I’ve been reminded recently of what we all ate when I was a teenager and young adult in the eighties and nineties. Do you remember?
We were the generation who were inculcated with a fear of fat – and especially that evil menace called saturated fat. In our pursuit of a healthy diet, we put fat-free dressing on our salads and sunflower margarine on our reduced-fat cheese sandwiches. We swapped breakfast eggs for packaged cereals, or processed concoctions such as “pop tarts” (a toastable biscuit with 35% sugar). We religiously counted our Calories.
We were also the generation who saw an explosive increase in processed foods. Mashed potato was replaced by instant “smash”, made from dehydrated potato flakes, and gravy became hydrolysed vegetable protein. Whole fruit was replaced by cartons of reconstituted juice. Ice cream (once made from cream and sugar) became a concoction of skimmed milk powders, vegetable fats, stabilisers, emulsifiers, artificial colours and flavours. We obtained our protein from nitrite-preserved bacon, frozen meat patties and orange-crumbed fish fingers.
Do you remember attending aerobics classes, decked out in sweatbands and fluorescent leg-warmers like the kids from Fame? And attempting to work out exactly how many Calories one had worked off, and whether we could allow ourselves a coke? Or were you trying to cut down on sugar and going with the Diet variety?
I’ve been reminded of all this while reading “The Obesity Code” by Jason Fung, a fascinating book which comprehensively sets out the state of current knowledge on the causes of obesity – and how completely, horrifically, wrong we were.
Turns out it wasn’t the fat that was making us fat. Apparently it’s raised insulin levels that are to blame, and what causes raised insulin levels? You guessed it, all the refined carbs and sugars in the highly processed junk we’d been conned into thinking was healthy. And no, the massive fructose hits in our fruit juices weren’t doing us any good either.
Oh yeah, and there’s some new stuff in this book, too. If you’re thinking to go on the paleo diet, or keto, it turns out animal proteins (thought to be low GI and hence healthy) cause insulin secretion too. As do artificial sweeteners.
Perhaps the most important (and neglected) piece of wisdom in this book is this: it is not only what we eat that is important, but when. If we snack between meals, we are creating constant insulin hits and not allowing our bodies to cycle into a low insulin state.
Apparently, if we want to lose some fat, the best way is to periodically fast. By eating normally some days and fasting on others we avoid the fall in metabolic rate which scupper our efforts at dieting by a daily reduction in calories.
So yeah, it seems we should have been listening to the advice of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents to the nth degree. Cut down on sugar, eat whole, natural foods (none of this processed junk) and a moderate amount of (full fat) animal produce. Don’t snack between meals and follow feasting with fasting.
And here’s the thing which I can’t quite get my head around, as a member of my generation:
We are allowed to eat butter (and lard and dripping), the crispy chicken skin and the pork crackling.
Yes, really, I kid you not. Go on, I dare you…