Do you ever find it tricky to know what diet suits you best? Or perhaps you have lost weight but you find it hard to maintain unless you are extremely strict and focused? The problem is that many diets tell you to eat processed foods that are on the shelves of supermarkets and stores, rather than eating nutrient dense foods that are better for you because they are real, unprocessed food, and this is the key, these have a positive effect on our wellbeing.

The Problem with Processed Foods in our Diet

This is where the problem arises: by eating many processed foods we increase our sugar intake. Sugar is one of the ultimate complications contributing to weight gain, obesity and diabetes. Not exercising and a sedentary lifestyle are also huge factors to being unhealthy and obese.
It has been proven that sugar is the main culprit of the above conditions. The yo-yo effects of sugar in our bloodstream play havoc with our mood throughout the day. We can start to recognise the effects of sugar and the hidden sugars contained in processed food, we can recognise their detrimental effects on our bodies.

We gain weight for a start. Our bad white fat is activated (this ‘white fat’ is the fat that causes obesity). If we have more, good brown fat this is what is used to help us exercise and lose weight. Then we wouldn’t have such problems with battling with weight.

From around about ten thousand years ago, grains have been eaten increasingly more as farm techniques and the pressures of increased population and mouths to feed have increased. These primitive and increasing needs were the precursor to what we now have in our supermarkets, in the form of quick and convenient, processed foods. ‘Fake’ food, for want of a better term. 20th Century big food companies have created products, which are so much more homogenized and packed full of unnecessary chemical additives, produced in vast stainless steel industrial vats.  Under the all permeating umbrella of profitability, these chemicals might add to a longer shelf life.

Our metabolism and digestive system have still not adapted to these ‘fake’ foods. But their knock on affect is cumulative, seen in minor to major health problems within the population devouring them in sake of low price and convenience.  The expression ‘food on the go’ should never exist!

By eating smaller amounts frequently, ‘grazing’ if you will, is the perfect way to keep our metabolism operating cleanly in our favour. Eating like this, and snacking here and there on foods such as nuts and berries can kick start our bodies into much healthier way of living. Expressions such as ‘well, it filled a whole’ will not be needed, when we can appreciate and savour all the excellent and variety of food we in the western would have accessibility to.

Sugar Rush and Crash

Hidden sugars hit our blood sugar levels hard. Our blood sugar falls on an empty stomach and usually active at the same time. The brain itself is incredibly energy consuming – something we all ironically forget. Our blood sugar plummets, and we seek a quick fix in the form of something fast, easy, usually cheap and available to eat. We are rewarded in the short term with a delicious energy filled sugar rush, but then the sugar is burnt up and we crash again.

It’s the same with coffee, it’s the same with alcohol, in the latter’s case it being called the dreaded hangover.

Even seemingly healthy options such as fruit juices, syrups, honey and smoothies can have this effect.  Spiking sugar levels, followed by an inevitable rebound and crash effect. The liver then has a labour intense job to do and can struggle to keep things ‘normal’. This cycle can also lead to weight gain. As for the sugar rush we crave, we are almost always not burning off the deluge of calories we are putting in.

There is also the effect of fructose on our bodies by the form of which can get dumped onto our livers. So much fructose becomes too much for the liver, so we put on the extra calories in the form of fat. Fine during the hunter gatherer epochs of our cave men ancestors. But this doesn’t work with our lifestyles now -central heating, nice clothes and a cushy sit down office that many of us spend our lives in.

A Diet of Fresh Food

By trying to eat as much as we can in the way of fresh food we aren’t going to put on weight. This is, as long as our portions are balanced and we are keeping our blood sugar levels balances.

By eating Paleo it gets us feeling healthier and very much in touch with our bodies.  Foods such as white rice, pasta and bread, which have no nutritional value whatsoever, should be eaten minimally.  If we eat more nutritious grains like spelt, quinoa, millet and brown rice they are kinder to our systems so blood sugar isn’t spiked therefore no crashing.
The Paleo diet incorporates biologically happy nutrition, found in amongst others: lean meats, fish, shellfish, eggs, nuts, vegetables and root vegetables, fruit, berries and mushrooms. It is based on ‘clean’ eating, which is requires a little extra preparation but pays off many fold in our sense of vitality and wellbeing. This diet will put a spring in your step.

We should avoid processed food as much as we can if we just go back to basics and use whole foods when we cook.  Making this at least 80 to 90 % of our meals avoiding huge quantities of sugar.

Recently in Italy, it occurred to me yet again, that the Italian cuisine depends so much less on processed food being part of a meal. Food is something that is taken much more seriously and dinner is a time of sanctuary.  Compared to the rest of Europe, Italy is brilliantly proud in having proportionally so fewer fast food outlets or commercial coffee shops. It speaks volumes about the importance of cuisine and culture to its people, and their excellent health in its genuine form is extremely akin to the Mediterranean diet.

It’s okay to have the occasional fast food takeaway, or the odd highly processed microwave meal. But if illnesses – minor or major – are to be avoided, then a balanced diet of real food can do this for you.

Fat is NOT the Cause of Weight Gain, Sugar is

As long as small quantities of fat are eaten then we will lower our risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Sadly, as a nation people are getting bigger because of the processed food that is laced with sugar.

Lean protein is beneficial, but not too much. Fruit in its natural form is great and avoid drinking fruit juice as this causes a huge sugar hit. Eat good grains like quinoa, millet, brown rice and barley, which are slow release. And small quantities of fats like cheese and butter are okeydokey in sensible quantities.

The more one eats the more one wants. Sugar hits the reward centre of the brain and after eating it the brain craves more. Have you noticed this? After something sweet or something processed, we want more of it. Have you ever eaten a whole bar of chocolate but intending to eat only couple of squares? The fashionable incorporation of Mindfulness in what we do, in -this case eating- works. We can taste, take time over and savour each and every small mouthful, no guzzling down or filling a hole. Appreciating the sensations of the food and the gentle energy giving properties they give to us.

Rosalia Barresi – Complementary Therapist and Nutritionist, Oxfordshire

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