Chop and change: six steps to start cooking and stay healthy
Confronted by ill health, very many of us don’t how to cook our way out of the cul-de-sac we are in
The best food, and the best-tasting food, is food that has been cooked simply. You don’t need to be a masterchef. You just need to be able to chop that onion. Photograph: Kevin Clark/The Washington Post/Getty Images
“Gradually and then suddenly.”
Ernest Hemingway was talking about bankruptcy when he wrote those memorable lines in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. But, if he had been discussing health rather than money, Hemingway might very well have been describing ageing, and health. Age creeps up on us and, gradually, then suddenly, it seems to steal our health.
My conversations with my age cohort these days are peppered with details of hospital trips, statins, type-2 diabetes diagnoses, more statins, blood pressure scares, heart murmurs – the litany of medical stories that emerge when the wheels start to loosen on the human wagon as you head towards 60 years of age.
What threw the situation into particular relief for me happened at the recent Seaweed4Health conference, in Galway, when Melania Lynn Cornish, of Acadian Seaweeds, stated that “in less than 100 years, non-communicable diseases, including neuro-degenerative disorders, have surpassed infectious diseases as the principal cause of death.”
Ms Cornish was clear about the problem: we are all suffering from gut dysbiosis. We need to reprogramme our microbiotas, or else we will steadily succumb to Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s, and all the other nasty neuro-degenerative reapers which are today the ever-increasing ways in which we die.
Of course, when you get a bunch of seaweed-obsessed academics together, they will suggest that eating seaweeds is the way to go in order to stay healthy as we age, and the evidence is perhaps on their side – the people of Okinawa in Japan live longer than anyone else on our planet, and they eat more seaweeds than anyone else.
But when I thought about the conversations with my – mostly male – family and friends, I began to realise the problem is bigger than just the issue of seaweeds, and gut health, and the fibre we should be eating but aren’t.
The problem my generation faces is simple: confronted by ill health, very many of them don’t how to cook their way out of the cul-de-sac they are suddenly in. Decades of hard work and responsibilities have meant there was never time to master the kitchen skills that are the best guarantor of good health.
When sickness hits, you need a strategy that will cure you, and also keep you well. And the only way to do that is to be able to cook. So, here are six steps to start cooking, and stay healthy:
Do a cookery course
And do it now. Cancel your vacation and get an apron on at one of the many excellent cookery schools throughout the country. Once you can competently chop an onion, you are on your way.
Cook from raw
It’s becoming clear than constituent elements of processed foods are not good for our gut health, so cooking means cooking raw ingredients from scratch. Chop that onion, and take it from there.
Eat the rainbow
Our diets today are boringly monochrome, so think technicolour: red chard; purple-sprouting broccoli; ruby-red organ meats; yellow bananas; pale white milk; dark-brown chocolate.
Get the fibre in
Lack of dietary fibre is one of the biggest causes of gut dysbiosis. So, start snacking on seeds and fruit and nuts, and get pulses and potato skins onto your plate.
Seaweeds are an ancient keystone species of our microbiome, but you don’t have to head to the shoreline to get them. Your nearest wholefood shop will have them in neat, nifty bags, all ready to be used.
The best food, and the best-tasting food, is food that has been cooked simply. You don’t need to be a masterchef. You just need to be able to chop that onion.
John McKenna is the author of Ireland The Best