Ten types of terror: What the Grit Doctor eats
In her new book, Cut the Crap, Ruth Field says we should all stop eating rubbish food. Joyce Hickey asks her just what kind of rubbish she would eat if pressed
Runner, author, mother, Irish Times columnist and Grit Doctor Ruth Field “a ruthless motivator” is on a flying visit to Dublin with her latest book, Cut the Crap – The No-Nonsense Plan for a Healthy Body and Mind. We meet over a Grit-Doctor approved gin and tonic to talk about running, eating, working, mothering small boys, managing laundry mountains, and everything in between.
Ruth’s dad, Brian, to whom she dedicates the new book, joins us just as I get to the point.
“Ruth,” I say, “You wake up in a world in which there is only crap food, and you have to choose which type of crap to eat. But you get to recommend a healthy alternative.”
She leans back slightly, and raises a laughing eyebrow. Brian leans in.
A double Whopper or a Big Mac?
“A Big Mac.” Her healthy option is a Dirty Burger from a Kentish Town burger joint near her north London home: it serves “proper fast good: good quality beef, gives the provenance of everything,” and so on. “They do posh Big Macs,” says Brian.
Potato gratin or chicken Kiev?
I clarify that I’m talking low-cost frozen chicken Kiev. Unsurprisingly, of those two, she chooses potato gratin but otherwise she’d have a homemade chicken Kiev.
Roasted cashews or tortilla chips?
“Roasted cashews. Is there salt on them?” Buckets of the stuff, I assure her. “You can’t beat a roasted nut,” she says. Her healthy choice would be unsalted nuts, or a handful of mixed seeds.
Banoffee or tiramisu?
“Tiramisu.” But her favourite pudding, if she had a sweet tooth, is a slice of German plum cake made by her husband, Olly.
Doughnut or Danish?
“A Danish. Doughnuts do not tempt me.” Ideal healthy option? “A Danish. One with loads of fruit in it. Or an apple Danish.” Or evenone with a pear tucked into the pastry.
Double Decker or Snickers?
“A Double Decker.” Healthy choice? ‘What I love at the moment is Green & Black’s burnt toffee chocolate. Or a Cadbury’s Flake,” which feature in the book: pilfered, as an act of charity, from a bumper pack Olly bought in the supermarket. “Flakes don’t count,” says Brian. “They’re full of air; there isn’t enough cocoa in them.”
In the interests of research and balance, when I get home I steal a Flake from the endless supply of selection boxes in my house. The packet states that this 25.6g bar contains “25 per cent minimum” cocoa solids. (The proportion of air is not listed.) It is 100 per cent delicious, and I am sorry I don’t have a straw to mop up the crumbs like the little boy in the 1980s ad with (I think) a Terry Wogan voiceover.
With a sideways look at Brian, I ask Ruth whether other people, for example grandparents, give her four-year-old twin boys crap food. “I feed them good stuff. I don’t have sweets in the house, but I’m not militant,” she says. One has his father’s sweet tooth; the other, like his mother, would be happier with a bowl of pasta. Brian says cheerfully that he brings them to McDonald’s for the odd chocolate milkshake and burger, and buys them sweets sometimes, too.
White rice or a baguette?
“I love baguettes,” she says. Her healthy preference would be for brown rice, though she acknowledges that it takes a long time to cook. She and her dad think I am cruel to feed my children wholewheat pasta. “You can’t get that in Italy,” says Brian, horrorstruck. Ruth has no problem with white rice. If you are overweight, she says in her new book, white rice is the least of your worries. After all, it is the staple sustenance of millions of people in Asia.
Plastic cheese or plastic ham?
“They’re both disgusting.” She explains to her dad that plastic ham is the shiny processed stuff that costs £1 for 50 slices. She would opt for plastic cheese, if pressed. When you eat it in moderation, cheese is a source of protein and calcium so it’s good for you if you are healthy and take exercise, but packs a calorific punch if you are watching your waist (expand). In preference, she’d go for her favourite Christmas food: Wiltshire ham with her in-laws’ homemade pear chutney.
A full English or chips and gravy?
“A full English,” she says, with relish (but not with relish; with chutney). Her healthy alternative is poached eggs on a toasted seedy brown bread from Sainsbury’s. Brian’s lip curls at this travesty of toast.
I let Ruth choose crap number 10. “Ketchup or brown sauce?” whoops Brian. “Ketchup,” says Ruth. “Too right,” says her dad. “She used to beg her mother to buy bottles of the stuff to smuggle back to boarding school.”
And for a healthy alternative, we’re back to chutney. Specifically, Mrs Ball’s chutney, a South African speciality that leads Brian on a five-minute digression into flavour, texture, versatility and pure delicious indulgence.
And with that, we drain our gins and separate into the bustle outside. What a tonic.
Ruth Field is the author of Run Fat B!tch, Run, Get your Sh!t Together and Cut the Crap. She has a regular column in The Irish Times Health+Family supplement, which is edited by Joyce Hickey.