New ways of approaching food and cooking

The amount of sugar we eat is the leading cause of many chronic lifestyle diseases that are so common today: diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s – it all comes down to too much sugar.

It’s easy enough to say ‘cut out sugar’, but how can we cut it out? How do we know how much sugar are you eating? And do we know how much sugar is in the foods we eat in the first place? Probably not.

So, let’s play a game to see what we understand about sugar.

Which contains more sugar? West Country Yoghurt or a Famous Energy Drink?

Which would you guess has more sugar? Probably the energy drink, right?

The yoghurt is made of 20% sugar! Twenty grams of sugar for every 100 grams. The labeling is confusing because the pot contains 150 grams. So, when you eat the entire pot you’re eating 30 grams of sugar.

The yoghurt has more sugar weight for weight compared to the energy drink, but it does have some benefits. Calcium, some protein and a bit of fat. Not much, but the energy drink has full-on, hard core sugar and nothing but.

There is 11 grams of sugar for every 100 mL in the energy drink, but the can is 473 mL making it 52 grams of sugar in the entire can. That’s more than twice of what’s recommended for the whole day.

It’s recommended that our daily sugar intake be no more than 24 grams. That’s six measured teaspoons of sugar. So when eating the yoghurt we already eat more than what we should.

Let’s compare the granola to the yoghurt. When you think of granola you probably consider it a healthy option. Well, there are 31 grams of sugar for every 100 grams and the serving size is 25 grams. The granola is worse for you than the yoghurt.

How about the Granola VS. a Sugary Kids Cereal?

The total amount of sugar in the cereal is 27 grams for every 100 grams! If you were shopping and you wanted to make a healthy choice you’d go for the granola wouldn’t you? The granola and sugary cereal is comparable – they both have a high sugar content.

A “Healthier” cereal actually has 20 grams of sugar for every 100 grams. Like the yoghurt, it is 20% sugar.

The truth is, highly processed foods are designed to be hyper palatable, that are made to make you want to eat a lot, with a ton of salt and sugar in them. They are made to make you want to eat more. Money is spent on these products to make them taste really good.

And the truth is, even more money is spent on persuading you to eat them by packaging them with phrases such as, “delicious,” “taste tested by customers,” great taste, award winning,” and “a good source of protein.” The print of the nutritional facts is small and difficult to find.

We’re bombarded with messages to eat more sugar and even when we know we shouldn’t and are trying not to it becomes difficult because it’s sneaked in.

You would think the yoghurt would be something you give to a child for breakfast. Well, what does starting the day with 30 grams of sugar do to a young child?

Let’s break it down:

They eat 30 grams of sugar before their day has even started. By mid-morning (10am) they’re hungry again because their insulin levels have spiked and crashed. They’ll have a hard time to concentrate at school. They’ll be fidgety. It will be difficult for them to sit still. At lunchtime they’ll want more sugar because their blood sugar would have dipped correspondingly because of the high earlier on. They want more sugar so they’ll fill up on chips, bread and pasta. When they come home in the afternoon they’re desperate for more snacks and it is a never ending cycle.

It’s so easy when you think you’re doing the right thing to set up a cascade of undesirable behaviors. You don’t want children or yourself to be struggling with sugar problems.

The truth is, sugar goes straight to fat.
Sugar = fat. Fat in your tummy, your thighs and all around your organs.

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For years, we have been led to believe that food is about convenience and entertainment.  Consequently, our supermarkets and take-aways are full of quick, easy eats that satisfy all our cravings in one hit.  And the cheaper it is, the better.  Or is it?

In the race for consumers, there is an obvious split in the market between cheap, convenient, volume driven foods, vs Artisan foods which have a reputation for being unnecessarily expensive and only for a certain type of customer.

But what is really going on here?  Instead of asking why are Artisan foods so expensive, perhaps we should be wondering what it is that makes mass-produced food so cheap?

The answer to both these questions lies in the way ingredients are sourced and the methodology of production. With artisan foods, the producer focuses on local and seasonal primary produce, free of synthetic chemicals with maximized freshness and minimal processing. Traditional techniques are used, by which the products are non-standardized and produced in small batches by hand.  Obviously there are fewer economies of scale in this model.

On the contrary, convenience foods are volume driven, focusing on a high yield, efficiency, standardization and a low cost final product, seemingly ideal for a population that is always on the go and looking to save money. In order to achieve these ‘benefits’ however, there are a number of  methods used in the manufacture of  fast moving consumer foods which not only deplete their nutritional value, but which make them potentially toxic: factory farming with intensive methods to rear livestock to gain maximum outputs at the cheapest cost possible and the use of synthetic chemicals and genetic modification to standardise quality and flavour.

In the UK, we eat more ready meals than any other country in Europe, spending £2.6 billion a year. Being able to grab something that is cheap and quick to eat is obviously very convenient, yet most of these foods provide little to no nutritional value and are loaded with excess sodium, sugar and trans fats, significantly contributing to health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Convenience may  seem an attractive advantage, but plastic leaches into your ready meal from the container as you microwave it; you are in fact paying a huge premium for the convenience of not knowing exactly what you are eating.

Luxury branded convenience foods offer higher quality ingredients such as free-range chicken and premium grade eggs, but basic ready meals have to cut costs somehow, with the answer being to use cheap off cuts and fillers. A standard chicken dinner may claim to contain 25% ‘meat’, yet this ‘meat’ may often be taken from a part of the animal that is not normally considered food – I am thinking feet and coxcombs here. Transglutaminase (doesn’t sound like something you want to be eating I’m sure), a super strength enzyme, is often used to bond slabs of cheap meat together to form one uniform joint, creating the impression of a larger quality piece. Collagen, a powdered protein, is also often added. When combined with water, it swells and becomes bouncy and glutinous to make up for a lack of actual meat. However, its not just meat products that don’t live up to be all that they may seem: a well-known circular, convex ‘potato’ crisp (am I being sufficiently coy?), hardly contains enough potato (only 42%) to be considered a potato product.  And the potato that is used has been so highly processed and de-natured that it certainly contains none of the nutrition of the original potato. Butif they were to describe it as a ‘combination of rice, wheat, corn and potato flakes pressed into shape, with added sweeteners, emulsifiers and colourings’, that doesn’t quite have the marketing zing that the manufacturers are looking for.

In the UK, processed bakery products are worth £3.6 billion pounds, and it is one of the largest markets in the food industry (that alone speaks volumes about our average diet).  We also product some of the least expensive bread in Europe, and with this lower price comes lower quality and added ingredients. A basic bread dough contains four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast (which would be expected in a homemade, or artisan loaf), yet mass produced factory breads contain a vast number of added ingredients and processing aids that are not required to be declared on product labels. Enzymes are added to help the dough hold more gas, creating a lighter texture and helping the bread stay softer for longer, hard fats are added to improve loaf volume, crumb softness and extend the shelf life, and chlorine dioxide gas is added to flour to whiten it to have that aesthetically pleasing colour. Further additives and flavouring agents are added to products, such as sugars in the form of glucose syrup and maltodextrin, and concentrated salts such as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) are used to boost flavour and mask cheap ingredients. However, processed sweeteners such as these contain addictive chemicals that trigger brain neurons causing you to crave the foods more.

With artisan foods, on the other hand, you know exactly what you are paying for and exactly what has gone into the product.  Small batches may cost more to produce, but they don’t need as many additives and preservatives. In this day and age with 1 in 2 of us likely to get cancer in our lifetime, spending a little extra on a loaf of bread may not be such a bad thing after all!

If you are interested in a more natural, healthy approach to buying food, then check out the Prüv Emporium.  It’s a highly curated market place and online resource for the healthy foodie, making it that little bit easier to make positive choices.