Eat well, live longer

over_eating_on_couch_anim_500_wht_6531and look younger? Well according to the Times nutritionist Jane Clarke you can achieve all those things by eating better.

By which she means eating less (a low calorie i.e. no more than 1,800 a day, healthy diet is claimed to  add 7-10 years to your lifespan). If you are physically active however you will need more than that.

And eating foods high in anti-oxidants will reduce the cell damage caused by sun, smoke, pollution, burnt meat and rancid fat.

Avoid foods low in transfats, salt, and refined sugars which can increase your blood pressure, add to your weight and increase your risk of heart diseases.

So here is her recommended list of super-foods. Look them up yourself to see specific benefits.

  • Avocado
  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Hemp oil
  • Live yoghurt
  • Oats
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Prunes
  • Sardines
  • Black tea
  • Water

There you have it. Eat, enjoy!

It might also help if you get off your backside and do some exercise!

Protect your memory

head_outline_puzzle_1600_wht_10307Apparently we are experiencing an epidemic of premature memory loss. Scientists are now saying our memory begins to fade at 45 years of age rather than at 60 as was previously believed.

Unfortunately failing mid-life memory – the occasional slips which are referred to as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – could also be an early symptom of senile dementia. This brain disease is now striking people 10 years earlier than it did 20 years ago and is regularly being diagnosed in people in their 40s.

Half of those diagnosed with MCI go on to develop senile dementia. But half don’t so what makes the difference?

There seems to be no simple explanations. Some experts have blamed environmental pollution including exhaust fumes and pesticides. Others have blamed an over-reliance on technology, junk food and our lifestyles generally.

More people are referring themselves to doctors about memory problems. The vast majority suffer from what psychologists have called “security protection overload”. They feel overwhelmed by the numbers, codes and operating systems they need to know to function in a hi-tech environment.

Who hasn’t experienced ‘PIN amnesia’? It happened to me today as I used a credit card I don’t use very often. All my cards have different PINs which I remember pretty much all the time. The stress of getting it wrong and worrying about three strikes and out is enough to interfere with memory recall anyway.

People are using their memory less as they store information on their smartphones. And we’ve seen what happens when people over-rely on sat-navs and end up in a river. The brain is like  a muscle. Use it or lose it!

We have to keep active and our brains active by doing new and different things. Keeping the blood flowing to our brains and making new connections through imagination and planning.

For those of us with middle-aged brains the upside is that we are generally calmer, less neurotic, better in social situations, wiser, and more contented. The Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has tracked the mental abilities of thousands of adults over the past 50 years, has found that middle-aged adults perform better on 4 out of 6 cognitive tests than they did as young adults.

And while middle-aged people can perform tests as well as young people in conditions of silence they are more distracted than them in noisy environments. This might also explain the “doorway amnesia” where we move from one room to another and forget why we are there. The movement breaks our concentration as we are distracted by new stimuli in the new room.

Forgetting is a healthy brain function. You don’t want your brain cluttered up by irrelevant information about previous events when you need to remember something today. People who can’t forget – it’s called hypermythesia – get confused.

Healthy brains allow us to recall information when we need it. The problem is that we don’t always retrieve it efficiently. Our library of information becomes less efficiently managed as we get older.

This post is based on an article in the Times Body and Soul segment which also suggests the following ways to protect your memory.

Walk for 30 minutes a day, three times a week. Regular exercise provides the brain with oxygen and nutrients.

Eat vegetables and nuts. We know mediterranean diets are good for us . Now nutritionists at Rush University Chicago have developed the MIND diet, a specially formulated brain-protecting diet.

Give up transfats. Found in burgers, biscuits and cakes. Designed to increase the shelf-life of food but not people.

Eat less sugar. Studies have shown that high blood glucose can damage brain function. Not to mention sugar ruins your teeth and makes you fat!

Lose weight. It’s not PC to use the F word but obesity is a killer and costs the country a fortune. Overweight people’s memory declines over 20% faster than people of normal weight.

Avoid cigarettes and beer. Middle-aged men drinking two-and-a-half pints of beer a day speed up their memory loss by 6 years. Smoking has also been linked to a faster decline in memory.

Drink strong coffee. Twice a day. It helps middle-aged people do short-term memory tests but appears to have no effect on young people. Caffeine also strengthens brain connections. So there you skinny decaff latte drinkers. Not good for you!

PS Brain training games don’t help. You might get better at the games but that’s all according the the Alzheimer’s society. Same goes for crosswords and Sudoku.

Tesco to withdraw some sugary drinks

pop_bottle_soda_1600_wht_6589-2Tesco says it is withdrawing some bestselling children’s drinks in a bid to tackle obesity.

From September they will stop selling cartons of Ribena, Capri-Sun, and Rubicon.

They will however continue to stock bottles of Ribena and fizzy drinks.

Professor of Cardiology Graham MacGregor, who is Chairman of Action on Sugar, said “This is great news and shows that Tesco is taking the issue of sugar in soft drinks seriously. Children should not be drinking sweet soft drinks and parents should make sure they switch to water instead

Major supermarkets say they are reducing the sugar content of own brand drinks after being criticised.

Tesco said “We want to help our customers make healthier choices and that’s why we have pledged to continue to cut sugar from the food and drink on our shelves


“Healthy” foods can be bad for you

whats_for_dinner_1600_wht_11336An Australian actor, Damon Gameau, conducted an experiment on himself. Over 60 days he ate only foods labelled as healthy.

So he wasn’t consuming cakes and sweets but nevertheless managed to ingest 40 teaspoons of sugar a day.

He didn’t reduce his calorie intake or his exercise regime.

After 18 days he was developing a fatty liver. After 60 days he had Type 2 diabetes.

On day one he decided to start with a healthy breakfast. Special cereals aimed at athletes, apple juice and low fat yoghurt. That was 20 spoonfuls of sugar. Then for lunch he upped that a to 40 spoonfuls by having dried fruit, a juice drink and sesame snaps.

Its well known that many foods sold as healthy are anything but. Low fat or slimmers’  versions usually contain sugar to make up for the reduction in fat which effects the taste.

Based on his experience Gameau made a film called “That sugar Film“(and there’s a book too).51LWS+8hj4L._AA160_

Here’s the trailer for the film:

Scary stuff.

Mums could do better when it comes to baby food

chef_stiring_pot_anim_500_wht_6703Baby foods from leading brands contain far fewer nutrients than home-made food. 

A study by the University of Glasgow, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, found that many contained high levels of sugar.

Some are promoted for babies from 4 months of age when experts think babies should still be on breast milk or formula.

You would have to feed your baby twice as much shop bought baby food as home-cooked food to provide the same level of protein and get the same energy. It’s cheaper and healthier for your baby to make your own.

Researchers at the university said “The UK infant food market mainly supplies sweet, soft, spoonable foods targeted from age 4 months… that are no more energy dense than formula milk and generally less nutritionally dense than home-made foods”.

The National Childbirth Trust say that babies don’t generally need solid foods until around 6 months.

Fruit juices not as healthy as you think

watermelon_sway_summer_drink_500_wht_488We tend to think of fruit juices as healthy, natural drinks, even part of our 5-a-day.

What we forget is that they have a high natural sugar content.

Under the new traffic light system of health warnings on food and drink items juices will get a red warning to indicate their high sugar content.

The traffic light system is part of the the government’s battle to reduce obesity and under the scheme any serving of drink with more than 13.5g (about 1/2 oz) of sugar, including naturally occurring sugar, will have to carry this warning.

A drink equivalent to a large wine glass (250ml) of fruit juice contains 23 g of sugar with fruit smoothies such as pineapple, banana and coconut even more at 30g (more than an ounce).

All the main supermarkets and some manufacturers have signed up to the scheme which is voluntary. Pepsi Coal has signed up but their rivals Coca Cola – which now owns (not so) Innocent smoothies has decided not to support the scheme as they don’t want the red warning on their cans of cola and bottles of smoothies.

Barry Popkin, an American scientist who first warned of the dangers to health of fizzy drinks, says “juices and smoothies represent the new risk to health” and doesn’t believe they should be part of the 5-a-day campaign.

This is about natural fruit drinks, let’s not even start on the dangers of diet drinks!

Natural Food. Really?

sweeten_the_pot_1600_wht_7039I’ve posted about diet drinks and Lite foods elsewhere and also about the amount of sugar in our diet.

The Sunday Times revealed this week that many best-selling supermarket meals and snacks contain more sugar than a can of Coca-Cola.

Even worse these items are described as “natural“. For example Kellogg’s natural wheat bran cereal contains 20g per 100g and their Honey Hoops 29g per 100g.

Among other products with high sugar content are ready meals, sauces, soups, and low-fat yoghurts, all of which had sugar levels considered high under NHS guidelines in which anything with less than 5g per 100g is considered low; and anything with over 15g per 100g high.(Note that low fat doesn’t mean low sugar).

Obesity campaigners blame the government for allowing the food and drinks industry to lace its products with sugar described as “wasted calories with no nutritional content“.

Other examples include Tesco’s 250g pack of oriental crispy chilli beef which contains 49g of sugar – or half the recommended daily limit. A 500g jar of Uncle Ben’s oriental lemon chicken sauce with ginger contains more sugar than 2.5 Mars bars (well it is made by Mars). And if you thought cranberry juice was healthy, a litre of Ocean Spray contains almost 12% sugar (119g), more than a 330ml can of Coca-Cola (35g).

Producers say that since they reduced salt food can have an acidic taste so they counter it by putting in sugar. Other say they use sugar as a preservative.

Now the government is planning to introduce a new warning scheme for shoppers so they can tell which products are high in sugar or salt 

At present a traffic light system is used by Sainsbury’s and Asda but Tesco and Morrisons use labelling relating to the proportion of sugar, salt and fat in each product compared to recommended guidelines.

Under the new scheme products will have red lights if they have more than 17.5g of fat per 100g, more than 5g per 100g of saturated fat, more than 22.5g per 100g of sugar, and more than1.5g of salt per 100g.

Sounds like good news for consumers. Unfortunately the government is not prepared to legislate and the scheme is voluntary. No doubt supermarkets will, as usual, be finding ways round it.

Nutritionists believe that the industry will only act if there is a nation-wide agreement and Which?, the consumer group says, “with a quarter of the UK population obese it’s vitally important that people know what’s in their food” and “Consumers are choosing low-fat and light options believing them to be healthier but our research  has found that in many cases they are not living up to their healthy image”.