Are your jeans sitting comfortably? Time to take a long, hard look at what’s on your plate …
Good manners suggest politics, religion and sex have no place in polite conversation. I think it’s safe to say, nutrition trumps them all. My own views have drastically changed over the last 20 years; in one of Sophie Dahl’s excellent cookbooks, she suggested you wouldn’t send your child to school with a can of Diet Coke and a Marlboro Light, so why would you think that was an appropriate way to start your own day? But that’s exactly what many of us did in our twenties. Maybe your thirties were the time to come to terms with all the stupid dietary mistakes of your twenties. But your forties are the time when you gracefully acknowledge that squeezing into skinny jeans cannot be done by starving yourself for 2-3 days (and dropping half a stone) and anyway, those jeans look kind of ridiculous. It’s a time when looking well is just one of the perks of eating well and finding your exercise groove. Your goals change, and health – rather than appearances – start to dictate what lifestyle you support. I mean, does anyone even smoke anymore? How many women do you meet who are now giving up booze and loving the extra 20 per cent of vitality it gives them? Is middle age the time we start to think a little more critically – and confidently – about how we do things?
I hope so. My food journey is one that was kick-started due to breast cancer and trying to understand what I could do to stay lean and not interrupt treatment. I also wanted to avoid foods that would spike my blood glucose and required large amounts of insulin to be metabolised. Research and a Masters in Food & Gastronomy made me question all those old adages we are told, but rarely question. Saturated fat is bad (it’s not) low fat is best (not anymore), eat little and often (that particular slogan was trotted out by food companies!) and a diet abundant in fruit, vegetables and wholegrain is the best. Well, not for everyone.
The best diet is the one you can stick to: for some this does mean “little and often” and for others it’s vegan. The most important part is that whatever way you eat, ensuring the diet is well designed for optimum nutrient intake is the crucial bit. Calcium, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium and potassium are just some of the minerals and nutrients we require. But do any of us plan our meals thinking about how to get these nutrients and the essential 13 vitamins we need for good health onto the dinner table? Interestingly, as more people turn to alternative diets – or give up certain foods – it’s helpful to get informed about where the best sources of vitamins and minerals come from. For example, when we think of calcium, we think dairy and fortified foods, like cereals. But greens (especially kale and spinach) tinned salmon (with the bones in it) and sesame seeds (tahini anyone?) are all great sources of non-dairy calcium. Organ meats are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat, which is why I try to add chicken livers to any sort of ragout sauce. We also know that fat is essential to our health (or rather, the essential Omega 3 and 6 are essential) as is protein. But if you are going to go vegan, it’s critical that you supplement and get educated about what you could be missing – studies show that vegans are at a higher risk of having inadequate blood levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc. Frustratingly many processed foods can be labelled “vegan” (implying health) but vegan burgers and ice-creams are heavily processed – in other words, no amount of “vegan” branding will ever make them healthy.
Our forties are a time when weight stays on and is reluctant to be removed. Our hormones are going crazy and everything seems to be in disruptive mode. For me, I find that my priorities are good quality sleep (and often going to bed at 9.30pm), a religious dedication to exercise 30 minutes per day which includes resistance training, boxing and yoga. Intermittent fasting is also a big part of my week – especially for a greedy guts like myself whose entire work-life revolves around food and needs to keep an eye on weight (or rather body fat).
I want my diet to be nutritious, anti-inflammatory and to promote gut health. I don’t want to feel hangry and I need to stay trim – not just for vanity, but health. For me, that’s done by eating a low carb diet – but that doesn’t mean putting pounds of butter in my coffee and eating steak for breakfast. Rather it’s a diet that is full of non-starchy vegetables, natural healthy fats and small amounts of good quality protein with lots of herbs and spices for added health benefits. Whatever way you choose to eat – please remember that if your diet is causing you to stress and is making you miserable, you are probably undoing any of the good work accomplished. So remember, food is not just about health. It’s also about pleasure, culture and community – and that is all the justification we need when enjoying a cracking good dinner with our friends and family.
Are you ageing gracefully, beautifully, happily – or could you do with a little inspiration and encouragement? Visit #InspirationalAgeing where we are we are discovering the ingredients for a happy and fulfilled life after 40