Nutrition hit the headlines again a few weeks ago, with the UK government promising that that this time things will be different. As the pandemic has emerged, it has become apparent that there is a link between the width of our waistlines and the severity Covid-19 symptoms. The fatter we are, the more likely we are to have severe symptoms of coronavirus. So Boris Johnston and his pals want us to lose weight by counting calories and cycling more.
With bans on TV advertising for junk food before 9pm, a swanky new app and calorie counts to be listed on foods eaten away from home, these measures may be full of good intentions, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. So why will it be different this time?
We eat food that we know is bad for us for so many different reasons. Maybe we are bored or stressed, so we eat chocolate. Maybe we are busy, so we skip lunch and eat crisps to keep us going instead. Maybe we don’t know how to cook, so we put a ready meal in the microwave.
If these habits are a once-in-a-while treat it’s not great, but it’s not too much of a problem, but when they become our daily routine then we get fatter and sicker. Junk food is highly addictive and it is just as harmful to our health as smoking.
What is the answer?
Eating highly nutritious balanced meals that are affordable, tasty and easy to make is the key. Banning advertising or pizza and crisps is one thing, but let’s celebrate eating real food.
There is no easy answer to losing weight. It takes willpower and determination. But it also takes knowledge. Knowledge of what makes a healthy balanced diet, and knowledge of how to cook.
I think that lockdown has been a great opportunity for lots of people to rediscover their kitchen outside the microwave and get cooking again but as a society we are missing the fundamentals of good nutrition. Plenty of us leave home with no idea of how to cook ourselves a decent meal.
With lockdown we have seen food poverty reach all-time highs in our neighbouring towns and villages. Food banks are stretched beyond capacity as many people struggle to make ends meet.
We can eat well on a tight budget but we need to teach people what to do with ingredients like pulses, whole grains and fresh vegetables.
Maybe governments should be looking at this another way. Rather than vilify fast food, let’s celebrate healthy food. What about Buy One Get One Free offers fruit and vegetables? Advertising healthy whole foods instead of junk food before and after the 9pm watershed? Quick adverts for healthy recipes.
Not all calories are equal
Calories from fats are the units of energy that still get lambasted at every opportunity, with low-fat foods being hailed as the holy grail of weight loss by outdated dietary advice.
We are encouraged to eat low-fat yoghurt that doesn’t fill us up, low-calorie snacks that will leave us wanting more and processed diet food that tastes of nothing in a bid to lose weight so we will feel better about ourselves.
A diet packed with real food – vegetables, lentils, nuts, wholegrains, some meat and fish, some full-fat dairy products, some locally grown fruit, all seasoned with plenty of herbs, spices and a little sea salt is not expensive. Packed with flavour and full of good nutrition, this is the sort of food we need to eat to feel full, keep our waistlines trim and support our physical, mental and emotional health.
Make one small change in the right direction today. What will you change?
This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 1st August 2020.