Monday, 27 July 2015

Making sure your diet has gotta lotta bottle

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to have you looking again at your diet and wondering if it’s nurturing you or killing you, then it’s something such as a heart attack in the family.

The Other Half is now attending rehab sessions after his recent Event and these include a weekly talk.

Recently, one on nutrition provided the news that no, locally-produced honey does not render you immune to local pollen. It also included a call for those present to drink more milk, since there’s a risk of an osteoporosis timebomb and they need their calcium.

It’s probably already far more of a problem than most of us realise.

According to Guidelines for diagnosis and management ofosteoporosis (1997) by JA Kanis, P Delmas, P Burckhardt and others, which was published by the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and Bone Disease, in “women over 45 years of age, osteoporosis accounts for more days spent in hospital than many other diseases, including diabetes, myocardial infarction and breast cancer”.

And that’s just women – osteoporosis affects men too.

Of course, the milk-drinking advice included stating that the milk should be skimmed or semi skimmed, and noting that, while calcium can also be found in cheese, you should only to eat a matchbox-sized amount of that in a single day because of the mortal threat of fat.

Look away now – this could be the death of you
Bad luck: today’s lunchtime salad – made at home – included about two Swan Vesta-sized matchboxes worth of feta (together with chick peas, broad beans, sultanas, a little couscous and a ‘dressing’ of plain, Greek-style yogurt).

Having had a small glass of apple juice before leaving home, my breakfast had consisted of a hard-boiled egg, a little poached salmon, some edamame beans and a squirt of teriyaki sauce, with an espresso on the side.

Thank you Itsu: tasty, healthy food, and actually cheaper than the far more conventional breakfast fodder I’ve been having recently.

There was a mid-morning snack of a few dates.

Oh dear – never mind the cheese, am I in danger of eating too much fruit, given how it all sugars?

The point, though, is that my rule-shattering amount of feta for lunch should be considered within a wider context of a fairly healthy diet as a whole.

But back to osteoporosis and calcium intake.

I recall reading, approximately 15 years ago, that women on a  diet had a bone density deficit of 22%.

This should surprise nobody, given that one of the first things that goes out of the window when you start dieting is dairy produce.

And on this subject, let’s take a little look at figures for osteoporosis in France and the UK, since the French notoriously eat more cream, cheese and butter than any other nation on planet Earth.

In 2010, there were approximately 377,000 new fragility fractures in France. The number of people aged 50 plus, with osteoporosis, was approximately 3,480,000.

Bone – healthy and not-so healthy
The economic cost of new and prior fractures was estimated as €4,853m each year and it is further estimated that, by 2025, that figure will have increased to €6,111m.

In 2010 in the UK, there were approximately 536,000 new fragility fractures. The number of people aged 50+ with osteoporosis stood at approximately 3.21m. The economic cost of new and prior fractures was £3,496m (€5,408m) each year; by 2025 burden will increase by 24% to £5,465m (€6,723m).

These statistics are from A Svedbom, E Hernlund, M Ivergard, et al, Osteoporosis in the European Union: A compendium of country-specific reports, 2013.

It’s worth noting that calcium deficiency is not the only cause of osteoporosis, but that alcohol consumption and smoking both also increase bone fragility.

In which case, given levels of smoking and alcohol consumption in France (and given that it has a higher population), the lower number of fragility fractures is even more remarkable.

But then again, the French have not – thus far – lost any sense of a national cuisine; of the traditional and largely seasonal food that has sustained them down the centuries.

We have. We expect asparagus and strawberries in December, and are faced with a dizzying array of culinary styles in shops and restaurants.

And in a way, the culinary snapshot from our recent trip to Rye is indicative of that: poor versions of a ‘national’ dish – fish and chips – cooked on the basis of pre-prepped, largely-frozen ingredients, while local gems such as Cromer crab were noticeable primarily by their absence.

That’s not to say that there is no place for culinary evolution and global influences – or that the French don’t have these (see couscous as an example of the latter), but merely that we have gone to an extreme.

Subject to the whims of British culinary fashion
We fall out of love with genuine British ingredients – and then it takes a celebrity chef to bring them back into fashion. See cooking apples and cauliflowers as but two recent examples.

Sainsburys summer TV advertising campaign, “tigers don’t eat quesadillas”, also illustrates the current climate, starting from the perspective of a family where the children get to say what they will and will not eat.

I know it’s not hip parenting these days, but what was actually wrong with ‘Dinner time! Come and sit down!’ followed by (if required) ‘that’s what’s on the table – if you don’t like it, there’s nothing else’?

The idea of giving small children a choice about what they eat is nonsense: they need to be able to make an educated choice before being given a choice – and that means a food education first.

Nor is that an education where you make pronouncements on what’s good or bad for health. It’s a question of educating the taste buds.

Okay, it’s still probably going to be something of a battle, given the amount of high-processed, industrialised junk around the place for children to be tempted by. And Big Food spends an awful lot of money working out precisely how to get children hooked on that junk, so it’s not an evenly-matched battle: this is classic David and Goliath.

But getting home in the evening and asking your pre-primary school child what they want for dinner – and then responding with “you can’t have dippy chips every night” because they regularly have that because you don’t want to cook a fresh meal after a day at work, is not the answer and not the way to a healthy diet.

And why quesadillas? What’s wrong with a salad? It doesn’t have to be limp, tasteless lettuce and cucumber, with flavourless tomatoes.

Take some broad beans (in season at present). Pod and cook for 3-4 minutes, in unsalted water, depending on size. Allow to cool before popping the little green gems out of their skins.

Hull and halve some strawberries (also in season).

Broad beans. In season now. Yummy
Pop on a plate together with some feta – the natural saltiness of the cheese is a fabulous foil for the beans, and works well with the fruit too.

Dress with some Balsamic vinegar.

If it’s a main meal, have some good bread on the side or a few new potatoes (also in season).

Colourful, tasty and healthy – and not complicated.

The media doesn’t help – producing scare stories about health and further confusion about diet.

I freely admit that I find myself wondering if I’ve got it basically right: am I getting enough calcium, for instance, or do I need to start guzzling a pint of skimmed milk every day?

Indeed, am I really getting it all so badly wrong that today’s second matchbox of cheese will ensure that I won’t live long enough to get osteoporosis?

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