Eat food, mostly plants – not too much.

Sishi rolls

My sister found this pamphlet when she was going through a box of old papers with my mum a few weeks ago. It’s from a c1950 Westinghouse Refrigerator User Manual.

Fridge

The part that particularly grabbed my attention was last sentence – the bit about brown vs white sugar! It points out to me that poor dietary advice has been around forever!

What is a healthy diet?

When it comes to diets just exactly who should we believe? There’s such a variety with the claims often contradicting each other. We could try:

Vegan – strictly only plants

Vegetarian- plants but also sometimes honey, eggs and dairy

Paleo – the food Ugg the cave man would be able to source back in the day – like 40,000 + years ago and way before McDonalds.

Whole 30 – beware this one has lots of rules! Whole30 program website

FODMAP – designed to help those with irritable bowel syndrome

Mediterranean – rich in veggies, olive oil, and fish like the food traditionally eaten in Italy and Greece

Ketogenic – when I was at Uni ketosis was a BAD thing. This diet has no carbs, just lots of protein and fat. 

5:2 diet – based on intermittent fasting. Fast for two days then eat what you like the other days. Developed by Dr Michael Mosley

The Clever Guts diet – another from Dr Mosley

No sugar

No cabs after 5

Atkins – only Generation X’ers and before will remember this one!

There are so many variations on how to eat healthily!  The array of information available these days is overwhelming. Even with my background in food science I find it hard to keep up.

Porridge with walnuts and banana
Porridge (aka oatmeal) with banana and walnuts

Food as more than fuel

A healthy buffet selection
A healthy buffet selection from the Grand Hyatt, Incheon.

In my late teens and in my early 20’s, I was anorexic and for a short time bulimic. I ate very little. I weighed about 47 kg and got annoyed if I went over 50kg. My BMI was less than 17. (A Healthy BMI is between 19 an 24) I exercised hard and stayed very fit but perhaps not healthy. I used to replay the words from the Ford Pills Diet ad over and over in my head. It was on TV when I was only 7 but it obviously had left its mark!

Are you too fat, too fat,  too fat to fit in the Ford Pill Figure?

Before intermittent fasting was a “thing”, I used to fast all day Saturday, with the idea I could eat what I liked on Sunday. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, dizzy and light headed. I had frequent hypoglycaemic events not because I was diabetic but because I didn’t eat often enough. I was an absolute pain in the neck when it came to eating out!

Cup cakes
Definitely a sometimes food! (Molly’s Cupcakes, New York)

I did a Food Technology degree at University and on reflection, this was no doubt my way of becoming a “food expert” and validating what I was doing. After Uni, I went on to work in the food manufacturing industry for a few years before moving into laboratory equipment sales. It is not uncommon for people with eating disorders to work with food in one form or another[1]. Apart from my day job I had a side hustle – being a fitness instructor. More reasons to exercise and stay thin.

Once I was married, I would cook hugely elaborate meals. My husband also enjoyed cooking and we would often spend almost the entire weekend planning, shopping, preparing and cooking fabulous menus which I didn’t eat much of. Food was always on the agenda as a hobby, and as a fuel.

I am pleased to say that as I have gotten older I have become more sensible with my diet although it is still a balancing act of energy in vs energy out.

A bowl of yogurt with blueberries and banana
Homemade yogurt with blueberries, granola and banana.

I still enjoy cooking and now that I am cooking only for myself (and I’m past the wine and wedges phase) I make it an intentional act to cook a decent meal a few times a week. There are always leftovers, so I have enough for those nights when I have less time.  I plan my weekly meals (let’s say that again:  I aim to plan my weekly meals because sometimes I don’t!!) – mainly because it means I don’t waste so much food or have to face the decision of what to cook each night.

I remain interested in nutrition and have considered returning to study in this field. When I was doing my first degree, issues like antioxidants and gut bacteria weren’t even on the horizon. Coconut oil was a BAD thing!

Nowadays, I also look out for foods that will have a protective factor against the diseases of older age.  There is some talk (but little evidence) that turmeric will reduce the inflammation that contributes to arthritis and dementia. I am now taking turmeric tablets. It can’t hurt, and it might help. In a previous post I spoke about good mood food,  food that feeds your gut bacteria and is thought to contribute to positive physical and mental health.

Snapseed 13

Finding the right food balance.

In the end I think we all know that no fad diet will work. There is no magic bullet. If you want to lose weight you need to use more energy than you consume. If you want to be healthy you need variety. You need to be flexible and not place any unnecessary restrictions on what you can and can’t eat. Get your advice from reputable sources that don’t have a vested interest and are not trying to sell you something. I have not fact checked any of the websites I have linked to in the above list – so do your own research. I think you need to be careful if someone is making money out of selling you a fad diet.

The best dietary advice I have heard recently is summed up in seven words from Michael Pollan:

“eat food, mostly plants – not too much”

The eat food part is the trickiest part to decipher. By this he means eat real food, not processed; food your great grandma would recognise as food.

[1] https://patient.info/health/eating-disorders/features/working-with-food-when-you-have-an-eating-disorder

The little imaginary fellow on my other shoulder keeps telling me how bourgeois this line of reasoning is.  A great many people on our Earth will find this concern about he best way to eat to stay healthy ridiculous because they have NO food.. We should be grateful we have the food in the first place and do our best not to waste it and distribute it more equitably – but that’s a whole other topic for a different blog post!

Getting richer!

A blurry image of grass blowing in the ewind

You all know by now that I am no spring chicken and I  joyfully refer to myself as an Old Chook. I categorise Old Chooks as women over 55. That is, women like me. I want to be a fabulous Old Chook!  I want to stay healthy. I want to be productive and fulfilled and I want to make a difference. As I get older, I worry about the health issues that will raise their ugly heads – those diseases or problems where just being old is a risk factor.

Like arthritis and dementia.

A woman with a red bag and shoes walking toward a very grand chateau in Chambord, France
Dementia can be a lonely journey.

Dementia, in particular, has  been on my mind lately because I have been noticing a few changes in my cognitive patterns that are a bit scary. For instance when I am typing, and especially when I am trying to type quickly, I will get homonyms mixed up.  For instance, I will be thinking “sure thing” but look up at the screen and see that I have typed “shore thing”. Once, I was just a bad typist but now I have begun to select the entirely wrong word. It’s OK, because I realise immediately it’s incorrect when I read it back over. Still, I am interested in the process of why my fingers are not doing what my brain is telling it to.

a brown coloured leaf surrounded by black and white leaves.

I thought I would do a bit of study about dementia, its causes and its prevention. I recently completed a MOOC (a massive open online course) run by the University of Tasmania.  (You can see details for that course here Wicking Institute )

In VERY simple terms dementia is a progressive disorder that leads to cognitive decline. Loss of memory is only part of the problem. There is currently no cure for dementia. The biggest risk factor is age. If you live long enough you will end up with some form of dementia. There are, however, some modifiable risk factors. That is, if you modify the factor you can change the risk.  The trouble is, like with most health issues, you need to start doing the modification WAY before you are going to see the benefits.

You need to live well in your early life to ensure you have a good older life!

Risk factors for dementia

The modifiable risk factors for vascular dementia (a common form of dementia)  are:

  1. Midlife hypertension (high blood pressure)
  2. Midlife obesity
  3. Diabetes
  4. Physical activity (lack thereof)
  5. Smoking
  6. Diet
  7. Alcohol. Although with this one there is a caveat.  It seems that low to moderate consumption of alcohol may have a protective effect. Whereas high consumption will have a negative effect.

A glass of red wine with a veil of white light made with a torch and slow shutter speed

Looking at this list you might think it’s identical to a list you would see for heart disease – and it is.

Some non-modifiable factors include

  1. Age
  2. Brain injury
  3. Genetic predisposition
a group of intergenrational photos on a wall in a house. Light shines across the frames
Dementia has a genetic component

Some other factors which can affect your risk include things like

  1. Social isolation. Isolated people are more likely to develop dementia
  2. Vision and hearing loss will lead to greater risk – possibly because they can increase social isolation.
  3. Higher education will lead to reduced risk. This is thought to be because of the potential for cognitive reserves. People who have had more education have more in reserve. They have more ways to solve problems. Crudely, if they forget how to do it one way they will work out another.
  4. Depression – successive bouts of depression over your lifetime will increase your risk.
  5. Living a rich cognitive lifestyle will decrease your risk.

 

A woman in a black and white top sitting on the sand facing away fromt he camera. It is very early morning and the sun has not yet risen. The waves are in the background.
Morning musings. Low tide, late sunrise.

Don’t you like the sound of that?! A rich cognitive lifestyle!

A rich cognitive lifestyle is one where you are learning new things all the time. The learning should be sustained, complex and preferably include a physical and social aspect as well. Learning a new language, for instance, is a great activity.

I am thinking writing a weekly blog post and traipsing around the countryside taking photos is also contributing to my cognitive lifestyle! I sure hope it’s making my brain rich!

A woman sitting on a park bench. The photo is blacka nd white excpet for the woman's red jumper and dress. It is a dark and desolate scene with the sea in the backgrond.
Social isolation is a big risk factor.

This post, of course, does not constitute medical advice in any way shape or form and you should see your own doctor if you are worried. There are plenty of places to get good information on dementia  like here, Dementia Australia and I would recommend the course mentioned above

These images don’t have much to do with dementia per se but are simply here to break up the text!