The Perfect Diet

Atkins, candida, low-fructose, raw food, gluten-free, high protein – I wonder, how many different types of diets exist and which one is perfect for everyone? Some of us have probably tried one, two or all of these diets in a bid to make a change in our health, whether it be for weight loss or to battle illness. Personally, I have dabbled in at least three of these diets over the years and have not found complete success with any of them. But just take a look online and you can be sure to find thousands of people who can advocate for the benefits of each one. At the same time there are thousands of people who claim that none of these diets work. With so many mixed messages, how is someone like me meant to figure out what’s best?

Over years of experimentation with raw food, low carbs, gluten free and the like, I have discovered that there is no popular diet that is perfect for everyone. Β While one diet is perfect for one person, it may be harmful for the next. The problem is, there are so many diets now accessible online that people simply download a plan, follow it exactly and expect results. And they may get those results. But there are always those who don’t and that is because if a diet is not personalised, it is likely to fail. To find the perfect diet for you, it’s about being conscious of how your body responds to certain foods. I discovered early on that dried fruit was a no-go for me when I ate half a bag of dried apricots and ended up doubled over in pain from bloating and gastrointestinal issues. The same thing happens to me when I eat grapes and too much ice-cream. Both dried fruit and grapes are very high in fructose while ice-cream is high in lactose so I put two and two together and decided that I probably have some sort of sugar intolerance. As a result, I Β avoid the kinds of sweet foods which lead to those gastrointestinal issues. Β Interestingly, I have no problems drinking freshly squeezed juice, eating wheat and various other high-sugar fruit and vegetables which may have negative effects for others following a low FODMAPS diet. So it’s really about discovering what works for you.

As a general rule, fresh, unprocessed foods and plenty of water is the foundation of a great diet. From there, it’s all about experimentation to find out what foods and meals work best for your digestive system, energy levels and palate! Recording how your body responds after each meal is a fantastic way to pinpoint some of the foods that could be potentially contributing to great health or ill health. And my final tip: the perfect diet is the one that makes you feel good on the inside and look good on the outside! x

What’s the deal with sugar?

Well, hello Lover!(Chocolate Brownie by Kosal)

Well, hello Lover!(Chocolate Brownie by Kosal)

I truly admire those who have committed themselves to a sugar-free lifestyle, but for the rest of us who have taste buds that are still functioning like ordinary people, a bit of sweetness is a necessity. Just jokes guys, you sugar-free people are ordinary too…but maybe more like, EXTRAordinary!

Sugar has got a pretty bad rap, and for good reason. It’s nutritionally equivalent to eating a cardboard box. It provides no nutrients. But when it comes down to choosing between a cardboard box and a teaspoon of sugar for lunch, I’m pretty sure the sugar is going to win, and not just because it is an actual food source. LOL.

Sugar makes your mouth say “yay!”. It’s the difference between throwing your cereal in the bin and being so addicted to it that you eat it from the box without any milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner (guilty!). So yes, it can be a little dangerous. Especially because, unlike cardboard, it contains calories which, in excess, lead to weight gain and a variety of related health problems. Don’t even get me started on what it can do to your teeth! There’s a reason it’s “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and not a teaspoon of sugar. Yep, Mary Poppins knows her stuff. The value of sugar lies in its ability to increase the palatability of not just medicine, but anything!

While I do like to eat food that tastes good, I, like the rest of you, are probably interested in how we can reduce the negative health effects of sugar. Years ago, the variety of sugars on the market were pretty standard (white, brown, artificial sweeteners like Equal), however today there is much more on offer and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which one is the best to use. Let’s take a brief look at what sugars are currently on the market and if there really is any difference health-wise between the different types.

First of all, we can sort the sugars into three major categories: processed, artificial, natural.

Processed sugars are the refined sugars you see sold in bags or paper parcels such as white sugar, caster sugar or brown sugar. They have undergone some kind of chemical processing or refining and will have a medium GI rating (65), i.e. these sugars will cause a moderate rise in blood sugar levels and are quickly digested. The exception is with the sugar alcohols which have almost no effect on blood sugar, therefore have GI ratings of 12 or less.

Other types: Demerara or Turbinado sugar (partially refined), Sucanat (sugar cane), Stevia, “raw” sugar, Xylitol & Sorbitol (sugar alcohols).

Artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds sold in little sachets, in boxes or tablet forms and include brands such as Equal & Splenda. The reason they are so small in volume is due to the fact that artificial sweeteners are sometimes over 100 times sweeter than regular sugar, so less of it is needed to recreate the same amount of sweetness. They have no effect on blood sugar levels and are therefore useful for diabetes sufferers, as well as very low in calories.

Other types: Sweet N Low, Nutrasweet, Sugarine.

Natural sugars are those that are derived from natural sources and have undergone no processing, such as raw honey, maple syrup or agave. They generally have a medium to low GI rating (54 or less).

Other types: Palm sugar, rapadura sugar, coconut sugar.

Now I’m not going to go into every type of sugar and tell you what it’s good for or if it’s not good at all. The general idea here is that the more processed a sugar is, the more it will cause blood sugar levels to rise (which is not cool for people with Diabetes) and also means there are greater amounts of nasty chemicals involved. Therefore, naturally (no pun intended), it would be logical to choose a sugar that is less processed.

However, before you throw all of the white sugar out of your house, keep this in mind:

  • Processed sugars have a medium GI rating, not high. In fact, wholemeal bread has a HIGHER GI than sugar. So if all you’re worried about is your blood sugar, you’d be better off worrying about how much bread you’re eating, rather than how much sugar you’re eating. Especially since the amount of bread people eat daily is much greater than the amount of sugar they consume (you would hope!).
  • Natural sugars do have nutrients, as opposed to processed sugars, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much as opposed to eating other nutrient-rich foods. It’s still a better alternative to processed sugars, but it’s not going to make a huge difference in your overall nutrition. You should make sure you’re eating a variety of fruits and vegetables if nutrients are your concern.
  • Stevia, although being touted as all-natural, IS processed. That is, unless you are using the leaves or have found a 100% natural source of it on the shelves. Always check the labels! However, I still rate it as a good sugar because it is low in GI and calories. And the Japanese have used it for centuries – you know it’s good if the Japanese use it!
  • The sugar alcohols like Xylitol can have some nasty side effects with overconsumption, such as diarrhoea. I don’t know about you, but any product which lists “laxative effect” as a warning isn’t getting my vote.

My conclusion is: as Mary Poppins so melodically recognised, “sugar helps the medicine go down” – its main use is for palatability, not nutrition. So when it comes to choosing which sugar to use, make your decision based on which flavour you prefer but also, it’s always a good idea to choose natural forms of sugar because you can avoid all the added chemicals. And look at what you are adding the sugar to – adding a couple of teaspoons of sugar to your oatmeal is very different to adding the same amount to a batch of chocolate chip muffins. If weight control is your concern, then artificial sweeteners may be a good choice in the short term. Essentially, if you are consuming sugar in limited to moderate amounts and combining it with other nutritious foods, you can avoid any health repercussions and still lead a sweet existence!

What do you all think?

When Healthy Wasn’t Trendy…

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It seems wrong that I’m 28 years old and have legitimate context to use the phrase “back in MY day”…but here goes.

Back in MY day, people didn’t know about nutrition. Regular people that is, not doctors and dietitians who get paid to know about it, obviously. I’m talking about normal members of society who used to shop at the local Franklins supermarket, who had 2.5 kids that they sent to school with $5 a day to buy lunch from the cafeteria. Regular people who used to eat generic white sliced bread because that’s all that was on the shelf. There wasn’t gluten free, lactose free, dairy free, 50% more fibre, salt-reduced, wholemeal, spelt, dark rye, light rye, pumpkin seed or folate-fortified. It was just regular bread for regular people. I remember going to high school and eating a chocolate custard for recess and a packet of chips and maybe a sprinkled donut for lunch. No-one cared, especially me. Back in MY day, you could eat whatever you wanted at school and there were no restrictions on what was on offer. Strangely enough, 15-20 years ago, obesity wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. But that’s another story. The point is, a couple decades ago, the idea of “healthy eating” was barely recognised by consumers OR retailers.

Then something happened – consciousness shifted. I don’t know how or why, but generally when things like this occur, it’s because of Oprah. Let’s just assume it was Oprah because, frankly, I don’t have time to delve into the past two decades to find out why society suddenly became clued in to the idea of “good health”. So, Oprah opened her mouth and suddenly the shelves were stocked with low-fat, no-fat, sugar-free, high-fibre, high-protein, gluten-free, wheat-free, salt-free and-so-on-free products. (Okay, so that’s clearly not what happened, but just go with it).

Right now, I feel like we’re going through a second wave of this health revolution as everyone freaks out about the obesity EPIDEMIC. Doesn’t the word “epidemic” just scare you? When I think of epidemic I’m conjuring images of the Black Plague and Dengue Fever…oh, Jesus! The whole world is so scared right now that everyone’s going to eat themselves dead (and it’s happening by the way). With people on such high alert, and with the media scaremongering consumers to believe absolutely EVERYTHING gives you cancer or makes you fat, society has become way more knowledgeable about nutrition. Enter the food companies.

These guys can smell a sale from a mile away. While the public is scared, their demand for health food products rises. Consequently, food companies jump on the health food bandwagon and sell as many products that are seen as “good for you” as possible. Cha-ching! Hey, there are probably people who are paid to look for the next new “superfood” in the mountains of the Himalayas or in some deserted part of India. All too often, the extent to which a food is deemed healthy can be very much related to how well it is marketed.

While this increased awareness of nutrition is definitely not a bad thing, it is worrying that food companies, in collaboration with the media, are using it against us to make millions of dollars. I’m not saying that the health products these companies produce are not of value nutritionally and of course, we have to buy our foods from somewhere. But I have a problem with the fact that sometimes we are manipulated into purchasing “trending” foods (at ridiculous prices) or dietary supplements which may have no proven health benefit at all for someone who is already eating a balanced diet. I do question how many food companies really care about our health and providing a quality product rather than how much money they can make by riding the latest health trend.

For the consumer, it’s a matter of doing your research and buying from brands with good reputations for delivering both quality and sincerity. Because if your hard earned dollars are going to go somewhere, they should go to people that deserve it and who really care about helping others get healthy and happy πŸ™‚

Rant of the Day: The Cost of Dieting

I can’t follow diets. I’ve tried and failed several times and now I just don’t bother anymore. The fact is, I have never had enough motivation to stick to a routine, the foods always seemed boring and let’s face it, I wasn’t ready to give up chocolate.

I was browsing the health section of the book store one day and came across the Women’s Weekly “21-day Wonder Diet” which had the tagline of “Lose up to 10kg in three weeks”. The low-fat recipe ideas looked delicious and the format of the book seemed easy to follow, providing a breakfast, lunch and dinner option for every day of the 21 days. Three different meals each day meant a crazy amount of variety and less possibility of me getting bored with the foods. I thought to myself, “I can do this!”. I bought the book and went to the grocery store, super motivated to buy all the foods required to follow this diet and get healthy.

But here’s my problem: I couldn’t follow the diet because frankly, I couldn’t afford to.

While the Women’s Weekly assured me success with their “triple tested every time” diet, they failed to inform me that success was only secured for those who have a measly few hundred dollars to spend on groceries each week. And that’s just for one person. Granted, each meal is meant to serve two people, but being only myself to feed, I had a lot of leftovers which I had to try and eat the following day. The whole reason I chose the diet was so that I wouldn’t have to eat the same foods every day so…that kind of sucked.

Back to the cost. I ended up spending at least $80 in my first shop, and this didn’t even include all the ingredients for the full first week of meals. On top of that, they conveniently mentioned in the very back of the book that there would be a whole list of “staples” that were assumed to be in my pantry (which SOOOO weren’t). The fact is, I’m a poor uni student and sometimes you gotta make do without the staples, let alone more expensive ingredients like rump steak, buttermilk and english muffins. If you think these foods aren’t expensive, then you’re probably not on my kind of budget πŸ˜›

Below you can see the first week’s shopping list as well as a list of the staple foods which you are assumed to have, and therefore do not have to buy. I don’t know about you, but who classifies a small can of anchovy fillets as a staple food? What about dried cranberries? Or a can of baby beets? I thought staples were bread and water. Was that only for people who live in jail? Oh, ok. Well, I can say at least 50% of the staples I did not have in my jail pantry.

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The fact is, this diet, although “tried and tested”, was clearly only tried and tested on middle to upper class women with full-time jobs and a decent sized car to transport all the foods home in. I’m a lower class student with a casual job and no car. Go figure.

While the recipes were quite delicious and great low-fat options, I could only follow the diet for a few days before I gave up. That is, I ran out of money.

While I appreciate what the book is trying to achieve, it lacks an understanding of its audience and the factors that contribute to a successful diet or food plan. When creating diets such as the one Women’s Weekly is presenting, I think it is important to consider not just the foods that you include, but how easy it will be for the user to comply with that diet. Sadly, without an understanding of the social factors that relate to food and dieting (like time, money, access) many diets fail. I kind of wish I hadn’t bought the book and spent the $17 on some staple foods, like a can of anchovy fillets…?

I’m sure this diet could be really successful for the small female target audience I mentioned, but for me, and probably for many of us who don’t have a lot of money to spend on food, it’s a big flop. Healthy eating certainly doesn’t have to be expensive, but it may require a little extra effort and a bit of knowledge about where to buy your foods. I also may have to concede that I can’t eat different foods every day – eating leftovers ain’t quite so bad if you want to save some moolah πŸ™‚

If anyone has any thrifty and healthy meal options, I would love to hear from you!