You are what you eat as the old adage runs – and all the evidence suggests that the huge increase in the average weight of the UK's population is due to precisely that… we are, fuelled by convenience, increasingly champing our way through the heavily promoted products of the ‘food industry’ which are all too often laced with the addictive sweetening agents and fats that are not only guaranteed to make you put on weight, but to make sure that you to keep coming back for more.
More than half of us are unhealthily overweight – still slightly behind the Americans, but only just – and it’s not just adults: the rise in morbid obesity in children is particularly scary as fat children are actually developing more fat cells rather than doing what adults do, which is simply overfilling the ones they already have. This makes it incredibly difficult for them to lose weight without existing in a state of semi-starvation … for life.
Part of #5stepping is to make sure you don’t eat the wrong food … and then to kick on and make sure your diet is laced with the ‘superfoods’ that can add to your health: it doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat a Big Mac again but, in the same way that cutting out some of the caffeine and alcohol helps reduce toxins and empty calories, putting in place good food habits can benefit you and all those around you – and those habits begin on the high street or more probably the out of town hypermarket because, the way we shop has changed beyond all recognition. In a single generation, supermarkets have replaced individual high street shops; you can now buy what used to be seasonal fruit and vegetables twelve months a year; and exotic, occasional treats have become weekly staples.
The way we live has also changed: Dad still does out to work but Mum no longer stays at home to cook and clean, she works too … and then comes home to cook and clean! Sex equality has come a long way since the 1970s but rather than both parents cooking, all too often neither parent cooks and this is having an impact on the nutritional wellbeing of our children who will be the first generation since the industrial revolution who have an average life expectancy that is less than their parents.
Fifty years ago, convenience food was baked beans on toast (pretty healthy in a number of ways) and takeaways were Fish and Chips on Fridays. Microwave ovens hadn’t been invented and, on most days, the family sat down together at the table to eat a meal that had been cooked from scratch using local, seasonal ingredients. There were almost no artificial sweeteners and no pre-packaged meals.
It is ironic that, in an era when cookery programmes dominate the airwaves and cookery books the best-seller lists, cooking at home all too often involves popping a ready meal in the microwave and eating it in front of Masterchef.
So, the next step that #5steppers need to take is to shop for ingredients rather than for meals. Buy a basic cookbook and buy locally sourced meat and seasonal vegetables (both are ethically, environmentally and probably medically better for you). List out your meals for the week, source your ingredients and buy them; if you’re pressed for time on a Wednesday, cook a double batch on Saturday and freeze the surplus … then you can use the microwave to defrost a meal whose provenance and contents are known to you in detail.
No emulsifiers, no e-numbers, no preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, no colouring, just good food, which is a healthy as you want to make it. Food just like Gran used to buy and cook … and Gran knew a thing or two about budgeting: ingredients cost a lot less than meals that have been prepared for you – so proper, old-fashioned shopping is a key ingredient for health and wealth!