Raising the Bar and Moving the Goalposts

A FRUSTRATING side-effect of studying nutrition is that eating healthily becomes both easier and harder.

Easier because your knowledge of what constitutes healthy improves, harder because as your understanding of nutrition becomes more advanced the pool of healthy foods becomes smaller and smaller.

More often than not it turns out bad foods are foods that you enjoy and that taste good. When I was a kid it was mainly junk food - burgers and chips, Chinese take-aways - that were obviously sinful and unhealthy.

In a mis-guided attempt to be healthy I reached for pasta. Pasta was eaten by sophisticated Italian footballers while their disgustingly unhealthy British counterparts threw back battered sausages and chips. Pasta wasn’t deep-fried and wasn’t served on old newspaper alongside a pickled egg so it seemed reasonable that it was healthy.

A few years later, when I was sufficiently smug and comfortable with my ‘healthy eating’ it transpired that white pasta wasn’t in fact good because it was bleached or something.

If I wanted to regain my ‘healthy’ status I’d have to move onto the brown pasta stuff that tasted like white pasta that had fallen on the floor and rolled around in grit.

Then it turns out all pasta is bad. Turns out anything that is processed is on the shit-list. Anything that contains gluten is on another, more serious shit-list. Pasta is both processed and contains gluten. So there’s not much going for the poor little buggar. Today all pasta is a no-no, unless you take part in the Tour de France and in my opinion no food is so good that I’d cycle 200miles a day for a bite.

Healthy beverages haven’t escaped such Stalin-esque revisionism either. Back in the day fizzy drinks were the established sinful drink. Pictures of morbidly obese American children slurping ‘soda’ out of five-gallon drums of Coca Cola illustrated the point.

So I made the painful change to Diet Coke. It took a while to get used to the weird plasticky, non-Coke taste but after a few months of perseverance I never looked back.

Until it turned out diet drinks are now just as bad as their sugar-filled equivalents because the body can’t really tell the difference between sugar and sweeteners so behaves in the same way.

Fruit juices, smoothies and milk again seemed like natural alternative. Smoothies have to be good because they were full of fruit and everyone knows fruit is good right?

Wrong, the reason fruits are sweet and tasty is that they have a form of sugar in them (fructose).

Whole fruits are still quite good for us because as well as containing fructose they have loads of fibre, vitamins and minerals in them. Fibre is hugely important because it that slow down the absorption of the sugar and they have a bunch of great vitamins and minerals. But when you blend fruit up as you do in a smoothie you break down all this essential fibre and accordingly drastically speed up the rate at which you are now absorb sugar.

Milk hasn’t faired much better, while long championed as a healthy option it transpires that many people are allergic to the milk protein lactose so that’s out too.

So where does this leave us? Well when it comes to drinking we don’t have too many options left. Water is still fine, although carbonated water is bad for your teeth according to my dentist, green tea is often championed. But after that there really isn’t much left.

Food-wise we’re left with meats, fish and vegetables and possibly nuts thrown in for good measure. Sweet potatoes have snuck in, as has quinoa. For the more dexterous chefs amongst you this might be a large enough pool to choose from. For a reformed junk-food addict with substantial sweet tooth and a limited cooking repertoire it’s getting harder and harder.