Welcome 2017. It’s going to be a great year! And to kick it off, we finish the list of processed foods that make it into our house. There may be a few surprises in here. But bear with me.
As a rule, we don’t eat grains. But we make a couple of exceptions for Monty (I know, my pragmatism is unwavering). Grains are nutritional weaklings compared to vegetables, fruit, meat and fish. Also, their protein is incomplete and difficult to digest. And they are high in Omega-6. But that’s not the worst of it. Grains (and legumes, by the way) also contain ‘anti-nutrients’ – in form of phytic acid and lectins. It’s a defence mechanism. To stop the seeds (the plant’s offspring) being eaten and destroyed. Phytic acid binds to minerals and vitamins making the meagre nutrient content largely unavailable to us. It also inhibits our digestive enzymes, meaning we breakdown even less of the protein. The lectin proteins in grains are toxic to humans. They make it to our small intestine undigested (helped by phytic acid) and create holes in our intestinal wall. Gateways through which all manor of foreign molecules can enter our body. This stimulates an immune response. Constantly. Not good. So why white rice? Firstly, rice doesn’t contain gluten (the most famous and most harmful of the lectins). Secondly, the anti-nutrients in rice are all in the bran. When this is polished away, you’re left with (more-or-less) pure starch. Sounds suspiciously sugary, doesn’t it? It is. But it’s not toxic. And it’s all glucose, which is efficiently utilised for energy. I reckon a couple of portions a week for an active child is fine.
We run a gluten-free house. Great for our health. Not so great for Monty’s happiness – his favourite meal is pasta! Thankfully, there is now a wide range of good quality gluten-free pastas. So Monty can have his Friday night treat and I can sleep at night. We use buckwheat pasta. Buckwheat is not technically a grain. Grains are the seeds of grasses, and tend to be high in carbohydrate, low in protein, and particularly high in anti-nutrients. So-called pseudograins (buckwheat and quinoa and amaranth) have more protein, less carbohydrate and slightly lower amounts of anti-nutrients. Don’t get me wrong, buckwheat is still nutritionally poor and irritating to the gut, but it’s a good compromise. And it makes for decent pasta. As a side note, grains and pseudograins can be made more digestible by preparing in a traditional manor. Until recently, nobody on this planet would have eaten grains without sprouting or fermenting them prior to cooking. And for good reason. Most traditional cultures still do this. But it’s been forgotten in the West.
We don’t do dairy either. It has a capacity second only to gluten for damaging the gut and stimulating chronic inflammation. Milk is actually designed to make the small intestine permeable, so that certain components – like hormones and antibodies – can be passed from mother to infant. But this mechanism is not designed for adults. So milk is a problem. Proteins from the milk of a different species are especially problematic for our immune system. Milk is one of the ‘Big 8’ allergens for a reason. We’ve found almond milk to be the best dairy alternative, although we don’t have much of it. Katie uses it in tea and coffee, and Monty very occasionally drinks it at school. I’m not particularly proud to tell you that we buy the Alpro brand. It’s too processed and I don’t like the stabilisers and emulsifiers they use. There are cleaner versions out there – like this one from Rude Health – but Monty doesn’t seem to like them, and they don’t work in hot drinks. Another compromise.
Discovering good quality coconut milk and coconut yoghurt has transformed desserts for us. Indulgent, tasty and super healthy. Coconut milk is low in sugar, high in fibre and, as with coconut oil, provides a good hit of medium chain triglycerides (those rapidly utilised energy molecules again). We avoid the tinned varieties, which come with stabilisers, emulsifiers, and BPA. I’ve found a couple of brands that package proper coconut milk (just coconut and water) in cartons. Have a look for Aroy-D or Grace. It’s literally like double cream. Coconut yoghurt is simply fermented coconut milk. All the same good stuff, plus probiotics. We love Coyo. It has clean ingredients and a lovely sour tang. Available in good health food shops and, conveniently, some Tesco stores. Try the milk or yoghurt (or both!) with berries and coconut flakes. You will thank me.
We have about ten jars of various nut butters. Hazelnut and almond seem to be the most popular in our house, but pecan and cashew are also great. As a tasty, convenient, high-fat snack, nut butter is hard to beat. Nuts are, of course, seeds. So gut irritating potential is certainly there. But to a much lesser extent than with legumes, grains and dairy. That said, I seem to be quite sensitive so only dip in occasionally. The other factor to consider with nuts is the high omega-6 content. We need omega-6, but if it starts to dominate omega-3 (which it does 15:1 in the average Brit – it should be closer to 1:1) the result is low-level systemic inflammation. A big risk factor for many chronic diseases. So we’re careful not to over-consume. Macadamias are the best choice in this respect, as the fat is mainly monounsaturated (like olive oil). Meridian is a quality mainstream brand. They do a good range with no added sugar, salt or oil. And all the supermarkets stock it. Activated nuts (the nuts are germinated and dried) are easier on the digestive tract and the nutrients are more available. I’ve been experimenting with the raw, activated nuts and nut butters from Raw Ecstasy. So far, I seem to be tolerating them better than regular nuts. The plan is to introduce Gabriel to these activated nut butters after his first birthday (in a couple of weeks!). It’s worth mentioning something else: Peanuts are not nuts. They’re legumes. We try to stay clear of the them due to the much higher lectin content.
Simply the dried or toasted flesh of the coconut. Great as a snack with nuts and dried fruit, or as a dessert topping. I won’t bore you with the health benefits of coconut again. But, needless to say, we eat a lot of this stuff. All health food shops stock it. The supermarket versions tend to include sulphur dioxide (as a preservative), so we avoid these. Our favourite is from Just Natural.
Yorkshire is cold in December. But that doesn’t stop us eating frozen berries. Usually as a dessert with coconut flakes and fish oil (to keep our omega 6:3 ratio in check – don’t worry, it has a delicious lemon flavour). Berries are low in sugar, and pack some serious antioxidant capacity, in the form of anthocyanins. Freezing enables in-season berries to be eaten out of season, with all their nutritious goodness. They also make great ice-cream – simply blend in a food processor with some proper coconut milk. What’s not to like? All supermarkets sell a good range.
Make no mistake, honey is still mostly sugar. Straight from the hive, raw honey is about 75-80% sugar, with roughly equal amounts of glucose and fructose. This makes raw honey similar to sucrose (table sugar) in terms of it’s impact on blood sugar and insulin. So I’m not advocating drinking it out of the jar. But, unlike refined sugar, it has some useful health properties. Raw honey has a decent dose of B-vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. It also contains some amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and powerful antioxidants (yep, polyphenols again). Lack of refinement means bits of pollen are retained (immunotherapy for hay fever), along with some propolis (another substance made by the bees that has antimicrobial properties), and fragments of bee wings and legs (protein and fibre!). Most commercial honeys are heavily refined, leaving just sugar and water. Our choice is the Yorkshire Heather Moorlands Honey from Denholme Gate Honey (a local producer). We use it as a sweetener, and a treatment for coughs and sore throats (it really does work). 1-2 teaspoons a day, tops.
We usually have a box or two in the cellar for Monty. The long-life ones, in the cartons. I’m not crazy about fruit smoothies. Way too high in free sugar. And it’s mainly fructose (which we can’t utilise very efficiently and is readily stored as fat). These things are not even proper smoothies. They’re juice in disguise. For example, in the strawberries, blackberries & raspberries flavour the strawberries, blackberries and raspberries make up just 11.4%. The rest is apple juice, orange juice, grape juice and some banana. So why do we have them? Now I think about it, I’m not really sure. We may have to rethink it.
So, there you have it. We’re not perfect. We like a bit of convenience. And we make compromises. But we try to make the right choices. And constantly strive to do better.
Some processed foods can support health. Most will destroy it. What will you choose in 2017?
Own your health.