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Common Sense Cooking and Eating Guidelines, Alan McIver, Cape Town, South Africa.
Obesity is a major concern in most Western societies and the merits or otherwise of various diets are the subject of endless speculation and debate, all of which is frankly rather boring. Equally boring is the prospect of spending a good portion of one’s life pounding pavements or on a treadmill as penance for insisting on having one’s cake and eating it. However comments such as:
• Just don’t put the food in your mouth – have you ever seen a fat person in a concentration camp
• Accumulation equals in minus out
• It’s not that she eats too much – she has a glandular problem
are not much help either. While I am not a nutritionist, it seems that common sense should prevail when it comes to eating. Firstly some observations, as follows:
• Evolution: We evolved as omnivores – i.e. we eat both animals rich in protein as well as vegetable matter. Further, until quite recently we were hunter gatherers. In other words, we ate whatever animals we were able to catch. However animals don’t like getting caught and eaten and have a habit of running away under such circumstances. So once we had caught something we gave up further attempts at hunting and made up the difference with foods that could be gathered such as fruits, roots, berries, nuts, edible leaves and so on. Furthermore, until quite recently when cattle were domesticated, milk did not form part of our diet and it is therefore unsurprising that many humans are lactose (the type of sugar found in milk) intolerant.
• Quantity of Food: It took a lot of effort to catch prey and gather the food that made up our hunter/gatherer diets. So food was often a limiting resource. However, even when not limiting, it made no sense to collect or hunt more food than one needed.
• Fire: Being omnivores we are generalists insofar as food is concerned. We are able to consume a wider range of foods than most other animals but do not produce the enzymes that would enable us to consume raw meat (as is the case in predators such as cats and dogs) or carbohydrates like uncooked potato or rice in the case of herbivores. Accordingly, the ability to harness fire was one of the most important steps in human evolution because it enabled us to cook food, which converts proteins and carbohydrates into forms that are more easily digested, giving us access to a greater quantity and a wider range of food than would otherwise be the case.
• Culture: The entire family participated in the hunting and gathering of food. Today it continues to play an important role in all cultures and is usually an activity in which all members are expected to participate
• Cleanliness: Given the circumstances under which they lived, modern ideas about hygiene were undoubtedly absent. Certainly the water they drank was filled with nasties, some of which were life threatening.
• When to Eat: We need energy when we are awake and our digestive systems are most active rather than when we are asleep.
• Variations in diet: They ate the food which was available during the season in question. Which meant that they enjoyed a varied diet, with food coming from many rather than a single source.
The corollary to this argument is that sucrose, lactose, salt and stimulants like coffee and tea were absent from their diet. In addition, since the food they ate was unprocessed, it contained large quantities of fibre. Lastly, it has recently been discovered that (a) the more protein one eats, the less hungry one feels, (b) while modern standards of hygiene are a good thing, a little bit of the right kind of dirt never killed anyone (see the Hygiene Hypothesis) and (c) the less food one consumes the more healthy you are and the longer you live.
Several common-sense guidelines emerge from such observations, as follows:
1. When to Eat: If you eat one large meal each day, it should be in the morning or lunch time at the latest because we need energy during the day rather than at night when our metabolism slows down.
2. Proteins and Salads First: Try to eat proteins and salads before carbohydrates, and not the other way around. So carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, bread, jam on toast and puddings as well as fruits should be consumed towards the end of the meal rather than at the beginning. That way one’s intake of food is lower.
3. Complex Sugars: Try to eat complex sugars such as those in fresh fruits, vegetables and honey rather than the sucrose and dextrose added to processed foods. The reason being that the latter metabolize rapidly and this causes a steep spike in blood sugar concentrations. Furthermore, only dairy products from which the lactose has been removed (by fermentation with lactobacillus -- e.g. yogurt and cheese) should be consumed. In other words, drinking milk is not a wise practise, generally speaking.
4. Salads: Try to maximize the quantity of salads in one’s diet because that increases the amount of fibre, ensuring the proper functioning of one’s stomach and colon. Many of us (I am one) dislike vegetables that have had the goodness cooked out of them so one needs to compensate by including as much salad as possible in one’s diet. The one exception to this rule is soup (and potjiekos) which seems to have gone out of fashion these days.
5. Fun: Lastly cooking and eating should be both enjoyable as well as fun. If it isn’t you are doing something wrong. In which case our efforts to eat sensibly are unsustainable and you will ultimately fail with attempts to gain control over your eating habits.
The entire family should participate in food preparation – not just mothers. Food preparation and eating should be the focus of activity in a home and all should have some responsibilities in this regard, such as food preparation, setting the table, washing the dishes afterwards, taking out the rubbish, etc. because it is not much fun if one person must do it all on their own. There is a much longer list of don’ts such as don’t (a) eat foods that have been processed and contain heaps of saturated fats, sucrose, dextrose, lactose, flavourants, colourants and preservatives, (b) eat fast foods, (c) eat foods containing preservatives and (d) drink stimulants such as tea, coffee or soft drinks. All of which is true. But to focus on the negative is tiresome and ultimately counter-productive. Instead, enjoy an ice cream, a coke and eat a hamburger or some chocolate now and then but always in moderation. And never use the word never because we all slip and, when we do, we set ourselves up to fail which is very demotivating.
2392/2%Last update: 2014-03-20 21:52
Author: Alan McIver
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