Food used to be a simple pleasure

The question isn’t whether it is protein or carbohydrates that kill you first -- it is how we survived long enough to get here

Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 01:00

This just in from the department of things that you thought were healthy but which may potentially kill you: a high protein diet is as bad for your health as smoking. But we’re not supposed to eat carbohydrates either. Or sugar. Or dairy. Or soya milk. Or anything that comes from a tin, has been genetically modified, contains artificial sweeteners, trans fats or artificial hormones, or has ever been on a menu in McDonalds.

Food used to be about sustenance and occasional pleasure: now it is all about fear and control.

The question isn’t whether protein or carbs will kill you quicker, but how we’ve managed to stay alive so long in the first place, a whole nation of us reared on Taytos (trans fats!), red lemonade (E numbers!) and hot sweet tea (Caffeine! Dairy! Sugar! All in one delicious and almost certainly lethal beverage!)

Our grandparents’ generation seemed to manage a balanced diet, without ever consulting a book on the subject: fish once or twice a week, red meat and alcohol only when they could afford it, no processed or convenience foods, except for the occasional fruit salad out of a tin. They didn’t revere food, and they didn’t fear it either.

We have more choice than they could ever have imagined – and yet, instead of making it easier for us to eat well, this generation seems crippled by food-related anxiety, unable to see the life-saving antioxidants for the carcinogenic additives. The answer, like most things, seems to be to adopt a balanced approach – if only we could agree on what that was.

Lately, more through a series of medical adventures than design, I’ve been forced to come up with my own version. I find myself pregnant with my third child at an age the medical establishment delicately refers to as “geriatric”.

My obstetrician, a kind and occasionally fierce sort, ushers me into his office and brandishes a set of blood results at me across the table. My blood sugars are too high. My iron levels are too low. I joke that I’ve been worried the baby is going to arrive bearing a “brought to you in association with Green & Black’s” logo.

“No more chocolate,” he bellows. “No dessert. Your body belongs to me for as long as you are pregnant.” I start to argue, then remember a story I heard about him being bundled into the boot of a burning car by drug-addled would-be hijackers. He was freed with seconds to spare, and climbed out to announce that he was perfectly fine, and had to go to the hospital to attend a delivery. I say nothing.

So I go home and draw up an eating plan that involves no wheat; nothing that has carbs made up of more than 25 per cent sugar; and no sugar at all after lunch, except for fruit; only organic dairy products and meat; no food from tins; plenty of green things and finally, the rule which says I can break all the other rules whenever I really need to.

Wheat is out because I find it hard to digest; sugar and simple carbohydrates because of their impact on insulin levels; non-organic meat and dairy because of the hormones, and canned foods because of their endocrine disruption ability. Greens are good, because, well, they’re always good.

A few weeks on, I grudgingly admit to being pleased with the results. Kicking my sugar habit was, by some distance, the toughest part, but I discovered a few tricks – blueberries with unsweetened organic Greek yoghurt are a reasonable substitute for Green & Black’s. Eating before I get hungry helps. So does brushing my teeth immediately afterwards.

I’m not tired in the afternoons, my skin has cleared up and yes, I feel better. It could be the diet. Then again, it could just be the feeling that I’ve taken control of it – at least until the next thing twice as likely to kill you as cigarettes comes along.

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