How To Make A Satisfying Breakfast

In my last article, I explained the manner in which nutrient density and satiety have been unwittingly sacrificed at the altar of convenience. With a little creativity, it is possible to meet the need for sustenance and convenience. Read on to discover three tips for building your own optimal breakfast template.

As I have mentioned before, there is no one-size-fits-all in any realm of our existence - least of all when it comes to food. I have included a few examples of adaptations below, where necessary. I suggest that you see which one best aligns with your health status and activity levels, experiment and take note of how you feel. What follows could be considered as starting points for your experiments, not hard and fast rules. Adjustments may need to be made depending on how you feel.

  • Eat soon after rising. As a mother of small children, I know all too well how tempting it can be to put off breakfast until later. Having breakfast within an hour of waking will vastly improve your mood, put a spring in your step at the school gates and prevent your blood sugar from plummeting. It is easy to forget that eating dinner in the early evening and then sleeping (which is, of course, a fasted state) means that our bodies have gone without food for up to 12 hours. NOTE: Although it is a wonderful tool for certain health outcomes, intermittent fasting is an exception here and deserves a dedicated article.

  • Track your macronutrients - at least in the very beginning. This is the key to feeling satisfied until your next main meal and, therefore, more energised and alert. It is a lot easier than it appears at first and there are many apps to help you do so, some of which are free - providing you stay away from the paid bells and whistles upgrades within. Protein and fat are of the utmost importance and I recommend that you place greater emphasis on them by ensuring you get the right amounts of each before determining your carbohydrate needs. For optimal satiety and blood sugar stabilization, aim for 20-30g of protein. Next, free yourself from the notion that healthy fats will make you fat and eat them as your appetite dictates. Naturally-occurring fats in meat from exclusively grass-fed animals, wild-caught oily fish and wild-caught seafood, unpasteurised full fat dairy from grass-fed cows (if tolerated), eggs (including and especially the yolks), avocados and nuts and seeds are delicious and nourishing and deserve pride of place in your diet and on your breakfast table. Finally, adjust your carbohydrate intake accordingly. Carbohydrates tend to be the most customisable macronutrient as needs vary from person to person. A person with cognitive/neurological issues would most likely thrive on very little carbohydrate, a Type 2 diabetic would do best on a low carbohydrate regimen while a high carbohydrate template is more appropriate for an athlete, for example. If you are generally in good health and happy with your. weight, a moderate carbohydrate approach is best for most people. This works out at 100-200g a day for men eating 2600 calories and 75-150g for women eating 2000 calories. Starchy plants (like sweet potatoes, white potatoes - if tolerated - and butternut squash) and fruit are great options. Tracking how much of certain foods you need to eat to meet your macronutrient requirements for a week will help you get the hang of it so that you need not rely on apps longterm.

  • Think outside the box. It is important to start with what feels right for you and titillates your tastebuds. Choking down any recommendations made here is a sure-fire path to an unsustainable breakfast menu, not to mention a miserable start to one’s day. I have mentioned before that I like to think of food as something that nourishes, sustains or supplies and anything that does not fulfil this criteria as a food-like substance. Once you have purged your kitchen of the latter, a good rule of thumb is to begin to view leftover lunches and dinners as potential breakfasts for the day after. Though worlds apart from a typical Western breakfast, they are immensely satisfying and require little more than reheating and the addition of a different vegetable, sauce or even a bowl of fresh, seasonal berries to finish. Better still, scheduling batch cooking sessions at the weekends provides an array of breakfast options which can then be mixed and matched as the mood takes you. Melissa Joulwan has created a template for any time of day that you can use as is or draw inspiration from. At this time of year, you could also add a large batch of a hearty soup like salmon chowder to your repertoire. Leftover soup - made using bone broth as a base - is the ultimate fast comfort food and adjusting macronutrients is easily done by adding some diced leftover Sunday roast, crisped up leftover sweet potato or a drizzle of olive oil, for example, as needed.

Breakfast: The Most Misunderstood Meal Of The Day

Thanks to slick advertising, breakfast is a meal that is very defined in the minds of most people. The mere mention of the word conjures up images of toast, cereal and juice which, on closer inspection, are not the best ways to start one’s day. Read on to find out why.

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The rise in popularity of processed breakfast products in the standard Western diet can be traced back to two main events in history - the advent of agriculture and the Industrial Revolution.

For most of human history, our hunter gatherer ancestors ate - and thrived on - an incredibly diverse, nutrient-dense diet. This changed when their descendants put down roots and began to grow a limited range of crops (mainly grains) that had long shelf lives and were convenient to transport. Living off the land in this new way, meant that carbohydrate intake soared as both protein intake and quality reached an all-time low. Less bioavailable (or readily absorbed) proteins from legumes took the place of most animal proteins - a tendency that persists to this day.

The Industrial Revolution, on the other hand, provided the technological means to turn wheat into flour, rice and corn into boxed cereal and whole fruits into juice. It also led to the creation of companies and ever longer working hours for the workforce, thus creating the need for convenient - and highly processed - breakfast products.

It is important to note that the practice of processing is not necessarily unwise, providing the end result is nutritious and able to offer sustenance. This is not the case with bread, breakfast cereals and juice, to name a few, which have to be synthetically fortified in an attempt to replace lost nutrients. It is this lack of nutrient density in general (and a lack of high quality proteins and fats in particular) that leads to mid-morning dips in energy, a yearning for true nourishment and repeated snacking as a result. Over time, this leads to a range of deficiencies, obesity and sub-optimal health. Interestingly, the most nutrient dense foods happen to be offal, shellfish and red meat, all of which are often deemed detrimental to health.

Contrary to popular belief, humans did not evolve to eat grains - including those in a whole, unprocessed form - in large quantities. In addition to their poor nutrient status, they contain substances - like phytic acid - which impair the uptake of what little nutrients they contain. Indigenous tribesmen painstakingly soaked, sprouted and fermented grains before consumption and studies now show that this ancient practice offers the best chance for nutrient absorption, however small this may be.

Finally, eating in this manner provokes an inflammatory response - an important factor in the development of disease.

Differing opinions on what constitutes a template for a healthy breakfast - even amongst healthcare practitioners - makes an already complex situation worse. An open mind and a desire to experiment with less commonplace alternatives are the key to feeling fuller for longer whilst meeting one’s nutritional needs.

In my next article, I will offer suggestions on how to create nourishing and satisfying breakfasts relatively quickly. In the meantime, you might like to try observing - and/or making a note of - how you feel (energy levels, alertness or lack thereof, etc.) after eating breakfast.

The Health Conscious Diners' Guide To Eating Out

Whether you are avoiding certain foods due to sensitivities/allergens or simply wish to be discerning about what you put into your body, eating out whilst doing so can be challenging to say the least. This article offers a few tips which may help make the process easier and even enjoyable.

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One can often feel like a nuisance when making special food requests or stating certain dietary preferences but this needn't be the case - especially when priceless assets like health and peace of mind are at stake. The key is to express your needs - and the reasons behind them - clearly, briefly and politely.

  • Call ahead: Speaking to the manager of the restaurant before your visit will prevent any potential awkwardness on the day. The responses you receive will also help you decide which restaurants to favour - or rule out - in future. You could draw up a list of questions before your call to ensure that your most important needs are met. Asking if something can be prepared from scratch to exclude any allergens is a great place to start. It is also often possible to view the menus of any restaurants you like the look of online beforehand.

 

  • Keep it simple: Grilled meat, fish or seafood and a salad without any ready-made dressing accompanied by olive oil and vinegar or lemon wedges is a foolproof option that can easily be prepared at any restaurant. Depending on how cautious you wish to be, it is worth bearing in mind that restaurants cook with rapeseed oil for the most part and it is not as healthy as it is reported to be. Trim off any fat from non-organic meat. Animals that have been routinely given antibiotics and growth hormones store these substances in their adipose (fatty) tissues. Avoid sauces as they tend to be less obvious sources of allergens and additives. 

 

  • Bring your own: If you have been invited to dine at the home of a friend or family member, again, calling ahead of time to explain things is best. Offer to make something that meets your needs and can be be shared with other guests.

 

  • Eat before your outing: If all else fails, make yourself a little something to eat at home and - if possible - top this off later with a salad at the restaurant (or at the home of your host) just in case it turns out that nothing else on the menu is suitable.

Mindful Eating: An Evolutionary Perspective

Human beings evolved over millenia to seek the most nutrient-dense, calorific and satiating foods. Food was much harder to come by then and it was in this harsh environment that the instincts we possess today were honed. They are also the reason why humans have endured and thrived as a species thus far. In a world of abundant and easily obtained food - and food-like substances - these same instincts now scupper our seemingly puny attempts at mindfulness and restraint. In this article, I will explain how this can happen, why it is not your fault and what you can do about it.

Sex, community, food, water and shelter are - and always have been - of paramount importance to the human race. This is because we are each intrinsically motivated by anything that ensures not only our survival, but that of future generations. From the moment we are born, we begin to explore the best ways to achieve this. One might - quite rightly - assume that over a lifetime the average person would become more adept at doing so the older (and the more practice) they get. There is a catch, however.

Each time you engage in behaviour that is - or appears to be - dependent on your survival, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released from a range of structures in the brain. Once released in this way, dopamine embeds a memory of the behaviour along with the context in which it occurs. This includes all sensory inputs at the time (where you were, how you felt and associated tastes, smells and sounds). Whenever the same configuration of sensory inputs presents itself in relation to a particular behaviour, your brain offers a helpful reminder of how well this served your desire for survival in the past, thus prompting you to repeat it once more. Dopamine is again squirted into the brain, setting a self-perpetuating mechanism in motion.

The greater the surge of dopamine in the brain - and the more frequently it is released - the greater the motivation to engage in the behaviour that triggered its release.

This elegant system worked perfectly for centuries - until the rapid evolution of our environment far outpaced the evolution of our biology causing what is now known as an evolutionary mismatch.

For most of human history, only that which could be hunted and gathered was consumed. Food took a great deal of time and effort to prepare and was much more subtly flavoured than most of what we eat today. Fresh fruits and honey were the only sources of dietary sweetness. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have regular access to these foods but they were prized for their nutritive value nonetheless. This is in sharp contrast to the readily available - and relatively cheap - food-like substances that are deliberately crafted to be hyper-palatable and, therefore, infinitely more enticing than whole, naturally sweet foods.

Fat is another food that has been highly-prized by humans for centuries due to its nutrient density - moreso than fruits and honey. It is perceived as very rewarding by our brains and is satiating in small amounts. Responses vary, however, depending on the type of fat consumed and the manner in which it has been processed. Industrially processed and refined seed oils are high in fat but devoid of nutrients. Those who ingest them are left heavily-laden with calories, malnourished and, therefore, continually hungry for more of what their well-meaning brains are telling them will meet their needs. 

Processed fats and refined sugars wreak enough havoc on our minds - and bodies - individually. Together, their combined effects on the reinforcement of dysfunctional eating behaviour is unprecedented. The combination of fat and sugar is one that is both absent in nature and widely used by the food industry. Faced with this double-whammy, our brains are quite literally like kids in a candy store.

Sensors in the mouth and small intestine are able to detect the presence of nutrients in the foods we eat and to assess the levels of concentration of these nutrients. This valuable information is relayed to the brain which also triggers the release of dopamine. Food-like substances contain far greater - and far more unnatural - concentrations of fat, sugar, salt and starch per meal or snack than our appetite signalling systems have been historically accustomed to. Repeatedly eating in this way repeatedly provokes larger surges of dopamine in the brain than would otherwise occur. The more this happens, the deeper the act of choosing (and gorging on) such substances becomes embedded as a mindless and addiction-like trait.

It goes without saying, then, that one cannot possibly eat mindfully without having first exercised a certain level of discernment where food choices are concerned. Below are a few ways you may choose to accomplish this:

  • Purge your pantry. Highly refined and hyper-palatable food-like substances send confusing messages to the brain. This makes the survivalist, non-conscious brain step into the fray, leaving all good - and mindful - intentions behind.

     

  • Make satiating choices. Stock up on healthy fats and animal proteins (particularly offal and cheaper, gelatinous cuts of meat) and consider buying the very best quality you can afford. These are worth their weight in gold as they are such nutrient powerhouses that a little goes a long way. Accompany these with lots of whole (and, ideally, organic) fresh produce and fermented vegetables.

     

  • Tend to your emotions. Eating - or drinking - to assuage unpleasant emotions (or indulge heady ones) often ends in unmet needs, sub-optimal health and regret. Consider looking for non-food related means of processing your feelings.

     

It is important to note that the above are more likely to achieve the best possible results when paired with the suggestions I offered in this article.

I have also written the following articles which you may find useful:

A Beginner's Guide To Mindful Eating

Mindfulness is a term that is now so ubiquitous that it can often be dismissed as nothing more than the latest buzzword. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. When applied to eating, it - in fact - has the ability to deepen and enrich the experience whilst also offering important feedback. Read on to find out how to incorporate this essential practice into your daily life and the benefits it can provide.

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of paying close attention - bringing all of one's senses to the present moment - without deeming whatever one senses as good or bad. When consistently presented with the facts in this way, we are much more likely to make better decisions.

We all know that eating with as much focus as we can muster throughout each meal can greatly increase the possibility of noticing just how full - or not - we are. This phenomenon is one that simply requires us to dispense with distractions thus enabling the mind to look out for cues from the body. Often missed due to the fast-paced nature of our busy lives, this information prevents us from overeating not just in the moment, but over the long term. Mindfulness is also instrumental in creating the perfect conditions for optimal digestion.

Below are a few tips to get you started:

  • Get curious: Whenever the urge to eat something presents itself, try getting into the habit of assessing what your body really needs. Are you truly hungry? Thirsty, perhaps? Are you making the most nourishing choice for your body? Could boredom, tiredness or stress be playing a role here? If so, is food the best antidote? A minute or two spent scanning your body for answers to these questions is usually enough to create space between your triggers and the choices you decide to make.

     

  • Prime your body and mind: Once you have concluded that food is indeed required, it is best to eat it seated at a table. Making sure that it is devoid of stress-inducing clutter (or anything that could prove to be a distraction from the task at hand) is vital. Next, take three deep breaths to put you in a better - or at least neutral - frame of mind.

     

  • Take a moment: This is all that is needed to look down at your plate (which is, hopefully, inviting) and to appreciate the colours and textures on it. If you feel uninspired by what you see, this is valuable data. It is often said that the first bite is with the eye so create a plate you can get excited about. The anticipation you feel as a result will be accompanied by the stimulation of your salivary glands, causing your mouth to water - an important first step of digestion. Leaning in to the food and breathing in the aromas also assists this process.

     

  • Chew thoroughly: Putting your cutlery down while doing so, is a great way to ensure that you do not speed up your meal by placing another bite of food into your mouth before you have swallowed the first. Only swallow once you have completely broken down the food. This will provide a greater surface area on which digestive enzymes in your saliva can work. You may find that you do not need the assistance of sips of water throughout your meal to send the food down.

     

  • Check in: Pay attention to how you feel as each mouthful of food reaches your stomach. Could you do with a little more food? Do you feel satisfied and comfortable?

     

  • Repeat: The more you follow the steps above, the deeper the habit is embedded into your consciousness - without having to continually rely on (and, eventually, deplete) willpower.

I will dig a little deeper into the science of mindful eating in a subsequent article.

The Truth About Cholesterol: The Basics

There is so much misinformation and outdated science on cholesterol that a lot of people live in - needless - abject terror of certain foods. In this article, I hope to set the record straight so that you can apply a more informed (and effective) approach to your cardiovascular health.

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Cholesterol and its link to heart disease is, undoubtedly, a hot topic. It is better understood than it has been in the past but not everyone - or every doctor, for that matter - has kept up-to-date with the most recent findings. Doctors have, of course, had years of intensive training and have a genuine desire to help their patients. In their defence, there simply are not enough hours in the day to re-educate themselves (and their patients) on such a rapidly evolving topic. For this reason, the following may completely contradict what you currently believe to be true:

Blood cholesterol simply does not exist. Cholesterol is not systematically dumped into the bloodstream. Rather, it is transported through the blood (along with triglycerides) in substances called lipoproteins (molecules containing both fat and protein). This point may well come across as nit-picking but it will, hopefully, become clearer in a minute.

Cholesterol alone does not determine the risk of heart disease. The confusion seems to stem from oversimplification of the very complex symphony of events that has to occur for the development of heart disease. Not everyone with high cholesterol develops heart disease and not everyone with normal cholesterol avoids it. While it is true that there is an association between cholesterol and heart disease, it is not the root cause. The concentration or number of lipoproteins carrying cholesterol through the blood (lipoprotein particle number  or LDL-P) is a more accurate predictor of heart disease. In addition, the cholesterol content of LDL particles varies more than two-fold among individuals. One person may have large, more cholesterol-rich low-density lipoproteins (LDL) while a second may have smaller cholesterol-poor LDL particles. A person with the same concentration of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) as another may have higher numbers of LDL particles. This discordance in certain individuals also makes LDL-P a more accurate predictor of heart disease. Imagine a busy road (blood vessel), if you will. Traffic is caused by the number of vehicles (lipoproteins) on the road not the number of people (cholesterol) in each vehicle. In recent years, considerable doubt has been cast on the rationale of using cholesterol as a predicting factor in the development of heart disease. Taking total cholesterol into account along with triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (and the presence of oxidised LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL),  and lipoprotein particle number is much more indicative of risk. I will address the factors affecting lipoprotein particle number (LDL-P) in a subsequent article. 

Lower cholesterol is not better -  particularly for women and the elderly. Moderately elevated cholesterol (by current standards) in women may prove to be not only harmless but beneficial according to a Norwegian study. It found that cholesterol levels were inversely proportional to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality. In his exciting new book - The End Of Alzheimer's - Dr. Dale Bredesen makes the link between low cholesterol levels and cognitive decline. He discovered that the likelihood of brain atrophy (or shrinkage) was higher in patients with total cholesterol levels of less than 3.8mmol/l.

Eating cholesterol-rich foods does not elevate cholesterol - in most people. In fact, we get a lot less cholesterol from food than you may think. Of the 25% obtained from the diet, only a small amount can be absorbed by the body. The liver's production of cholesterol accounts for a whopping 75% of all cholesterol found in the body. Our bodies maintain this percentage by dutifully making more when dietary cholesterol is restricted and vice versa. 1 in 4 people have increased cholesterol levels after eating foods that contain cholesterol but, as I said earlier, this is not indicative of the risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol is absolutely essential to life. Once this is fully understood, one can no longer label it as "good" or "bad". It is responsible for the formation of cell membranes surrounding each and every cell in the body and therefore influences cell to cell communication and transport of substances into and out of each cell. If our cells had no membranes, they would cease to exist - and, very shortly afterwards, so would we. Cholesterol is also a precursor for all hormones, without which all processes in the body would effectively grind to a screeching halt. The brain is especially rich in cholesterol because it supports learning and memory. It is, therefore extremely unwise to go to great lengths to lower such a key player in the maintenance of our overall health - particularly without first determining the root cause. 

Elevated cholesterol is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of something deeper going awry. I like to think of symptoms as invitations to look for root causes which would then dictate one's approach. I would encourage you to do the same.

Food Origin: What To Look For And Why

All living beings (both human and animal) have an evolutionary heritage. It is now clear that our persistent disregard of this is the root cause of the chronic disease epidemic we face today. This is evident in the dysfunctional way we live, rear animals and grow produce for food. In this age of spin, words are used so indiscriminately that they cannot truly be ascribed to much of what is sold in supermarkets today. In this article, I will highlight the criteria to look out for whilst shopping for food so that you can be better informed on the purchases you make. 

I like to think of food as something that nourishes, sustains or supplies and everything that does not fit this description - but is promoted as such - as a food-like substance. For the purpose of this article, food is also produce that has been thoughtfully grown and animals that have been reared and fed in a species-appropriate manner.

What follows is the state in which food was given to us by nature so that we could thrive rather than merely survive.

 

Meat, animal fats and dairy: sheep and cows evolved to spend most of their time outdoors and - once weaned off their mother's milk - to feed exclusively on grass. Pigs thrive outdoors foraging for their food and should not be fed any soy. Studies show that the meat, fat and dairy from cows reared as described above has a superior nutrient and fatty acid profile to those from cows fed in a manner which is at odds with their evolutionary heritage. In addition, animals that have been routinely given antibiotics and growth hormones store these substances in their adipose (fatty) tissues. It is, therefore, best to trim and discard the fat from such animals. In contrast, fat from pasture-reared animals has a 2:1 ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 to inflammatory omega-6 fats making it a wonderful addition to one's diet. 

Fish and seafood: wild-caught and sustainable fish and seafood are best as they are lower in toxic pollutants, higher in vitamin D (as well as other nutrients) and with a superior omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. It is important to note that larger fish - like certain varieties of tuna - are more prone to high levels of accumulated mercury and are best severely limited in one's diet or avoided altogether. The risk of mercury toxicity is greatly minimised by choosing smaller fish and certain varieties of seafood. Opting for wild-caught varieties increases the likelihood of a higher selenium content which is thought to be protective when it far exceeds mercury levels. 

Poultry and eggs: birds evolved to roam freely on organic pastures. This enables them to forage for insects, worms, grass, seeds and the odd small rodent. Eggs and meat from such birds provide a rich supply of important sulphur-containing proteins, fat-soluble vitamins (A and D), vitamin B12, folate, antioxidants, omega-3 fats, choline and iron. 

Fruits and vegetables: local, seasonal and organic fruits and vegetables - sourced directly from the grower(s) - tend to be fresher and higher in nutrients. In contrast, supermarket equivalents (organic or otherwise) are often grown without respect for the seasons and are typically picked before they are fully ripened. This, combined with weeks in transit (and yet more weeks in warehouses before delivery to retail outlets) means that there is little or nothing of any value left in them by the time they are purchased. Signing up to an organic fruit and vegetable box scheme provides the opportunity to eat a much wider range - and therefore, a broader spectrum of nutrients - that simply is not available in supermarkets.  

I have included the information above - and more - in a handy guide. You can download it here.

How To Meet Your Nutritional Needs On A Budget

Our bodies are made up of complex systems that require an array of non-negotiable nutrients in order to function optimally. As always, organic sources are ideal but buying the very best food you can afford is a good rule of thumb. This can get pretty expensive pretty quickly so I thought you might find it useful to have a comprehensive list of the most important - and cheapest - foods to focus on and how best to get the most out of them.

Offal: love them or hate them, organ meats (as they are also known) are by far the most nutrient-dense foods you will ever eat. Fat soluble vitamins A and D, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals are just some of the many nutrients to be gained from these ultra-nourishing foods. They are also so cheap that sourcing them from exclusively grass-fed and outdoor-reared organic animals would still cost a lot less than meat from animals reared in exactly the same way. Disguise them if you must and make them as pretty and palatable as you can by seeking out recipes to guide you. Aim for one or two 85g servings a week and your body and wallet will thank you profusely for it.

Odd bits: fatty, gelatinous cuts of meat - and everything else between the nose and tail of animals - are the hallmark of traditional diets. This is in sharp contrast to the high (and almost exclusive) consumption of muscle meat in the modern diet. In addition to being far more expensive, muscle meat is higher in homocysteine-elevating methionine. Slow- or pressure-cooked oxtail and brisket are delicious and rich in glycine which enables the detoxification of excess methionine, thus reducing the body's demand for homocysteine-lowering nutrients (B6, B9, B12, choline and betaine). It is important to note that there is absolutely no need to restrict glycine-rich meat or to keep a tally of calories eaten. I encourage you to eat these nourishing cuts as your appetite dictates. If this all sounds rather daunting, you can try one of the following suggestions - depending on how squeamish you feel: 

OR

  • Sip gently warmed bone broth (see below) seasoned with a little Pink Himalayan Salt with or between meals. 

Bones: poultry, lamb and beef bones are now widely used to make soothing broths. The age-old practice of cooking with fish bones and heads is well worth reviving, however. Many fishmongers may be willing to give fish bones - and heads - away for free as they are usually discarded. All bones are rich in glycine but fish heads provide important minerals (like iodine and selenium) and impart a wonderful flavour to broths and soups. Non-oily fish are the best sources for this purpose. Enjoy 120-240ml of your favourite broth a day.

Eggs: contrary to conventional wisdom, these will not elevate cholesterol. They are, however, high in homocysteine-elevating methionine. Context is, as always, of paramount importance here. A nutrient-dense diet that mirrors that of our ancestors would include a wide range of foods - many of which are mentioned in this article. A range of combinations/recipes and a certain hierarchy or frequency of consumption would also be observed, which I have attempted to emulate in this list of foods. Egg drop soup and Avgolemono combine eggs and bone broth to make hearty meals that just so happen to balance methionine intake beautifully. Egg yolks contain healthy fat and are the highest source of choline so eat a minimum of four to five a week. Of course, the higher the quality, the more superior the nutrient profile will be.

Seaweed: these are so packed with minerals that a small amount is often all that is required to meet one's recommended daily intake. Kelp is especially high in iodine. It is available to buy as a powder and its salty flavour makes it a discreet addition to eggs, soups or stews.

Home-grown vegetables and herbs: these are my personal preference to the Clean Fifteen or Dirty Dozen as I explained in a previous article. If you are unsure of whether or not pesticides were previously used in your garden, this is easily remedied by using raised beds and/or growing in containers with organic compost. This means that you can eat local, seasonal and ultra-fresh produce all year round. Better still, ferment them for greater digestibility, vitamin K2 and a greater proliferation of beneficial gut bacteria. Use unheated as an accompaniment to meals twice a day.

Traditional, healthy fats: these are essential for brain development in children, cognitive health, energy, immune function, radiant skin and lustrous hair. Generally speaking, fats are still regarded as one of the most feared foods today - a mindset that is, sadly, eroding the health of many. I recommend beef and lamb tallow for cooking, particularly when cooking at high temperatures. Ghee (or clarified butter) - a time-honoured Ayurvedic healing food - is also well-suited to high-temperature cooking but it can be expensive if bought ready-made. It is, fortunately, very easy to make. Lard and duck fat are also great economical options, especially as they can be reserved from roasts (cooked at low temperatures) for future use. Being mindful of the smoke points of the fats you choose to cook with is of the utmost importance. Each fat has an ideal cooking temperature beyond which it loses its nutritional value and begins to oxidise, making it detrimental to health. I have created a guide to fats, their smoke points and how best to use them and you can find it here. Full fat dairy - providing it is raw/unpasteurised and well-tolerated - is another excellent source of healthy fats. 

Tips for success:

Buy ingredients rather than ready-made products: it is tempting to buy ready-made products in a bid to save time but such items tend to cost a lot more than it would cost you to make them at home. It is also the best way to ensure that your meals are as wholesome and additive-free as possible. Here are a few ideas:

  •  Make your own condiments: aside from being cheap, homemade mayonnaise is fresher and far more nutritious than anything you can buy in the supermarket. It can also be made in as little as 20 seconds, customised to suit your taste and turned into numerous dips and dressings.

     

  • Render your own fat (and churn your own butter): leaf fat from outdoor-reared pigs and unpasteurized cream (from cows reared exclusively on grass) are cheap and can be couriered from a farm to your doorstep for a very small fee - or none at all, depending on how much you spend. Rendering fat requires very little hands on time and making butter is so simple and rewarding that children would need little persuasion to get involved.

  • Make soups: these are easily made in batches - once you have batch-cooked some bone broth, of course. Simply cook vegetables, herbs and spices of your choice in the bone broth and purée using a hand blender until smooth. They can then be frozen and ready to defrost for quick nourishing meals, especially in the autumn and winter months.

     

  • Get creative with leftovers: try adding leftover meat or fish to salads and soups. Roasted vegetables can be beaten into eggs with herbs and baked in muffin cases for a portable lunch or snack. 

Buy in bulk: invest in a chest freezer, look out for special offers and stock up. You will soon have a wide range of nutrient powerhouses that can be defrosted and turned into delicious meals. 

Buy a pressure cooker: this will make short work of glycine-rich, gelatinous cuts of meat and bone broth, both of which typically require hours of cooking on a hob or in a slow cooker. A resulting deeper and richer flavour is a welcome added bonus.

Why I Do Not Recommend Clean Fifteen|Dirty Dozen Lists

I'd like to begin by sharing the Merriam-Webster definition of food, which just so happens to be my favourite.

Food is something that nourishes, sustains or supplies.

Anything we ingest that does not perform any or all of these tasks cannot, in my opinion, be justifiably regarded as food. We seem to have created a world in which the line between food and enticingly packaged - and marketed - food-like substances has been so blurred that we now unwittingly consume toxic substances daily.

It is all too easy to get confused by mixed messages in the media. You may have placed all your trust in a system which ought to give us the facts so that we can make informed choices. You may not feel ready to look deeper into the consequences of our collective quest for "convenient" and cheaper food-like substances.

Please know that this is not a judgement of anyone consuming produce sprayed with pesticides.

I understand. I have been where you are. We all do the best we can.

The premise of the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists appears to be based on the assumption that the use of smaller amounts of pesticides is somehow safer. I respectfully disagree.

This review explains that the term "low dose" is itself a misnomer since the potency or efficacy of individual chemicals studied was not taken into account. There is substantial evidence in the scientific literature linking the use of endocrine disruptor chemicals in pesticides to wide-ranging detrimental effects on health. They have additive and synergistic effects and very little is known about how these chemicals act in combination. Such substances penetrate deep into produce (thick-skinned or not) and cannot be washed - or peeled - off.

Money often comes up in conversations such as these. We each have a limit above which we cannot go when it comes to expense of any kind. With so much to do and buy these days, it can be hard to prioritise. Remember that each time you buy a food-like substance, you vote for the kind of food you would like to see more of.

Consider making the switch from that which will deplete you to that which will nourish and sustain you. You can do so by either:

  • Signing up to an organic veg box scheme. There are quite a few to choose from now and they tend to operate on a contract-free basis. This means that you can opt in or out from one week to the next or as required.

OR

  • Growing your own produce. With options ranging from balcony and container gardening to your very own fruit and vegetable plot, this is possible wherever you live. This infographic explains the basics beautifully. There is also an interactive version that can be customised with the climate where you live, etc., if you prefer.

If you would like to know more about pesticides and their effects, Guy Watson (organic farmer and founder of Riverford) has created a minute-long video and written a series of posts on the subject. You can find them here.

How To Be Healthy: Nourish

We are living through an - often - arduous era of taking apart everything our ancestors instinctively knew and attempting to put it all back together in a manner that best serves our wellbeing.

The physiological discomforts and lack of ease (or disease) we sometimes experience are manifestations of an evolutionary mismatch. The rapid evolution of the world we live in today has far outpaced the evolution of the human race even though it has made valiant efforts to adapt to its new environment. Traits that served us in our old environment are now maladaptive in the current one.

We are still hard-wired for potential scarcity (hence the strong inclination to gorge when food is in the vicinity) and yet, never has food been more abundant. We used to hunt and forage for food because not doing so meant certain death. Today - if nothing takes your fancy at your nearest food outlet - practically everything can now be delivered to your doorstep at the click of a mouse. 

"Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them."

Albert Einstein

Whether we all agree on what constitutes a healthy diet remains in contention. That said, I think we can all agree that foods reared or grown as nature intended are more likely to bring our bodies back into alignment. It is also clear that where the standard Western diet dominates, so does chronic disease. This is evident in the exploration of any ancestral diet and the events that occurred following its abandonment in favour of instant gratification.

I hope that this does not lead you to believe that clinging to dogma and reenactments of the past is the way forward. This is a conversation that must allow room for individuality. There is no one-size-fits-all - the same food that enables one to thrive could enable another to merely survive. This is not to say that there isn't a basic framework on which the optimal human diet is based.

Our ancestors lived in close contact - and in harmony - with nature.  They revered the seasons and their bountiful gifts. Through trial and error, they discovered that the body has an innate capacity to heal, given the right conditions.

Hunter-gatherer populations ate (and thrived on) meat, offal, fish, seafood, an extremely diverse range of non-starchy and starchy vegetables, minimal - and properly prepared - grains, fruits, properly prepared nuts and seeds and traditional fats. More recently, dairy consumption saw a sharp increase when European-derived populations developed the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, owing to the rise of dairy farming. The emphasis now placed on less nutrient-dense foods like legumes (as a substitute for the more nutrient-dense animal proteins) grains and pseudograins (like quinoa, for example) is unprecedented - particularly among the health-conscious subset of society.

Whilst considering the above, I would suggest that you keep an open mind. The press has a tendency to engender a mentality of elitism, guilt and even fear where food is concerned. Most confusing of all is the fact that substances that rob us of our health and vitality are not only referred to as food but touted as healthy. Terms like "superfood", "treat" and "guilty pleasure" do nothing to acknowledge the nuances required in determining the multi-faceted needs of the average 21st century human. 

Essentially, you are what you - and your beneficial bacteria - eat, what you then absorb and what you do or do not detoxify.

This behooves you to consider the following:

Find a practitioner who will work in partnership with you. Figuring out the foods that help your body to unlock its full potential is best not attempted alone. The key is to find someone who discourages the use of quick fixes and is willing to dig deeper using appropriate testing. Determining whether or not you absorb nutrients from your food (or detoxify optimally) is vital for fine-tuning your unique dietary needs. If you feel at any time that you are being talked down to or that your feelings or questions are not taken into account, I would suggest that you find another practitioner.

Experiment. Listen to your body and pay attention to the signals it sends you. Remember that symptoms of gut disorders are not limited to the gut itself and can often manifest anywhere in your body. You could try eliminating the usual suspects, (e.g. processed foods, industrial seed oils and sugar) and highly allergenic foods (like soy, wheat, eggs, dairy or nightshades, for example) for a minimum of thirty days before reintroducing them individually. Notice how you feel with each reintroduction over a 3-day period. Do you feel depressed, fatigued or have stiff or painful joints? Remember that there can be no better expert on you than you so it is important to familiarise yourself with your physiological quirks. The information you glean will be doubly valuable, should you choose to work with a practitioner.

Dispense with the idea that food should be cheap and convenient. Good quality food costs money. Your body is, arguably, your most prized possession and therefore warrants the biggest investment you can afford. Just as cars require a non-negotiable type - and quality - of fuel to function optimally, so do our bodies. Attempting to decipher the average label on any ready-made product can be challenging. Do not be fooled by seemingly benign ingredient lists as there are legal loopholes that allow the addition of undeclared chemical additives. Cooking from scratch is your safest bet and buying ingredients rather than products (many of which are not food, strictly speaking) works out cheaper, anyway.

Cast your vote wisely. Buying food-like substances perpetuates the status quo. You have the power to change the course of history and to create a better, disease-free world every time you reach for your wallet. Consider making your next purchase from a local farmer who treats animals and the earth with the utmost respect.