"Mars bars don't make people fat; people make people fat"

Every morning, I lay in bed, gradually waking to the sound of pre-recorded bird-song and artificially generated sunrise, until the radio kicks in at 6am, welcoming the day with the morning’s headlines.

Today, I rolled over and my ears pricked up, as I heard “Food manufacturers told to cut calories by 20%”. My Health Coaching head immediately kicked in – what did I think of this. Is it progressive? Developmental? Or offensive, insensitive and unnecessary?

I spent the day with this playing on my mind and did some light reading before really making up my mind – and the result may surprise you….

Public Health England is leading a drive to reduce calorie intake by 20% by 2024 – that’s not far away, and a lot of work still to do.

So what are the options for reducing this number? The announcement today points towards Public Health England giving direction to food companies to reduce the calories in their food. How can they achieve that? Well as we’ve seen from the recent “Toberlone-gate” the easiest way to cut calories in food, is to simply reduce the portion size.

I’m as guilty as the next person for finishing what’s on my plate just because it’s there. But in the majority of cases, just giving people smaller ready meals, won’t help reduce the calorie intake of an entire country. We will still experience the same hunger, blood sugar rises and crashes, and cravings for salty, fatty foods as we ever did.

Really – the only way to reduce calorie in take is through education. Educate our country on eating well. On the impact of sugars and bad fats on your body. Teach our children cookery skills. Subsidise our farmers to keep fresh, vitamin-rich foods at reasonable price levels. Educate us, to believe that one ready meal won’t make us fat. Guide us towards nutrition. Help us become more active.

I’m a firm believer that mars bars don’t make people fat; people make people fat. We make our own choices and everything we eat, or don’t eat is a choice that we have made. We shouldn’t be punished if we want one chocolate bar, or one ready meal once in a while. If we are educated to make our own choices, we can learn to cut our own calories by 20% - through making small, positive health choices.

But sadly, education takes time, and it’s time we don’t have. In 2015/16 there were 525,000 admissions in NHS hospitals where obesity was recorded as the primary or secondary diagnosis, an increase of 19% on the previous year[1]. Our nations needs to act.

So whilst our nation’s health professionals, teachers, government ministers and parents work on educating our great nation on eating quality food, for now, we will have to accept the smaller portions and artificially reduced calorie options the food manufacturers can offer us.

 

[1] Office of National Statistics: Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity, and Diet – England, 2017

"Veganuary"? - Just one week for me thanks!

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David Haye, Lewis Hamilton, Venus Williams. So strong, fit, muscular, successful. Certainly not the stereotypical build of a vegan. “What’s that? VEGAN?”. You got it! All these celebrated sports people are currently eating a plant-based diet. Contrary to the popular belief that vegan’s get “no protein” or “lack calcium”, these three sports people alone (and hundreds of others), all show that theory could well be, well, simply myth!

Now I’m a happy meat eater. I source ethically of course; I like to imagine that the baby lamb in my Sunday dinner was happily skipping around the field in the sunshine with his brothers and sisters until one day they went off on a nice big holiday all together and then magically appeared at my local butcher. However, I know that this isn’t always the case.

And equally, I know that at age 33, and still suffering with acne, chances are, my childhood lactose intolerance, probably has a role to play in that, and cutting out diary would have a fairly good chance of helping clear some of that up.

So with the many newly emerging dietary trends, I thought I’d give veganism a go. What have I got to lose? Well, my daily latte and protein packed Greek yoghurt snacks were just a couple of things! I’ll add at this point, I only intend to try veganism for one week - that’s seven days – and it’ll be topped and tailed by scrambled eggs and bacon, and a steak dinner.

But I’m not taking this lightly. I don’t want to suffer with boring, or convenience vegan food. I’ve planned this, buying magazines and reading recipes online to make sure that I get some tasty, delicious and nutritious food, to make the most of veganism.

 

Day one:

Well I woke up this morning feeling particularly, well, “bleurch”. You know that feeling when you haven’t really had enough sleep (although I had), and you can’t quite put your finger on why you don’t feel on top form? Possibly the sense of impending doom over no milky tea with breakfast?

Anyway, I started the day with some porridge made with almond milk and topped with blueberries and flaked almonds – nothing new there – almond milk is a staple in our household anyway – but the milky tea was substituted for a peppermint option. And come 10:30, boy could I feel the caffeine headache! I was going to go cold turkey (not literally, it’s vegan week!), but day 1 was just too much, so I nipped to costa for a soya latte, and grabbed a little slice of vegan Christmas Cake conveniently located by the till (did they see me coming?!). And like magic – I felt so much better- damn you caffeine addiction!  

The afternoon was then mostly spent in the kitchen, making leek & potato soup, lentil shepherd’s pie (which I kept looking for the meat in!) and a vegetable broth for later in the week. All of which tasted fine, I’d definitely eat them all again – well, I’ll have to as I made enough for leftovers in the week!

I have also had a cheeky little snack of peanut butter on sourdough. I love sourdough - in fact, I love bread in general – but bread does not love me. It bloats me and makes me feel (yes I’ll say it again) “bleurch” – but I HEART it so much – and it’s (usually) VEGAN!!!!!!

 

Day two:

Back to the 9-5 today so simple foods were needed. Soya yoghurt, low sugar granola and berries for breakfast & yesterday’s leftover soup for lunch. Snacks included walnuts and an apple and another slice of peanut butter on toast. Again, I tried to resist my mid-morning coffee, but the pull was too strong and at 10 am I found myself at the coffee machine, but subbing my usual beloved latte with a black americano.

Dinner was an aubergine gnocchi gratin. It was nice. Would have worked nicely with some sliced mozzarella running through it!

Still missing the milky teas, but I had a cup of black tea and a couple of greens, I suppose they will do!

I did feel particularly tired this evening. I could have easily curled up in bed at 7pm and slept through till morning. I had a quick look at my macronutrient split – currently having around 66% carbohydrate and only 11% protein. I usually aim for around just 20% carbs and 40% protein so this is a massive adjustment for my body. I’ll try to increase my protein tomorrow & see what happens.

 

Day three:

So taking into account the lack of protein from the last 2 days, this morning I added a scoop of vegan protein powder to my porridge – it was supposedly chocolate-vanilla flavour – but in reality there were definite undertones of plant. And I sent a photo of it to my friend with the caption “looks like a poo emoji with berries on top” – it really did. But it tasted fine, and helped bring my protein intake up to a slightly increased 19% - still only 59g, but according to current guidelines, I should only need 60g a day, so actually this is fine – just a massive adjustment for me!

Lunch was leftover soup (staple favourite by now) and dinner was a delicious roasted cauliflower and lentil salad. It was great, and would have only been bettered with a nice piece of cod on the top!

I’m feeling less tired than yesterday, and this evening went to a Les Mills BodyBalance ™ class. I felt equally as strong as always and was happy to look at myself in the mirror with pride. Although I did still fall asleep in front of the TV at 9:45 with an almond milk cocoa!

 

Day four:

This morning I headed to work (after a protein powder based smoothie) ready for my conference. I’d ordered catering, and requested a vegan option – only to be brought down a cheese sandwich! Luckily I had pre-empted this situation and packed my own lunch of wild rice, pearl barley & quinoa salad with some vegan cheese and soya yoghurt and berries for pudding. Now, vegan cheese is an odd concept. The brand I bought is called “BLOCK” – and in fact, it doesn’t even market itself as “cheese” – it’s just a vegan, yeh, I guess “block”. Its main ingredients are water, coconut oil (21%) and flavouring. 0% protein. Although I do rather like it! It’s a bit squeaky, like halloumi in a way. It’s not as nice as my 2 year old’s babybel, but it’ll do.

Fortunately, Catering did provide me with a packet of ready salted crisps and a glass of orange juice, so at least I got something!

For dinner I made some quinoa and borlotti bean burgers with some “block” and ciabatta roll. Yeh, tasty (although a rather oniony after-taste), followed by another almond milk cocoa.

It’s pretty clear that I’m not inclined to be a super healthy vegan. I’m not all alfafa sprouts and wheatgrass, but I do think I’m becoming more conscious of vegetable intake, and I hope this is rubbing off on my family too. I am finding my “go-to” snack is peanut butter on toast! Delicious, but again possibly not the best option. I should probably be having carrots and hummus or similar. But I do love peanut butter!

Over half way there.

 

Day 5:

Well by now I was hoping to start seeing, or feeling some kind of change in me, but I’ll be honest, the only thing I’m feeling right now is pretty windy! The lentils and beans are certainly apparent! But I’ll stick with in for another couple of days.

So tonight’s dinner was sticky glazed tofu. I was really looking forward to it. It was a Chinese style recipe and I love Chinese food. So I went off to my Les Mills BodyBalance ™ class for the second time this week and returned home pretty excited! It smelled delicious! I was really looking forward to it. As I spooned a portion over my basmati rice, the aromas flowing around the kitchen, I knew this would be my favourite meal so far this week. Boy was I wrong! Tofu?! Bleurch! It’s like eating sponge. I even got the extra firm variety, but it was awful. The sauce was good, so I just picked off all the yummy sticky, crispy bits of tofu, and the rest went in the bin. Replacement dinner was peanut butter on toast and a cup of almond milk cocoa!

 

Day 6:

Today was my day with my daughter, so we went to costa, and I had a soya latte. Then I had to bake 48 brownies for the local community party – it’s pretty tough to bake 48 chocolate brownies and not lick the bowl!

Today was my first “proper” workout during vegan week. I went to a bootcamp class at my local gym – I didn’t feel completely on top form, I was possibly a little low on energy (my fitness tracker didn’t log ANY minutes of exercise throughout the 60 minute class!), and all I could think through the whole session was “please don’t throw up that slice of peanut butter on toast I had before I can out!”, but I don’t think the veganism was entirely to blame for my poor performance.

I’d been looking forward to tonight’s dinner all week; vegetable gyoza with veg broth and rice noodles – yum yum! It was a good hearty refuel after my workout, and I went to bed feel proud that I’d resisted the brownies.

 

Day 7:

Well I woke up this morning, had a wash and took a photo of my bare skin. I had kind of hoped for a minor miracle, and that I’d wake up after a week of veganism with beautifully clear skin, looking refreshed and revived. Truth is, whilst there was some improvement to my acne (although possibly just circumstantial), I looked pale, and tired. I haven’t really missed meat this week. But I wasn’t a massive meat eater until I met my husband, so that was never really a huge issue for me. But I think I have missed the feeling of energy it’s given me – I know they say that energy comes from carbohydrates, but all macronutrients have a part to play in your body’s ability to function well, and I wasn’t getting sufficient protein (without added protein powder) to fulfil my body’s requirements.

I missed dairy the most – my daily latte, and the milky tea! But sadly, I think this is one thing I will continue after this week has ended. I’m going to give dairy free a little longer, to see how it impacts on my skin.

What do I think of veganism on the whole?

Well firstly, veganism isn’t all healthy, natural, nourishing foods people think it is. If you’re in a shop and see “vegan chocolate” you go for it, just because it’s vegan. It is so easy to be an unhealthy vegan. You can live off crisps, dairy free chocolate and other alternatives which are basically packed full of additives to make them palatable. Tofu tastes like something that was used to clean my bathroom, and I have no desire to try it again.

This week has definitely made me more aware of how to get more vegetables in my diet, so that’s a massive positive, and I will definitely be having the roasted cauliflower dish again (but with some fish on the side!). I do think there has been a slight improvement to the quality of my skin, which is why I will keep dairy free for a little longer. And it’s possible that I have lost a little body fat (although I don’t weigh myself, but my trousers definitely fit a little better).

I appreciate that many people turn to veganism for ethical reasons. That’s their choice, and I admire their commitment.

But for me, I think if an animal was reared to be eaten, or produce food for human consumption, and that was its life’s destiny, then it’s OK (No troll comments please, we can all appreciate and accept each other’s beliefs).

So unless it’s required for allergy, or ethical reasons, personally, I don’t feel there are many hugely significant benefits to veganism.

Now, I’m off for a sausage sandwich.