You can’t have good health through exercising alone, regular exercise and a healthy diet must go together, like a horse and cart, if we are to perform efficiently. To a large extent we are what we eat, and if we aim to have a long and healthy life we must watch what we eat. Since I was a small child I have been interested in all forms of movement and sport. An energetic youngster, a bit if a tomboy if truth be told, I soon learnt to be aware of my body and it’s physical limitations, as I ran and jumped, always trying to better my brother and many boy cousins. But in my teens, as a young athlete running for my County, I soon realised my performance depended not only on natural ability, training, or even long legs! It depended on being able to cope with nervous tension, illness, or aches and pains inflicted through incorrect training. But even more importantly, it depended on what I ate and drank; and that made the difference to my coming first or last.
Many people do age well and have strong bodies, because they have regularly looked after their health over many years. Rather like the insurance policy I mentioned in my introduction, the earlier you start and the more you invest the better the pay off in later life. It pays to look after your health, and it’s never too late to start. It’s worth remembering that even when you reach the ripe old age of 50, you may well have another third of your life in front of you, so it’s essential to do everything possible to maintain your health, and in so doing, help to preserve your independence.
A healthy lifestyle consisting of a well balanced diet plus regular moderate exercise, has always been my way of life, and more recently as the years have gone by, I have found specialist health products, particularly supplements to be of benefit to me. Later in this section we’ll look at the part vitamins and minerals play in keeping us healthy in more detail, but first things first. In today’s stressful world a healthy diet is all important, yet despite so much information being easily available to us in magazines, books, on TV and radio, surprisingly few people heed the advice given, and continue to eat junk food. Today the general public is well informed about nutrition and most people know what food is healthy to eat, and what is not. So why is it that these same people are so surprised when they succumb to preventable illnesses from eating the wrong foods!
Our diet can all too often cause, or be linked to, certain preventable diseases or conditions, such as tooth decay, skin disease, constipation and obesity. Other diets can have an even more devastating effect, and be the cause of major disease or death from heart disease, stroke, or illnesses such as breast, bowel or colon cancer. Britain has the worst record in the world for heart disease and more people die from heart attacks than from any other disease. What does that say for our national diet? Far too many of us, estimated at over 90%, already have arteries damaged by our diet, which could one day lead to a heart attack. We can help our families and ourselves to better health, and it’s so simple. Much other diet related simply cutting down on foods that are known to cause problems could prevent diseases. We can easily prevent our teeth from tooth decay by not eating so much sugary food or sweetened drinks, and by regularly brushing our teeth with fluoride toothpaste. The Department of Health and the Health Development Agency (formerly the Health Education Authority) say that small changes to one’s lifestyle, especially with regard to diet, can reduce the chance of illness and disease.
We need to regularly eat sensible amounts of good wholesome food for our health’s sake, a balanced diet with a wide variety of tasty, nuitritous fresh foods. We should aim to be not too fat, but equally not too thin, and to maintain a regular weight without extremes of yo-yo dieting.
Being slim is no indicator of general health. It is just as unhealthy and undesirable to be underweight and anorexic, as it is to be extremely overweight. Food and drink contain calories, which are a measure of energy. Ideally we need to eat enough food, in order to provide sufficient calories to go about our normal daily tasks, with some left over for the body to use for growth and repairs. When we eat and drink more calories than our body’s need for day to day functioning, and for repair and growth, we disturb the balance and tip the scales. The excess calories simply get stored up around our body in the form of unsightly fat deposits (most women are familiar with these!) and we gain weight.
At the other end of the scale, when we don’t eat enough food, and we don’t have sufficient calories, the body has to feed off it’s own reserves and then we lose weight. However, when this is done to extremes the resulting weight loss can be unhealthy and very dangerous indeed.
How much energy we individually need depends on the life that we lead. It’s true to say our parents and grandparents needed more energy from their food in order for them to be able to cope with the physical demands of life in those days, as we concluded when we compared traditional grey granny with her modern counterpart in our introduction. Traditional gran positively encouraged her family to eat as much as possible in order for them to literally, keep up their strength, which they needed in order to work and survive.
Half a century ago there was good reason for encouraging people to eat more meat, eggs, butter, cheese and milk – they all contained fat. During activity the body produces the required energy by burning up calories which are contained in fat and this process also keeps the body warm. This was vital during winter – there was no central heating or warm motor car to take the kids to school in for trad gran and her family. What they ate as their daily diet fuelled them up sufficiently to undertake physical tasks that were the norm in those days both at work, and in the house and garden. But even with the hard physical life there were some people with less energetic lifestyles who didn’t burn off enough calories so consequently they became fat. The advice given then was to cut down on bread and potatoes in order to lose weight, which is contrary to advice given today, as we, will discover.
It’s imperative that as we age we eat the correct amount of food for our individual daily requirements in order to maintain the calorie balance. It’s not sensible to carry excessive weight with the accompanying health hazards of obesity, joint problems and heart disease. Some women find in their middle years and later on in life, that their appetites decrease although their weight stays the same. This is quite understandable and normal for they are probably less active than previously and they simply need less food and energy in order to perform. They are the fortunate ones, because after the menopause women who continue to eat a large amount, but who are less active, will find the calorie excesses stored on their tummies.
Prior to menopause this excess fat would have been stored on their hips, thighs and breasts with just a small amount on their tummy. Men traditionally store excess calories on their stomach and this body shape is associated with an increase in the risk of heart disease. Postmenopausal women should be aware that their fat tummy and new shape has the same association. Should they decide to diet they must take care not to lose out on vital nourishment, and be even more concerned with the quality of their food, as well as the quantity that they eat.
It’s important to establish eating habits that make certain that the calories (the energy) comes from a variety of sources. For a diet to be beneficial it should contain foods from all three food groups – carbohydrates, fats and proteins – and in sensible proportions. Dieting, or just not consuming as much food as previously, is always a risky business. By cutting down on calories, one runs the risks of cutting down on essential nourishment, and minerals and vitamins A beneficial diet should contain the following;
53% of carbohydrate
35% of fat
12% of protein
As I mentioned earlier alcohol also provides energy. But the consumption of alcohol must be limited so that it provides no more than 4% of the total amount of energy in the diet. Generally speaking beers contain many more calories than wines, so check out your drinks as well as your food. Wine in moderation can be good for you, however a good night out can soon disturb your balance – in more ways than one! Try to drink 8 glasses of water a day it prevents dehydration and helps get rid of toxins. Much better for your health than too many cups of tea and coffee containing caffeine, or cans of sweet fizzy drinks which are full of sugar.
So just what foods should we be eating? Let’s cut through the mumbo jumbo and look at the basic rules for a well-balanced nutritious diet.
• Eat less fat, especially saturated fat
• Eat less sugar
• Eat less salt
• Eat more starchy carbohydrate foods containing fibre
• Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables It should be simple – the main reason for eating and drinking (apart from enjoying the taste) is to give our bodies energy in order to function. For a woman over 50 the recommended daily allowance is about 1,800 calories. Women who lead an energetic life will need more calories while those who are sedentary may need less. The principle source of this energy in our food comes from four main food groups, and each of these sources contains differing amounts of energy. For example;
• 1g of fat can provide 9 calories.
• 1g of carbohydrate can provide 4 calories
• 1g of protein also provides 4 calories
• 1g of alcohol can provide 7 calories
Let’s take a closer look at the four food groups.
Carbohydrates are divided into two categories and are an important source of energy;
simple carbohydrates, which include sugars, starches and dextrin.
complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre.
Simple carbohydrates such a sugar and starch are contained in cakes, sweets and cookies. When we eat them they give us an instant lift and energy, but all too soon leave us feeling hungry again, down, dissatisfied and lacking in energy. We are tempted to snack again on foods like biscuits and chocolates rich in sugar. Sugar is a quick fix and isn’t really necessary if we’re eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet. It kids the body it’s getting the energy it needs, it deceives us and leaves us wanting for more. In reality it bumps up the calorie intake and can leave us wobbling down the primrose path to obesity! We need to watch our sweet tooth (beware tooth decay), and learn to read labels when we are food shopping. Beware of foods containing anything ending in ‘ose, such as sucrose, fructose or lactose – sugar by another name. These simple carbohydrate foods can often contain high levels of fat too. Biscuits, cakes, chocolates, deserts and many instant foods are packed full of calories but rarely contain any vitamins, with the exception of some jams. It’s easy to see how the weight goes on, but you can cut down your sugar intake by using artificial sweeteners in tea and coffee, and by buying low calorie soft drinks and fruit juices.
Complex carbohydrates are infinitely more useful to the body than refined simple carbohydrates like white sugar. Complex carbohydrates found in cereals and potatoes for example, contain dietary fibre to make us feel full and other essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Complex carbohydrate foods should be our principle source of energy. Their bulk is satisfying at the time of eating, and continues to maintain our energy level over a long period of time after we have eaten. Foods containing complex carbohydrates, such as porridge, bread and potatoes are the foods that grey gran and her family needed a lot of years ago to give them the energy their lifestyle demanded. Today we need it to form approximately 53% of a healthy diet.
Fibre is good for our digestive system and can be found in foods such as cereals, fruit and vegetables. Although not nutritional, plenty of fibre is essential in the diet, it is the part of food, which passes through, but is not digested by the body. Fibre absorbs water, and in doing so adds bulk to the intestinal contents assisting digestible material to pass through the intestine with it. Fibre acts like a sponge, and this is another good reason why you need to drink plenty of water. Dietary fibre can help prevent digestive disorders and more serious conditions such as some cancers – it may also help lower blood cholesterol. Sufferers from piles or diverticulitis may find that eating more fibre can ease a lot of their pain and irritation. If constipation is a problem it can be alleviated, in many cases completely by eating more fibre rich foods. Slimmers too can benefit from eating dietary fibre – it can leave them feeling full, but has the benefit of containing few calories.
If you haven’t previously eaten much fibre, take things easily at first. Too much too soon, may leave you feeling uncomfortable and a victim of wind! Most breakfast cereals are good fibre providers, but avoid those that have been coated in sugar and honey. For lunch eat more potatoes and their skins. Potatoes are a valuable source of energy and they contain plenty of goodness in their skins too. Simply boiled they are very nutritious and not fattening. Adding fat to them causes the problem. Consider a simple medium sized potato – nutritious and low in calories – but note how the calorie content of that same potato increases dramatically with different methods of cooking.
• Boiled it contains 115 cals
• Mashed “ 170 cals
• Roasted “ 225 cals
• As Chips “ 350 cals
• As Crisps “ 725 cals
Instead of potatoes, choose rice with your meal for a change, brown rice white, brown rice rather than white is full of fibre, and a lot tastier. Peas, beans, and lentils are a good source of fibre and have the advantage of being easy to prepare. Of course, you could choose to simply open a can of baked beans – the reduced sugar versions are cheap, easy and full of fibre.
When you are next on the social scene or are in need of a quick snack, remember that disastrous fat content of crisps if “naughty but nice” tempts you nibbles and crisps. Let me also issue a peanut warning – each peanut contains approximately 7 calories! If you must snack it’s healthier by far to eat a delicious and nutritious banana. A medium sized banana fruit contains just 80 cals and is rich in vitamin C and energy giving B1, B2 and B6 and the essential mineral potassium. The fibre in bananas is broken down gently by the body smoothing out the rate of sugar absorption and providing a sustained source of energy over a period of time. I chop one banana (I prefer the small size from the Caribbean) into my meusli every breakfast time to give me my early morning energy boost. All fruits and vegetables contain roughage, natural fibre and vitamins (which we will look at in more detail later on). Don’t peel away the fibre and goodness in the skin of an apple, pear or potato. A variety of fresh vegetables and fruits are essential for healthy well-balanced diet, try to eat at least 5 portions every day.
Nutritionists still find it an upward struggle in this enlightened age to encourage the public to eat more healthy food such as less fat, less sugar more complex carbohydrates, potatoes, bread, pasta and wholegrain rice. Past misconceptions was that eating lot bread and potatoes made people fat. The trouble was not with the foods themselves but as we have seen how they were cooked (roasted etc) and also what was they were accompanied by. A generation ago people filled up on a lot of bread but piled on the calories by lashing the bread with huge amounts of butter and cream. They compounded the mistake by adding chocolate spreads, condensed milk, pastes and jams, or worse still – peanut butter and chips – to make popular peanut and chip butties! I distinctly remember as a child being encouraged to eat up my toast which was literally dripping with “dripping” (fat and meat juices left in the pan from around the Sunday roast joint). It was loaded with saturated fat.
It’s easy to condemn the average diet of our grandparent’s generation, but we must remember that their nutritional needs and traditions of cooking were very different from ours today in this fast food era. Let’s not forget that people hadn’t the availability of a huge choice of food or fresh fruits and vegetables all year around that we take foregranted today. That generation ate what was seasonal and mostly grown in this country or a few foods such as meats, fish, vegetables and fruits, which were tinned or preserved. Traditional British foods such as fat roasted potatoes and fat fried chips pushed the country’s calorie intake and cholesterol levels up sky high. Today with the addition of junk and convenience foods the UK levels are still much too high. Despite all the information and health warnings, we still appear to be addicted to fat, as the high consumption of cakes, biscuits, chocolate and junk food in the UK readily proves.
Proteins are our second food groups and are needed by our bodies to build and repair the body’s tissues throughout life. Proteins are found in a variety of interesting sources – meat, fish, milk, eggs, cheese, nuts, pulses and rice. Protein is the basic constituent of the body’s tissues, and is also needed to manufacture digestive and other enzymes. Proteins are made up of complex amino acid structures, and when we eat a varied, well balanced diet, both the animal and plant sources of protein – such as fruits, vegetables and rice, are able to provide the correct amounts of amino acids, which are essential for good health.
If we eat more protein than our bodies need, our bodies are not able to store the excess protein, or the amino acid constituents and the protein that is surplus to requirements, simply gets converted into glucose in the liver. If we are active and energetic our bodies use it up, but if not it gets stored as body fat.
Fats are our third food group and we all need to be well aware of the fat facts, if we want to continue living a healthy life for as long as possible. As we saw previously, fat is the most concentrated source of energy in our diets and contains essential fatty acids. Fats also act as a carrier for many essential fat-soluble vitamins, which are important for our good health. However, a great deal of recent research has been done into the fat content of our diets, and doctors and nutritionists are extremely concerned, because the findings suggest that the UK diet still contains far too much fat. Many of the UK population are obese and the numbers are growing. People who suffer from pain or arthritis in their ankles or knees, and people who are short of breath or have high blood pressure, should check their weight. Getting down to a normal weight may help to improve all these problems and help control the high blood pressure. A low fat diet is a healthy one – a no fat diet is not. The fats in our diet can be divided into two types and we need to recognise them in order to eat more healthily.
VISIBLE FATS, these are the obvious fats you see in butter, lard, margarine and cooking oils.
HIDDEN FATS are not so obvious to see as they are hidden in many “convenience” foods, and in foods such as sausages, pork pies, sauces, cakes and desserts.
We need to know our fats if we are intent on helping ourselves in good health. In particular it’s essential for us to be able to distinguish between
• Saturated fats
• Unsaturated fats
Saturated fats are usually of animal source. They are found in red meats such as beef, lamb and pork, and in dairy products such as full cream milk, cheese, and in suet, lard and dripping. As an easy guide, saturated fats are solid at room temperature (with the exception of palm oil and coconut oil.) The calorie content of these saturated fats is sky high. They contain cholesterol and heart disease has been linked very strongly to the high level of blood cholesterol, the waxy substance that lines the walls of the arteries. Coronary heart disease is linked to a diet rich in saturated fats. Too much saturated fat clogs the arteries and increases the risk of heart disease or failure. Excess in the diet causes obesity. Heart disease progresses slowly and its never too late to improve your diet. Try to keep your levels of saturated fat low and limit the amount of cheese you eat, trim the fat off meat, and eat skinless poultry. You can slow down, or even stop the progress of heart disease by a combination of healthy eating, regular exercise and by not smoking.
Unsaturated fats are found in oily fish like pilchards, herrings, mackerel, sardines and tuna which are great fish to eat and so good for you! Unsaturated fats include mono-unsaturated fats such the superior olive oil, a basic ingredient of the generally healthy Mediterranean diet and also include the polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oils – including sunflower, corn and rapeseed, and nuts and vegetables. Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature.
Neither mono-unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats contain cholesterol nor the risk of heart disease is reduced. In fact polyunsaturated fats are thought to positively discourage cholesterol and to keep the levels down. But saturated fats as with all fats contain calories, and too much of any fat will pile on the pounds. When polyunsaturated fat is heated it can form free radicals, which are harmful to our health. The safest oil to cook with is olive oil – keep the vegetable oils for salad dressings.
It is advisable for most of us to cut down on the total quantity of fats we consume and particularly the amount of saturated fat we eat. . Saturated fat should only make up approximately one third of fat eaten. The other two thirds should be a combination of polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats. Look out for foods labelled “reduced fat” but read the contents carefully they can often include added sugar. Milk is an important source of nourishment, but if you prefer buy semi skimmed milk rather than full cream. Semi skimmed milk is higher in calcium and contains far less saturated fat, but has just as many beneficial nutrients and vitamins. Cheese is nutritious and an excellent source of calcium, but it has a very high fat and calorie content.
NUTRITION ACTION PLAN
• Eat a well balanced diet
• Eat more fibre -rich starchy foods, such as whole grain breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, pasta, brown rice, pulses, fresh fruit and vegetables
• Cook vegetables lightly or stir-fry. If they are crunchy they retain more goodness and take longer to eat
• Snack on fresh and dried fruits or unsalted nuts instead of biscuits and chocolate
• Use less sugar
• Choose sugar-free breakfast cereals
• Cut down on saturated fats
• Cut fat off red meats
• Drink skimmed or seem-skimmed milks instead of full fat
• Cut down on butter, cream, fatty cheeses like Cheddar, Stilton and also full-fat yoghurts
• Choose low-fat cheeses like Edam, Brie and Cottage cheese
• Substitute lean meat like poultry or fish instead of red meat
• Avoid meat products like sausages, luncheon meats or salamis
• Cut down on butter, cream, fatty cheeses like Cheddar, Stilton and also full-fat yoghurts
• Choose low-fat cheeses like Edam, Brie and Cottage cheese
• Eat more oily fish but avoid frying
• Throw out the chip pan and grill instead
• If you must fry only use a spot of oil in a non- stick pan
• Avoid salty foods such as bacon, cheese, pickles, olives, crisps, salted peanuts, savoury nibbles, and savoury spreads
• Don’t add salt
• Drink plenty of water
• Consider taking vitamin and mineral supplements
• Drink herb or fruit teas, which are calorie free
• Drink a glass of sparkling water before meals to take the edge off your appetite and cleanse your system
• Dilute fruit juice half-and-half with water
• Buy low calorie drinks when possible
• Use more herbs and spices for flavouring
• Whisk an egg white with a carton of low fat yoghurt or fromage frais for a creamy topping
• Instead of salad cream or oil based dressings use yoghurt with lemon juice or herbs