The fundamental objective is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates being consumed and largely replace them with the healthy fats. You should make the changes gradually so that your body can activate its fat burning capabilities. The approach should be try out a variety of different strategies, so that you can identify those that are feasible and acceptable to you and to the other members of your household.
Focus on sugar initially
The starting point really has to focus on sugar and as much as possible should be eliminated. If sugar is used in tea or coffee if you cut it out altogether your taste buds will soon adjust if you persist. If possible, it is best not to use sweeteners, especially saccharin and aspartame. Some information on sugar-free baking is available here (1). The big problem is that sugar is present in so many processed foods. Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are full of sugar and certainly should not be consumed very day. Ideally find an alternative. Although fruit juices are perceived as healthy they do contain sugar and so should only be consumed in small quantities. Unfortunately sugar is included as an ingredient in a very wide range of foods. It you look at the ingredients, glucose, sucrose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, molasses and fruit syrup are all used to indicate a form of sugar. Probably the most insidious products which are promoted as “low fat” or “diet” and therefore portrayed as “healthy” to consumers. The reality is that these are invariably formulated by removing the fat and replacing it with sugar and/or sweeteners. Choosing these means you suffer a double whammy because the nutritious fat has been lost and replaced by sugar, which is damaging to health. Although it is to be expected that sugar will be present in biscuits, cakes and confectionery, it will also be found in savoury products such as soups, pasta sauce, bread, crisps, sauces, pizzas and baby foods. Many breakfast cereals, including some mueslis are major sources of sugar.
Just eat real food
Ideally if you are genuinely interested in modifying your habitual diet the best way by far is to limit processed foods as much as possible and prepare your own food at home using your own ingredients. So the emphasis in this section will be on what to buy and how to prepare a variety of meals that will be healthy and tasty.
Careful with starchy foods
In addition to the sugars, it will be necessary to limit those foods which are rich in carbohydrates. Essentially these are bread, potatoes, rice and pasta which contain starch which is broken down during digestion to release glucose that is absorbed into the blood. If these foods are refined then the glucose will be released quickly causing a rapid rise in the blood concentration. Hence insulin has to be produced to cope with it. The refining also means that fibre and vitamins are probably removed. Therefore it is best to choose whole grain varieties if possible when these foods are being used. Health problems may be encountered with wheat and wheat products. Some people are gluten intolerant for example. So it may be preferable to choose other cereals such as oats and rye, which tend to release the glucose quite slowly.
If it accepted that processed foods are kept to a minimum this means that there will have to be preparation in the home. The key to success is to ensure that there is a supply of ingredients available so that the resulting dishes have a composition which is low in carbohydrates and has all the appropriate fats.
This a challenge which demands a fundamental change in mind set. So much of what has been drilled into us has been wrong. It is essential to appreciate that the SFAs which in past have been condemned are actually important nutrients and therefore should become a regular part of the diet. On the other hand, the PUFAs which have been promoted as healthy because they “lower cholesterol” should be avoided because that rationale is no longer valid. Furthermore as the PUFAs are primarily omega-6s, increasing consumption simply pushes up the omega-6: omega-3 ratio to values that not consistent with good health. On the contrary, we need to reduce the omega-6s and increase the omega-3s in order to reduce the ratio. This is believed to be one of the critical factors which was responsible for the dramatic reduction in deaths due to heart disease and all causes in the Lyon Heart Study. Similarly as explained above the “low fat” versions cannot be remotely considered as healthy.
The Real Meal Revolution in South Africa
With respect to the carbohydrates, a very useful guide has been devised by Professor Tim Noakes and his colleagues in South Africa, which classifies foods as green, orange or red, as determined by the content of carbohydrates (2). Here are some examples:
GREEN which are very low in carbohydrate content and so there is no limit on the amount that may be consumed. Eggs, fresh meat, high quality sausages, cottage cheese, cream, butter, olive oil, coconut oil, duck fat, pumpkin seeds, pecan seeds, all green leafy vegetables, avocados, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes.
ORANGE which contain a medium amount of carbohydrates (between 6 and 25%) and should not be consumed in excessive amounts. Apples, bananas, blackberries, gooseberries, grapes, oranges, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, cashew nuts and butternut squash.
RED which contain lots of carbohydrates and should only be eaten occasionally. Flour, bread, cakes, biscuits, couscous, rice, pasta, thickening agents, all processed foods, fruit juice, potatoes, legumes, beetroot, peas, parsnips and of course sugar in any shape or form as well as any foods which has sugar as an ingredient.
The full lists can be obtained from the website (2). It is important to understand that the changes should be introduced gradually. This information may be used as a guide and to help getting tunes in to the new concepts. It should not be interpreted too literally. While all of the items on the red list are high in carbohydrates, some are excellent sources of other important nutrients including minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Beetroot has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve stamina and lower the risks of cancer (3). Green peas lower the risks of developing T2D despite the relatively high content of carbohydrates and are a good source of omega-3s (4). Parsnips are a good source of many minerals and vitamins and therefore may be used instead of potatoes (5).
Nevertheless the green list should be regarded as the starting point and used as the basis for purchasing supplies. It is well worth consulting the full list because there may be items there which have not normally been used in your household. There are a number of foods which are now recognized as especially nutritious (6). These include:
These are an excellent source of phytonutrients and a range of vitamins and minerals. Tomatoes contain lycopene which is a very effective antioxidant, which reduces the risk of strokes and various cancers, especially cancer of the prostate in men.
Avocados are rich sources of monounsaturated fat and help the body absorb fat-soluble nutrients from other foods. They also provide close to 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and folic acid. They are also effective in reducing inflammation and in protecting the liver.
Berries have high concentrations of phytochemicals which boost the immunity, prevent cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease, and prevent seasonal allergies. They contain much lower levels of sugar than many fruits. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and can prevent premature aging.
They are rich in vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), fisetin, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, manganese, silica, and fiber, and can help the body eliminate toxins. They contain lignans which can help to reduce the risk of many cancers including those of the breast, uterus, ovary and prostate. The presence of certain phytonutrients strongly inhibit cancer cell development.
All types of greens
Most green vegetables are extremely nutritious. Examples include watercress, chard, spinach, lettuce, kale, dandelion leaves and beet greens.
Using the seeds to grow sprouts will provide concentrated nutrients which are even more beneficial than the mature vegetables. Examples include include alfalfa, mung bean, wheatgrass, peas, broccoli, and lentils. The sprouts from sunflower and watercress are particularly nutritious. They are rich in oxygen and can help protect against abnormal cell growth, viruses and certain pathogenic bacteria. It is easy to grow sprouts in the kitchen.
Preparation and cooking
It is important to have a good breakfast. Many of the cereal products found in the supermarkets are high in sugar and if consumed at breakfast will cause a build-up of glucose in the blood. The insulin will then direct the glucose to the liver where it is converted into fat and stored. So it is not in the least surprising that the person soon feels hungry again and may well have a mid-morning snack. When this process is continually repeated the inevitable result is eventually obesity. Porridge made from oats is an excellent food for breakfast because the glucose is released slowly. Nuts, seeds, berries, cream and perhaps a little honey can be added to the porridge. Eggs are also ideal for breakfast and can be boiled, fried, scrambled or used to make an omelette. The advantage of the fat is that it is utilised effectively to meet the requirements of the body so that satiation is achieved. This means the person can keep going until lunch time or longer.
In the summer months there is plenty of scope for preparing salads using plenty of greens which can be supplemented with sprouted seedlings. Boiled eggs, cold meats and cheeses can be used as well. Any number of vegetables including carrots, celery, kale and peppers can be used for dips.
Soups are a great way to consume vegetables. Onions, mushrooms, butternut squash, cauliflower, courgettes, and tomatoes are all ideal ingredients for soups. Various herbs and spices can be used to improve the flavours. Very often best results are obtained by liquidising the soup and adding cream.
For cooking, coconut oil is probably the best one to use. It is very stable and does not decompose when subject to heat unlike the “vegetable oils”. As the coconut oil is quite expensive, butter can be used with it to stretch it out.
Stir fries are quick and easy to do. They can be used all the year round. Coconut oil is ideal and the ingredients can be whatever is readily available such as broccoli spears, kale, spring onions, Chinese leaves, shredded cabbage and bean sprouts. Pieces of chicken, prawns or slices of beef can be added.
Meats can be cooked by roasting and frying as well as in stews and casseroles. Seal the meat first by frying briefly in a pan.
Avoid thickeners to prepare gravies and use the juices from the meat instead. Garlic, black pepper, chillies, sea salt as well as herbs and spices can be added to improve the flavor.
For casseroles, a slow cooker is a worthwhile investment. For a lamb stew, marinade with rosemary overnight and then seal before placing in the cooker. Add some vegetable stock. Once the lamb has cooked add in butternut squash and shallots, bring to the boil and simmer. The same procedure with other cheap cuts of beef or pork. If chicken is used then the time of cooking should be reduced.
Instead of potatoes, use sweet potatoes, which contain less carbohydrates. They can also be used with the skin to make wedges instead of regular chips. Swedes, parsnips and carrots can be roasted or mashed. Aubergines and celeriac are possible alternatives to potatoes.
Adjusting your diet need not be difficult. The starting point should be to understand the basic principles and then make changes gradually. There is tremendous scope to make meals that are tasty and enjoyable. Be prepared to experiment and discover what works best for you and the other members of your household. Positive results should be evident within a very short time, which will provide the stimulation and encouragement to make further progress.