and easy – then we’d all be doing it right?
So why isn’t it straight-forward?
The simple fact is we are contending with multiple factors that can muddy the waters, veer us off track or confuse our perspective. These factors are endogenous and exogenous – meaning both inside and outside our body.
Our own hormones and neurotransmitters can stifle our road to health – driving fat storage and cravings. In addition, external factors such as strategic marketing by wily manufacturers in an attempt to sell their product(s) masked in health. Food manufacturers are driven by revenue and don’t always have your health at the heart of their decision making process – hence products fill our shelves with bright and shiny health claims – often jumping on trends such as "sugar-free" or "gluten-free" in a bid to relieve you of buying (and consuming) guilt.
I often think how confusing it would be for somebody beginning their health journey – a quick Google search would throw up so many theories, approaches and disciplines, most of which would conflict, and the peruse in the local ‘health food’ aisle wouldn’t shed much light either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that the health food aisle is growing but I also feel the screening process for products may need some reviewing or fine tuning
Below are a number of points to help navigate the minefield that can impede the road to health. Essentially they are ways to take control and ownership on your own health.
1. Read labels
If you don’t currently read labels I strongly suggest you start…knowing what’s in the food you’re ingesting can be critical for general health. You’ll notice a bunch of kale doesn’t contain a label….because… it is what it is! The further something is from its natural source or engineered in a laboratory the more ingredients it’ll have.
Look at the label on a jar of Nutella – a hazelnut spread - you’ll see that hazelnuts are THIRD on the list and sugar is FIRST…denoting it contains more sugar than hazelnuts….odd and mildly alarming for a hazelnut product don’t you think?
My suggestion is to not rely on anyone to determine or control your health and well-being – this includes manufacturers! Start today by being your own food detective – read all labels whether in the health food aisle or not and begin to decipher what constituents a healthy item or not. I have a fairly good gauge but even I will run my eyes over labels daily – it takes no time at all and is just a necessary component in ensuring I’m not consuming inflammatory foods/ingredients.
At first you may not be familiar with all the inflammatory ingredients but even at the very least keep your eye out for cheap industrial oils (canola, safflower, poor quality sunflower etc). It’s these oil which have flooded our food landscape over recent decades and that are easily oxidised meaning they cause free radicals. Free radicals can terrorise the integrity of a cell within our body, so it’s optimal to keep these to a minimum.
2. Key an eye on net carbohydrates
Nutritional panels will show Total Carbohydrate, this is important but it’s more important to factor in net carbs. This will factor a great deal if you are aiming for a low carbohydrate diet – for instance to achieve ketosis your daily net carb intake would amass to between 40-50 grams. Net carbs are Total Carb minus the Fibre. Although fibre is a carb, the glucose molecules are bound in a way that can’t end up in circulation so it doesn’t have an impact on glucose or insulin.
3. Sam goes for serving sizes
When you’re reading labels, and in particular the nutrition panel, have a look at the sizing size. Manufacturers can be sneaky at times and give you nutritional stats based on an unrealistic serving size. If you refer to a particular brand of ice cream, for example, the serving size is ½ cup (62g) – next time you’re in your kitchen cast your eyes to 1/2 cup and consider if that a normal serving size for most of us…we might start with ½ cup serve, but then go back for a second and third serve. Bare this mind when reading labels for breakfast cereals, yoghurts and juices – it’s the manufactures way to mislead us. Embrace the little food-detective inside us all.
4. Be aware of sugar and its many guises
Manufacturers have devised clever strategies to circumvent the labelling of ‘sugar’ on their products. Instead of declaring XX grams of sugar they use other forms of sugar, most of which are unknown to the masses, and carefully pull the wool over our eyes. Below is a list of the types of sugars manufacturers use, some I’m sure are instantly recognisable but equally I’m sure they are many that are foreign to you. Etch these names in your sub-conscious 3,2,1 GO…
Agave, blackstrap molasses, brown sugar, cane crystal, barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, buttered sugar, cane juice, caramel, carob syrup,, caster sugar, coconut sugar, corn sweetner, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, date sugar, demerara sugar, dextran, diastic malt powder, diastase, ethyl maltol, evaporated can juice, fructose, galactose, glucose, golden sugar
This is tiring……
Golden syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltodextrin, maltose, maple syrup, molasses syrup, muscovado sugar, raw sugar, oat syrup, panela, panocha, rice bran syrup, sorghum syrup, sucrose, treacle, tapioca syrup, turbinado sugar, yellow sugar, ……to name but a few.
While we are on the subject of sugar and labels, measurements are always expressed as grams, which can mean very little, but have in the back of your mind that 4g = 1 tsp.
5. Take your own lunch to work
For me this ticks a couple of boxes. 99 percent of leftovers taste better than they did the day before – FACT. This is particularly the case for curries and slow-cooked dishes. It will also help to save money in the long run and also ensure you’re in full control of what you eat at lunch.
There are a few approaches to making leftovers. Either make a larger than normal batch of dinner the night before and throw in the fridge, or if you’re organised and have some time up your sleeve… plan to do a big-cook up on the weekend in order give you enough meals throughout the week. If you decide to do a big cook-up on the weekend don’t feel like you need to the same dish, this will get boring pretty quickly, and staleness is the thorn in the side for any health program, be it fitness or food. It’s worth noting that there is no magic bullet to achieving health – it DOES require planning, being diligent and discipline – but the pay-off is second to none.
Taking your own lunch to work will guarantee you know EXACTLY what you’re eating. It’ll ensure you’re getting the optimal macros and nutrients but eliminate the risk of heading out for a ‘convenient’ lunch. We all know that healthy lunch options can be limited and a challenge…things are improving but for the most part most offerings come in the form of sandwiches, bagels and pasta. It’s these ingredients that will have a glycemic load and stress your endocrine system – having these foods is not the end of the world, but long-term we want to minimise the intensity and frequency of the glycemic load and subsequent hormonal response (blood sugar and insulin).
In summary, there is a path to a optimal health, but there are speed bumps along the way, all designed to make it a little more challenging to stay on track – shopping at your local grocery store can be a little minefield but if you’re ever in doubt and the legitimacy of an ingredient or a product – simply ask yourself one or two quick questions.
6. Ask yourself, was it once living?
Same goes for plants and animals. If the answer is yes – then it’s most likely a fresh and natural ingredient, in which case it’s a green light.
If the answer is no, then ask yourself the next question.
7. Has it got more than 6 ingredients?
If the answer is yes – then I’d recommended putting it back on the shelf, but if the answer is no then YOU become the little food detective and decipher whether it’s worthy of your basket or trolley.
Scott Gooding is a celebrity chef and health influencer who has just launched reconditioned.me – an eight week program that helps you develop healthy habits you can use for the rest of your life. It not only arms you with the knowledge to help you lead a healthy life – with easy access to delicious family friendly recipes, workouts, meditations and educational content – but it also exists to help you break negative patterns around nutrition, exercise and yourself.