BY ROSIE SHELLEY BA, SAC.Dip, ITEC.Dip
‘Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.’
– Michael Pollan
The Omnivore’s Dilemma
SO as 2016 has come to a close, I thought I’d take a look at the trends and transitions we’ve seen in the least year, and wish you all a very happy new one. Without doubt the biggest story has revolved around our ever deepening understanding of gut bacteria and the role it plays in the immune response and inflammation; in turn the profound role that inflammation plays in most of our Western diseases, including sky rocketing levels of obesity, diabetes, depression and auto-immune disorders. We simply need to eat real food, including more gut-friendly fibre and fermented foods.
And we simply need to eat less food, or perhaps less often. Multiple studies have continued to demonstrate that the success of diets like the 5:2 for weight loss and the Blood Sugar Diet for diabetes is rooted in good science—in part because freeing your digestive system from constant work allows those good gut bacteria to thrive, and we were just not designed to be constantly grazing, and of course there will be less calories involved.
The welcome return of fat to the healthy diet paradigm continues apace, as finally we’ve realised that replacing it with carbohydrates has seen an explosion in those Western diseases. Eating sugar and white grains only releases insulin, which lays down fat, causes hunger and mood swings, and (here we go round again) creates inflammation. Fats, on the other hand, are needed for hormonal health and (because they fill you up) weight control, and more studies have shown this year that (within reason and including plenty of plant and fish based fats) their effects on heart health are positive.
Sugar is now being described as the new tobacco, which is mostly a good development. Of course we don’t need to avoid all sweetness absolutely, but sugar feeds directly into all degenerative diseases. What we have seen this year is a backlash against all those preaching that instead we use maple syrup, dates, agave syrup and the like. These contain even more fructose – the most damaging kind of sugar – than table sugar.
A backlash too against the Raw Food movement: it’s true that some of the nutrients in foods are destroyed by heating them, but other nutrients are only released when they are cooked. So as ever it’s about finding balance: have, say, fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and lots of lightly cooked veg for dinner.
For environmental, health and financial reasons alike, there’s been a rising interest in ‘top-to-toe’ eating, which is to say eating the whole thing, animal or vegetable. It’s coincided with the trend for bone broths – full of anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, skin supporting nutrients, and also for the use of slow cookers. With a slow cooker you can just throw in all your ingredients, including cheaper cuts of meat and tougher veg, and their nutrients will be preserved in a very tasty dish when you get home. Low energy use too. I got myself one for Christmas for €25, and I love it.
More scientific backing came this year for the Mediterranean diet, which can markedly lower your risk of obesity and diabetes, heart issues, dementia, depression, Parkinson’s, age related macular degeneration, and certain cancers. High in healthy fats, fish and vegetables, the key here is that it’s rich in the antioxidants that protect all of our cells from damage. Its focus on oily fish, our only real source of vitamin D apart from sunlight, ties in with the huge interest around that vitamin, which we now know is involved in multiple health issues. And of course, vitamin D is anti-inflammatory.
Coffee drinking (again, in moderation), which used to be seen as a bit of a vice, has also been the subject of more research this year. Among its growing stable of benefits is a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, diabetes, liver problems, kidney and gallstones, gout, retinal degeneration, erectile dysfunction, depression and suicide. Those antioxidants will be at work here, and antioxidants are yes, anti-inflammatory.
One worrying trend that’s been on the increase is in what’s called orthorexia, which is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating – really just an eating disorder in disguise. Of course there are many people with genuine allergies and intolerances and they should always be taken seriously; and there are also some health professionals who argue that we simply don’t recognise the adverse effect that things like gluten and dairy are having on our health. But there are others who say that without symptoms you can eat whatever you like, and reinforce the message that we should just eat real food. Almond milk, to take one example, is a processed food, and many brands contain sugars. Its production is very damaging to the environment, and at any rate the milks often contain only around 2% of the actual nut.
One writer I really like is model and bestseller Roz Purcell, who says ‘I would advocate wholefoods. Cut out processed foods – and I advocate for local foods over “superfoods”. Try to keep it simple.’ Another is bestselling author Sarah Wilson, who sums it up: ‘it’s mostly about eating grass-fed meat, but including legumes, [veg] and grains. It’s also about eating full fat dairy and less meat. Eat like your grandmother used to.’