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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

an ode to butter

In case it had escaped your notice, this is not a diet blog. It's not even a healthy eating blog- it's just an eating blog. To me, food isn't just fuel- whatever 'healthy eating gurus' such as Gillian McKeith et al. say. It's worth pointing out that I also find the idea of taking nutritional advice from someone who looks so haggard and, frankly, miserable, absurd. Food is there to be enjoyed- there's nothing more satisfying than sharing a beautiful meal with people you care about, and the contentment that follows- a feeling that all is right with the world. A feeling, presumably, that you won't quite achieve from tucking into Quorn (other pretend mince is probably available...), washed down with a side of pallid, marge-coated bread.

Now seems as good an opportunity as any to embark on a bit of a rant. Not about chocolate this time- it's 'health foods' (note the inverted commas) that are in the firing line. By now, most faddy January diets are out the window. After three weeks surviving solely on maple syrup or fruit juice, people tend to slip all too easily back into the same food routines, and fall for the same old 'health' traps- time and time again. So with Lent beginning tomorrow, I figured I would use the chance to compile a guide to:

Things You Think You Should Be Eating That Are Actually Really Bad For You, And What You Should Probably Swap Them For

For the sake of credibility, I should mention these aren't just my musings; I haven't simply decided that since I happen to detest the taste of margarine, we should all avoid it. Steve Harrison, a very close friend of mine, (whose job title I've never actually managed to nail down- the Chandler Bing of the fitness/nutrition world, if you will...) has long been indulging me with lengthy rants about how us Brits in particular have food so very wrong. And having done a bit more research of my own, I'm inclined to agree. I don't just mean our capacity for over-cooking steaks, or our nationwide obsession with microwave meals- and all that's without even mentioning the horse meat. I'm talking about the so-called 'health-food' industry, something we spend millions of pounds on each year.

And so, here are just three things you could try giving up for Lent, if not permanently, and what you should be eating instead- alternatives that billions of pounds, and many years of marketing have gone into convincing you are bad for your health.

Fake Health Food #1: 

Can I put this here? Will I
get sued? We'll see, I suppose.

.. and other veg oils, for that matter. We've only had the technology to extract oils from crops (and thereby make margarine or other synthetic spreads) for 150 years. It's not something our bodies are well adapted to breaking down, and without sounding like a  hypochondriac, can cause cell mutations, and clog arteries. It's also been linked to skin cancer. But more importantly- and something the foodie side of me is more preoccupied with than anything else- it tastes crap. It smells crap. It has none of the beauty or richness of butter, and will always be a pale substitute.

And What You Should Replace It With...

Well, BUTTER. Obviously.

It tastes... like butter. Which is the point, surely? It also contains Lecithin, antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin E, Selenium (all good things- google them if you don't believe me), and cholesterol. Which is also good. Yes, good. Flora and the like may spend a great deal of time and money telling you otherwise, but it's all rubbish. See here, here and here,  and spread the word.

Fake Health Food #2:

Don't even get me started. Again, I have the foodie objection to proffer (it's tasteless, has the texture of a thirty year old rubber band, and looks about as appetising as one too...), but for me, it's far more complex an argument than just this. 

I won't go into huge detail about the legal wranglings of Monsanto (a company that have patented 'soy' and sue anyone that tries to grow and sell it themselves), but it's well worth reading up on if you're interested- if only to hear about Oprah putting them in their place like only she could. For now, let's just focus on the nutritional side: The fermented stuff- the staple of Asian cuisine for thousands of years- is lovely. Go for it. Who doesn't love soul-soothing Miso every once in a while? But the processed, unfermented stuff that's used in cheap fake meat brands and other processed foods? No. Avoid it like the plague, because it interferes with digestion and pancreatic function, and contains high levels of aluminium, which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys. Since mine are pretty busy filtering copious amounts of gin from my system, I wouldn't want to add to the burden any further, even if the stuff did taste half decent. I don't know about anyone else.

And What You Should Replace It With...

Meat. Lots and lots of meat. Or fish. Just protein, really- it's all good for you, and if you genuinely do want to lose weight, what you should be basing your diet on. Ignore the Daily Mail's ramblings about steak leading to premature death/unemployment/the end of 'Great' Britain as we know it, because again, it seems to come down to some very successful indoctrination (not to mention bad journalism). Meat is good.

And if you're vegetarian? Well, just stick to the natural, unprocessed stuff.

Fake Health Food #3:

Sticking a moderately attractive, skinny brunette in a nice red dress on the front does not a health food make. In fact, if there was to be an award  for 'the most unhealthy product to have somehow permeated the mass market by pretending to be healthy' (it's catchy, give me that) then 'healthy' cereal brands would be neck and neck with margarine. I'm not saying they're worse than soy, I'm merely noting that both have been inordinately successful at convincing 99% of the British populace that they're good for us. 

Surviving on a diet that is two-thirds grain based (if you're mental enough to try eating cereal for two of your three meals a day, as the marketing push of a popular brand would have you doing, that is), which in itself is 77% carbohydrate, and 1/4 sugar is clearly not going to do you any good. That much is obvious. We need to get our heads around the idea that whilst cereal isn't excessively bad for you- it does have vitamins and fibre- it's no health food, and should be regarded as a treat in much the same way sweets or crisps would be.

And What You Should Replace It With...

A fry-up. The works- egg, bacon, black pudding, sausage, mushroom, tomato... all cooked in butter or olive oil. Eggs are one of the best things you can be giving your body, and the fats here are all good. If you really feel like being healthy, forgo the toast and baked beans.

So I hope that brightens up your February- or at least assuages any lingering post Christmas/failed diet January guilt.

And if not, next week I'll be doing cake. That'll make everything better.

mrs hunt.x

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