New Year diet resolutions: What is healthy?

  • The confusing story about what is good for us
  • There is always an argument, never an easy answer
  • The fat gene debate starts again

For those who have committed to think about New Year diet resolutions, I offer the following real life experience…

“But it says healthy on the label” snarled the petulant one.

“And if I had a t-shirt on saying ‘handsome’ that would be true as well would it?” Was my not unreasonable reply (one that I was secretly very pleased with!)

So began the latest trip to take my daughter back to university.

Having spent the night before watching NetFlix movies, video chatting to the friends she was about to meet up with today and making vague attempts to pack, she was late getting up and ready to go.

As a result she shunned toast and honey for her breakfast and instead opted for something ‘more convenient to eat in the car’.

One of those ‘fruit and fibre’ bars that we’re told are ideal for people who are too busy to have breakfast.

Now these bars scream health. They have words like ‘health’, ‘diet’ and ‘power’ all over the wrapper, they show pictures of fresh fruit and whole grain, and they’re usually eaten by a perfect family, smiling with their perfect teeth, as they sprint up a mountain without breaking a sweat.

But in my opinion, a lot of these bars should have skull and crossed bones on the wrapper, eaten by a man on a stretcher, clasping the bar and looking confused.

Because a lot of them are loaded with harmful fats and sugars that do you no favours whatsoever.

In fact, strip away the marketing and you are left with that evil of all evils – processed food.

Many of these so-called health bars are packed with artificial sweeteners (like the dreaded aspartame), added sugars, puffed grains, refined flours, starches, unspecified vegetable oils, fruit concentrate and glucose syrup.

“Just because it says healthy, doesn’t mean it is.”  I snorted to end the argument having laid out the chapter and verse on the evils of hidden fat and sugars.

Sullen teenager slips the offending bar back into her pocket and we set off for points north.

I was feeling a bit chipper having fulfilled my parental duty of education, but as always my delight was to be short lived.

The revenge of youth

We continued in stony silence for the first twenty miles of our journey until she grabbed a newspaper off of the back seat, and became visibly excited.

She had the same look on her face that her mother does when I get caught with a hand in the biscuit barrel.

Slowly she began to read aloud from the print…

…”Alcohol has no health benefits after all” she chortled.

“So you say a glass of red wine is good for you? Well the scientists prove that you are wrong!” So spoke the fruit of my loins, a look of victory playing on her face.

“Admit it you can be wrong after all.”

I blame the parents!

For many a long while now the concept that a small glass of red wine is good for the heart has been the finding of many studies, either alone or in conjunction with a Mediterranean diet.

Now a team from University College London have stated that they believe the studies which found moderate drinkers are healthier, are flawed.

Their research suggests that comparisons are made with those who have given up drinking, often because they are already sick.

Drat and double drat.

How was that information going to affect my New Year diet resolutions?

Help was needed, and now wasn’t the time to open a bottle of fine Beaujolais.

Red wine debate continues

When we stopped at the service to break our journey I grabbed my briefcase.

Hunting through my news clippings I came upon another story also from the Times but from a few weeks earlier.

“A glass of red could help you burn up fat” it said.

And so the failings of health stories in national newspapers was laid out.

This story said that Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine and other plant extracts could help people who are overweight to burn more stored fat as well as improve cardiovascular function.

I realised that this issue was far bigger than just a spat between dad and daughter (although I did make my counter-argument back at Miss Sulky Knickers anyway).

These two stories underline how confusing it all is to understand what is good for us and what we should avoid.

As far as the red wine goes I think the best way to sum this up is as follows:

  • If you are forcing yourself to drink red wine purely for health reasons… stop.
  • If a glass of ruby claret is something you enjoy… have it for that reason alone.
  • If red wine is healthy…hurrah! If not life would be too miserable without it for those of us who like an occasional tipple.

Here’s another thought about designing the best New Year diet resolutions for you…

Too big to fit into your jeans? That will be the fault of your genes

Earlier in 2021 I covered the story about the discovery of a genetic reason for people becoming overweight, which many newspapers called the fat gene.

In my piece I said that I was a little unsettled to see scientists readily blaming obesity on the fat gene… a tricky little devil that some people have the misfortune to have two of.

My viewpoint was that it made things too easy to blame something we have no control over for our weight, rather than engage with eating the right things and doing a bit of exercise.

At the time you, my loyal readers, wrote in large numbers either to take issue with me, or to support my view.

I fully believe there is a fat gene, and that it must be a dreadful burden.

But my worry lies in how the problem of the fat gene is presented. If scientists argue that the fat gene is behind obesity, it could simply make more people eat rubbish food or quit exercise, because they feel there’s no point.

It is with some trepidation that I open the subject up again – not because I want to but as it has surfaced again in the news.

Several newspapers carried a story about new studies which show that 20% of obesity is due to genetic causes and it has caused a storm.

Many GPs and health experts have reacted angrily with Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum labelling the study ‘psychiatrists rubbish’.

Tell us what you think there Tam!

Again I’ll repeat my view – there is undoubtedly a genetic cause and we aren’t all designed to be the same shape, but getting the best out of life is a matter of balance.

Good food, a bit of exercise and the occasional treat are always the best remedy.

Even the odd glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape works, my darling, dearest daughter.