I had a Twitter chat this morning about what we allow or don’t allow our kids to eat or drink and at what age. I’ve blogged several times in the past about my own issues with food and it was becoming a parent that finally prompted me to deal with it all. I’ve written about how I try to achieve balance in my lifestyle and in what I eat. It is so important to me that I pass on to my daughters the same healthy message about food. There is no such thing as “bad” food. Or “guilty” food. It’s how much of it we allow ourselves to eat that’s the crux of it. Butter isn’t bad. But butter an inch thick eaten three times a-day is probably not going to do you any good.
So what am I trying to say here that hasn’t been said before? I’m not sure. It might be that this is just a jumble of thoughts that I need to have typed out in front of me but never publish coz there’s no real point to it.
Fat isn’t bad
This is a message that took a while for my diet-addled brain to appreciate. Fat isn’t bad. It isn’t the enemy. We need a certain amount of fat in our diets. When I vowed never to diet again, a part of this process included giving up low fat substitutes. There was a time when I would only buy something if there was a low fat or fat-free version available – yoghurts, cheese, butter, milk, biscuits, cake, crisps, ready meals, cooking sauces, ice cream. EVERYTHING. It didn’t actually matter that the food wasn’t particularly healthy anyway; that it provided me with very little nutrition at all. All that mattered was that it was low fat and it filled a hole.
Now I’ve realised that all this did was give me a free licence to eat crap. “WHY am I not losing weight??? I don’t understand! The 15 bags of crisps I ate this week were all low fat!” INSANE.
So I stopped. Now I (and everyone in my house, including my two girls) eat proper butter (unsalted but still actual proper block butter), full fat yoghurts, olive or sunflower oil for cooking (rather than the weird synthetic tasting spray stuff that costs the earth). I very rarely buy jarred cooking sauces or ready meals. I do buy semi-skimmed milk, rather than whole milk, but that’s because I prefer the taste. And I really cannot be arsed trimming the fat off my pork chops or the skin off my roast chicken.
And what happened? Have I ballooned to gargantuan proportions? No. Nothing happened. I lost a clothes size during my last pregnancy due to illness but since then, it has remained the same. A steady constant. I eat all of these things in moderation. I stay active.
Sugar versus sweetener
Even the government are peddling the message that sugar is the devil’s work at the moment with that Change for Life advert about swapping drinks for “healthier” alternatives.
Lots of sugar isn’t great. It’s hidden in a lot of ready made processed foods. Even savoury foods you wouldn’t even think of as containing sugar. Cooking sauces, cereal (even “healthy” cereal like muesli), bread, some packaged cooked meats have added sugar, yoghurts. All sorts of foods nowadays have sugar added.
But switching to low sugar or sugar-free alternatives isn’t necessarily the solution. All of these products invariably contain artificial sweeteners. Artifical. Not real. A chemical used to make something taste sweet. Blurgh. I used to consume massive amounts of sweetener. Diet cola (which I drank by the gallon), sugar-free squash, fat-free yoghurts, diet snack bars, two sweeteners in every tea or coffee, sprinkled onto my cereal, used as a substitute in any cakes or biscuits I baked at home. A LOT. Is this a healthy diet? Is it really?
So I stopped. I drink one or two coffees a-day with one sugar in each. I drink one glass of regular Coke in the evening. I don’t add anything to cereal. I only buy Rachel’s or Plum yoghurts for the kids because they only contain fruit juice to sweeten them, rather than sugar or sweeteners. I don’t buy squash at all any more. I have a glass of orange juice with my breakfast, then only water during the day. My girls only drink water, milk or diluted fruit juice. My seven-year-old is allowed a glass of regular lemonade or orangeade on special occasions. They each have a treats box full of sweets (mostly given to them at Hallowe’en, Easter or Christmas), from which they are allowed to choose one thing after dinner every day.
What happened? Have our teeth all rotted away to stumps? Have we all been struck down with Type 2 Diabetes? Are my children bouncing off the walls in a hyper manic state? (Well, yes to that last one but that’s just coz they’re kids.)
No. Nothing happened. When I first gave up sweeteners I had horrible withdrawal headaches for a week or two. But now I feel much better for it. I haven’t had a filling at the dentist for years. My kids don’t have any fillings at all. Sugar is not bad. Too much sugar is bad.
So. Yeah. That’s it really. That’s all I wanted to say. I’m not trying to come across all smuggy and preachy. I hope that’s not how this sounds. I just think there are a lot of mixed messages given to us about health and nutrition these days. Of course I sometimes eat junk. SOMETIMES. But I really believe stripping back your diet and trying to keep it as clean and unprocessed as possible, can do you the world of good.