A diet of documentaries

These days there are plenty of food documentaries out there that are easy to consume thanks to the rise of streaming services like Amazon and Netflix. And I certainly have an appetite for them! I feel that there’s so much we don’t understand about the food we eat and its effect on our bodies (and the planet). So personally, I can’t get enough of food documentaries in my mission to educate myself a little better.

Here’s a few films (and a book) that I’ve devoured recently that have helped me…

That Sugar Film

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It came recommended to me from a trusted personal trainer and when I eventually got around to watching this, it changed the way I thought about calories. As many people will know I have been enthusiastic about low fat/low calorie snacks in the past and have eaten plenty of processed diet snacks to keep myself under a certain calorie limit. And no matter how much I heard about clean eating and healthy fats, I would often still choose a low calorie snack bar or fat free yogurt over something like a whole avocado or scrambled egg. ‘That Sugar Film’ taught me that sugar and sweeteners are the real enemy and that my low calorie snacks are packed full of it. I knew that they were, I just didn’t believe that sugar was actually that bad. Throughout the documentary, filmmaker Damon Gameau eats a high sugar diet without ever reaching for chocolate or sweet treats. He gets his sugar from supermarket cooking sauces, frozen yoghurt, fruit juices and breakfast cereals…all things we tend to think of as ‘not too bad’. It did shock me to realise the damage I could be doing to my body on what I kidded myself was a healthy-ish diet. If you’re looking to cut sugar (or just to understand a bit more about it), this film is enlightening, easy to understand and best of all, it’s actually pretty funny too.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

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Okay, this film is not funny at all, and it is heavy going but it’s also eye-opening. It essentially concerns farming’s impact on the planet, which I really had no idea about. I thought as long as I was buying organic meat, eggs and fish that I was doing right by the earth and animals…but in short it seems no farming is sustainable. This is a much bigger story than animal welfare, it is about our future as a planet. It’s truly a staggering documentary. I have never wanted to give up dairy before, but I pretty much have now after seeing this. I would love to try and go veggie too but having recently adopted a paleo-approach to eating, it would be incredibly hard! I have to admit, the film has left me feeling really uncomfortable about eating meat and unsure of the way forward. I don’t regret watching it though, it’s better to be informed.

Book binge: It Starts with Food

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Whilst in America I read ‘It Starts with Food’ after being lent it by my friends at Studio Twenty3. It was a much needed read, building on what I’d learnt in That Sugar Film and really spelling out the ill effects of eating foods not found in nature. It also helps you to understand why we crave and love some of the things we do (cheese and crisps in my case!) and shows how little chance we have against some of the foods out there. They are specifically designed to be irresistible! The recommendations are pretty extreme…no dairy (except clarified butter), no grains (that’s no rice or wheat) and no legumes (like beans or chickpeas) and of course no added sugars or sweeteners. However, it does claim that a lot of the conditions and negative effects of eating a bad diet can be reversed, so it seems a fair price to pay.
The science is all there in the book, it makes a lot of sense really. I’ve been sticking strictly to this (it’s called the ‘Whole30’ if you’re interested) wherever possible and I’ve already felt better and lost a little weight too.

Bursting with food facts…
I’m trying my hardest not to be an annoying person quoting food facts but I do feel happier being a little better educated on everything. I’m always up for learning more though, so let me know if there are any food documentaries or books you recommend?

16 Thoughts I had about food in America

FoodTeaLife has been more than a little quiet lately, I could blame wedding planning, career changes and time abroad but it’s mainly that I’ve also been busy researching and thinking a lot more about nutrition lately…but that’s a whole other blog post.

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For now, I’ve just got back from America (a Californian road trip with a stop in Las Vegas) and of course, I thought about food a lot. The differences both positive and negative amused and intrigued me, so here goes…my thoughts about food while in America:-

  1. Coffee with cream in it?! What? That sounds SO ridiculously indulgent, yet it seems so everyday in the US. It seemed wrong but I have to say I soon got into it and kind of enjoyed it. Also, good coffee seems much more widespread over there. The UK has some catching up to to do on the good coffee front.
  2. On the other hand…the tea situation is pretty dire. No-one drinks it at breakfast like the Brits do and when you ask for milk you sometimes get hot milk, SO WRONG! Plus, why is it called ‘hot tea’, surely it’s just Tea or it’s iced tea? Tea is always hot unless otherwise stated isn’t it? I’m a tea fiend so this probably got me to me more than it should.tea solves
  3. Avocados, Avocados…Avocados everywhere! Woohoo! I LOVE avocados and ate one virtually every day whilst in the US, they’re grown in California so that may explain their abundance on menus. While avocados are pretty popular in the UK too, there are plenty of cafes that don’t offer some kind avo-centred dish, but happily this was not the case in the US.
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Breakfast of my dreams in LA, beautiful avocado toast!

4. Damn…the pies! Talk about pie porn! Sweet dessert pies, like Key Lime Pie were epic looking. The one slice I did have while out there was delicious.

5. Oooh so much amazing Mexican cuisine, so delicious and I’m in guacamole heaven…uh-oh, ate too many black beans, my tummy will not thank me for this.

6. Is In-N-Out Burger really that different to McDonald’s? I don’t get it.

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7. What exactly is a pound cake?

8. Wow sourdough is popular out here! Is that because all the other bread is sooo sweet? Either way I’m happy it’s an option.

9. The cheese situation is not great…what’s with all the liquid orange ‘cheese’? Yet the butter here is delicious…how does that work? Sort it out America. It made me realise just how spoilt for cheese choice we are in Europe.

10. Is bacon always crispy here? Would American’s be disgusted by the classic British Bacon Butty?

11. Ahh the international language of Subway, the same across the continents. I’m fluent in Subway and got a lovely fresh salad bowl whilst out on the road, on our way to Vegas. Although, American subway has banana peppers and fresh coriander in the salad options, we need these in UK (pretty sure my local branch doesn’t offer these).

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12. California’s got good wine.

13. Actual molten butter on popcorn….what?! I am a huge fan of popcorn (the lightly salted kind). It’s a cinema must for me. So when we went to ‘the movies’ in LA and I was offered buttered popcorn, it seemed like a classic American thing to try! It was good at first, but soon became not good (shouldn’t have got a large). What’s wrong with just sweet or salted?

14. Ooh Fever Tree mixers are out here too, how great (although there did not seem to be any in Vegas though). I always judge a bar or pub if it doesn’t have a good tonic like Fever Tree.

15. Dam nachos are epic out here!

16. Loving all the free and regular water top ups in restaurants, I can never get enough water, so this is amazing! The ‘soda’ tops ups are not so good though, have seen people drink two or three cokes with a lunch because of this…nobody needs that much sugar!

As you can see, I thought about food rather a lot. We had an absolutely amazing trip, full of adventures but right now I’m happy to be home in the land of good cups of tea and smaller portions.

I’m sure there’s plenty of things US visitors would find weird and wonderful about eating and drinking in the UK too (probably our tea obsession would factor highly!).

xXx

 

Eating the right food for your job – findings from the ‘pod-uctivity’ report

These days I do take a keen interest in diet and nutrition, so I was interested to receive a new report from Pod, London’s  healthy food-to-go chain of restaurants. The report looked at what to eat and when to eat it. Crucially, it also looked at how different jobs have different demands and matched them with the right foods to support productivity. The report identified four key job sectors: Creatives, Office Angels, High Flyers and Key Workers.

Being in PR, I fall into the Creatives category – here is just some of the nutritional advice the pod report had for me:

  • Breakfast is a must, containing some slow- release carbohydrate to provide energy to fuel the brain and lift the energy when needed. A mix of oats, nuts and seeds is a great start to the working day.
  • High sugar, high fat diets should be avoided as this will cause sluggishness. These types of foods may ‘accidently’ creep in if eating is not planned, especially after a brainstorming session when brain activity and stress levels have been high. Instead have a slow release carbohydrate snack before and a handful of antioxidant rich blueberries after. It might not sound as appetising as a quick fix chocolate bar, but it will work wonders.
  • Carbohydrates should be reduced through the day and eating late at night avoided, include foods high in tryptophan with dinner to calm the brain and aid sleep.
  • Ensure pantothenic acid intake is adequate to help deal with stress; chicken salad with avocado, a sprinkle of seeds and a heaped tablespoon of whole grains is a perfect stress-busting lunch.

I found it really interesting, I’m traditionally a breakfast denier (since my fast days have taught me to hold off as long as possible without eating). But perhaps when I finally start to feel hungry, usually around 11am, I should be choosing something like a healthy porridge.

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Pod’s Peanut Butter Power Porridge

I’m not a Londoner, so don’t have the option to get my nutritional fix on-the-go with pod but I do make regular trips to the capital. So next time I’m there I’ll certainly be taking the report’s recommendation and popping into the nearest pod for something healthy and delicious. The new menu sounds great (you lucky Londoners)…I particularly like the sound of: Salmon and Seaweed Caviar Scrambled Eggs, Peanut Butter Power Porridge, a Vitamim Hit Blitz and the Falafel Shawarma Wraps!

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Pod’s Salmon and Seaweed Scambled Eggs 

Pod’s founders say their menu reflects their customers ‘ambitious, health concious and smart’ and I have to say I agree. Check out the report for yourself here.

Clean eating, fasting and fear

Maybe it’s just the January effect but I really have been making more of an effort to eat clean. By that I mean, real, whole food and ingredients and eating less processed products.

The scary headlines around sugar have contributed to me wanting to consume less processed goods too. I knew sugar was in everything but I hadn’t realised just how bad for me it was.

The right thing to do…eat clean

Ultimately, I know eating cleaner is the right thing to do. Of course it’s best for my body
and my health to be eating natural products rather than foods with crazy ingredients that have been through all kinds or processes to make them low fat or ‘healthy’. I actually quite enjoy clean eating too. Plus, working from home means it’s not too difficult for me to adopt either, as I don’t need to eat ‘on the go’ and always have a fridge full of fresh ingredients nearby. So, why I haven’t I fully embraced clean eating? Why do I struggle to do it when it should be so straightforward for me? Why am I still reaching for the diet snacks on a regular basis?

I’ll tell you why. It’s the calories – which I know is a ridiculous thing to say but I’ll try to explain how I feel. Many of you will know I’m a 5:2 diet convert (perhaps evangelist might be a better word!), it’s flexible, it fits my lifestyle and I have had great results with it.  5:2 is way of life rather than a diet, it’s something you stick to for life (where possible) and I certainly see it that way…My Fitness Pal is probably the most used app on my phone. This means that calorie counting is frequently at the forefront of my mind.

Calories, health and fear…

Essentially after doing 5:2 for more than a year, I equate being ‘healthy’ with not going over 500ww calories in a day. I feel positive, pleased and even proud when I do a 500 calorie day successfully – knowing I’m keeping my body balanced for when I go out at the weekend for dinner and wine. And the truth is, until recently, I haven’t much cared how I got my 500 calories – as long as I didn’t go over this number. So a typical fast day would involve foods such as Weight Watchers chocolate wafers, fat free yoghurt, sandwich thins, reduced fat cheese, Birds Eye vegetable fingers or fish fingers…and other processed foods that offer a low calorific value.

So imagine how disheartening and hard I find it when a homemade smoothie of fresh fruits and greens has 250+ calories in it! On a fast day that would be a massive indulgence and half my calorific food allowance. Likewise with snacking on nuts and seeds – they pack a whole load of calories. So often I end up opting for a diet cereal bar instead because it’s easy, it tastes good and has less calories – and what’s not to like about that?! You see my problem with clean eating now…for a calorie counter it’s hard to get your head around how eating more calories could be good for you. Quite frankly, it scares me and makes me feel like I’ll put weight on because I’m consuming more calories. Is this just me? I don’t think I can be alone in this fear can I?

Can I re-train myself?

Seeing those calories tot up on My Fitness Pal is very off-putting – even if the calories come from healthy, clean choices. For so long, weight loss and maintaining this was my goal, soMFP all I cared about was cutting calories, without a thinking about nutrition. I have ignored how much sugar or sweetner is in my diet snacks or what the effect on my mood or performance might be of eating processed foods. I really need to address this – but how do I re-train my mind and the way I think about food and health? Perhaps if I really gave clean eating ago and felt the health and wellbeing benefits of this, I’d be converted? It’s a good idea but the truth is, it’s a big step I’m too scared about putting weight on to embrace this wholeheartedly, which is awful to admit. It’s just hard to change when I know the low fat, processed, diet snacks route has worked for me from a weight loss point of view.

So for now, I’m trying to be a bit more balanced and go for a gradual approach. My fast days will still inevitably feature some diet snacks to help me stick to my target calorie allowance – but I will try to incorporate ‘cleaner’ snacks and on my more relaxed days I’ll try and fully embrace clean eating without thinking about the calories.

At least, that’s the plan. Does anyone share my thoughts and fears? I’d love to hear from anyone with an opinion on cleaning eating, fasting or any of the issues above!

Wanted: Briton Willing to Go Without Solid Food for Entire Year for £35K

I’ve just received some interesting news from Huel, the makers of a powdered food product, which launched in June of this year. It’s quite an interesting concept, a nutritionally complete, powdered food providing everything your body needs – could it be that this is the future of food? It certainly feels futuristic, I can see that there are clear logical benefits. I can also understand how many people would feel this isn’t the right direction for food and nutrition.

Whilst I’m unsure of where I stand, I’m intrigued by their latest announcement and thought some of you may be too. Huel Powdered FoodHuel are on the hunt to find someone who is prepared to go without solid food for an entire year. The company is open for applications from any members of the British public who are willing to try out a powdered food-only diet for a year-long period in order to gauge the effects of forgoing traditional food altogether.

The inventors behind a nutritionally-complete powdered food solution, which launched earlier this year, are seeking a candidate prepared to go without any solid food for one year, in exchange for £35,000. Quite an experiment! Could you do it?

The powdered food product, www.huel.me, has been a huge hit on the UK market, selling out three times in the first month of trading in spite of meeting with some controversy and criticism. The powder has been rigorously tested during development and delivers 100% of the government-recommended nutrition that the human body needs, all the while being vegan-friendly with no added sugar. The flavour has been compared to vanilla porridge, purposely designed not to be too flavoursome to minimise the risk of users overeating.

The successful candidate will be required to undertake daily video calls with the monitoring team to report their progress, via Skype, and agree to weekly visits to the Huel headquarters in order to maintain regular medical assessments. Although they will be free to continue all usual daily duties, including work and family responsibilities, they will be required to perform no less and no more than 30 minutes of physical activity per day, which will be dictated by the team at Huel, in order to clearly show the effects of the Huel diet. Applicants must have a healthy BMI in order to be considered.

Here’s a comment from Julian Hearn, Founder of http://www.Huel.me:

“We completely understand that this is no easy feat; not many of our customer are on Huel 100% of the time, the norm is probably about 50% Huel and 50% traditional meals. Having said that, we are intrigued to understand more about the role of eating in our culture. What would life be like with no solid food? Huel provides everything the human body needs, in a healthy and sustainable way, so we know that it is a perfectly nutritious way to consume what we need – but what will happen if this really is the future of all food? What will life be like when we have so much more time in our day and so much less to think about? We are keen to get a better insight into the longer-term effects on our behaviour, health and social lives.”

He continued:

“Our search is certainly on to find the right person. We need to be able to trust them to tell the truth; cheaters need not apply! We will be undertaking regular monitoring, but it’s important that there is complete honesty there. For the right person, this challenge could actually be very liberating. There was a lot of scepticism when we first launched and no doubt many people will find this an unbearable thought, but clearly Britons are far more interested in changing their lifestyles and habits than many initially expected.”

It’s interesting isn’t it? I’m not sure I could so it with my restaurant-frequenting habit but do you know someone who could?

10 Things you’ll relate to if you’re on the Fast Diet

Many of you will know I’m an advocate of the fast diet, it works for me – I’ve lost weight and easily maintained this without much of a compromise on my lifestyle. I can still eat out a lot and eat what I fancy in restaurants but with two low-calorie days I keep the weight off. That said, there a few common feelings which I think anyone on a fast day can relate to…

1) Fast days = early nights

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On a fast day I do feel a little weary by 8pm and don’t want to risk an evening nibble or trip to the biscuit tin, so it usually means an early night! Luckily I love my bed and falling asleep isn’t usually a problem for me.

2) You plan/dream about things you’re going to eat on non-fast days!

Cupcake

I can usually stick to my fast days pretty well but I do definitely day dream about what I’ll eat the next day when I’m not fasting! A croissant, a full fat latte, even just a couple of slices of buttered toast are delicious treats to look forward to.

3) You’ll never look at certain high calorie foods the same way

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I don’t mean you won’t eat them but you’re just more aware of what you’re putting into your body. 250 calories for just a slice of Dominoes! Half my daily fast day allowance in one little pizza slice – I still get a takeaway pizza on occasion but I do it knowing it’s really not good for me and a fast day needs to follow!

4) MyFitness Pal is everything

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Where would I be without this calorie counting app? Almost all foods are already listed in there and there’s a handy barcode scanner to let me add anything I’ve just snacked on. It’s so satisfying to complete a fast day and feel saintly as you see your 500 calories on the display before bed time! I don’t use it much on my non fast days but I still find myself mentally trying to work out the calories.

5) Weighing yourself after a fast day is the best

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You’re never lighter than first thing in the morning after a fast day – so that’s the only time I ever weigh myself! It’s encouraging to see the slightly lighter weight (or that you’ve not gained despite a heavy weekend, which may have included the aforementioned takeaway pizza). I find it motivates me to keep up with the 5:2 lifestyle.

6) You REALLY look forward to meals out (and indulging guilt free!)

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Everyone loves dinner out but when you’re on the fast diet it’s especially exciting. You’re obviously not going to do a fast day when you’ve got dinner out so the possibilities of what you can eat seem extra delicious and exciting…chips, steak, cheese, dessert – I enjoy a meal out without feeling guilty at the indulgence.

7) You know the calorific content of almost everything (and it bothers you if there’s something you can’t instantly recall the calorie content of)

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That’s me, an encyclopaedia of calorie knowledge! I’m like the rain man of calories! Partly through My Fitness Pal, partly through my own obsessiveness – I know roughly how many calories most things have…I think most serious fast dieters do too.

8) You know which processed and on-shelf snacks are healthiest/have the least calories

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This one’s closely related to number seven – but if you’re on the move and not someone who’s batch cooked healthy fast day treats then you will reach for the convenient on-shelf snacks that are readily available and incorporate them into your daily allowance. A few of my favourites that don’t get me into too much trouble with calorie counting are Wotsits (90 calories), Weight Watchers Caramel Wafers (79 calories), Proper Corn Sea Salted Popcorn (84 calories) and very occasionally a Club chocolate biscuit (115 calories).  I know I should eliminate some of these things from my diet all together – but snacks are everywhere and realistically many fast dieters will reach for them like I sometimes do.

9) It’s easier to go meat free on a fast day

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Works well if you’re doing Meat Free Monday! It’s much easier to stay within 500/600 calories if you cut out the the meat and go veggie instead. There are some reasonable veggie sausages out there for as little as 64 calories each, much easier to make a meal out of! Bacon medallions are the only meat which does sometimes fit into a fast day.

10) You miss lattes and cappuccinos 

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I know I’m all about tea, I really am but I do love a good takeaway coffee during the working day. It’s a no-no on a fast day though, even a lovely skinny latte can still have going on for 100 calories in and they aren’t calories that will keep you full. So fast days are often coffee-free – lucky I love tea so much really!

11) It can be really hard to avoid alcohol

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Have you ever tried doing a fast day on a Friday? It’s really hard not to crack at the end of the working week, just for glass of wine while watching Graham Norton…but unless you’ve eaten nothing else that day – you cannot fit the wine-time calories in. And if you’ve eaten nothing, there’s not much point in having wine as one glass will go to your head! I generally avoid fasting around the weekends – what’s the point? Weekends are for wine and cocktails!

10) Soup is your friend!

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Filling, healthy and often low-calorie…soup is a faster’s best friend. Covent Garden’s Carrot and Butternut Squash at 80-something calories per bowl is a particular fast day dinner win for me.

Would you agree? If you’re a fast dieter too I’d love to hear your experiences!

xXx

5:2 Favourites

Like many other people I’m following the 5:2 way of life, eating only 500 calories on two non-consecutive days each week. It’s flexible, achievable and seems to be working out well. You can actually feel relatively satisfied on 500 calories, you just need to pick the right things to eat – in fact it’s amazing how many pleasant things you can consume really. In this post I thought I’d share a few of my favourite things to eat on a fast day.

There are some mega low-cal recipes and meals you can prepare for dinner but for now I’m focusing on satisfying snacks and the type of things you might eat at your desk.

It’s no secret that I love popcorn, so a bag of sea-salted Proper Corn at 87 calories makes me so happy! It’s a decent sized bag too (not like those healthy crisps you get in tiny bags!)

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My love of cheese is also well documented, so these little Cathedral City Minis at 50 calories per piece are a deliciously creamy treat on a fast day.

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Okay, so it’s maybe not the freshest foodstuff but at 96 calories Ainsley Harriot’s Thai Chicken & Lemongrass soup is perfect for keeping in your desk drawer. I’ve tried many an instant soup and this definitely the most flavorful and tasty. Warm and fragrant, it really hits the spot sometimes.

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Fage Total strained 0% Greek Yoghurts are a yummy fast day win. They have about 140 calories, so a few more than some of the other fat free yoghurts out there – but the pot is bigger! The thick consistency makes me feel like I’m enjoying a full fat cream-like dessert. The plain variety is excellent with a few berries for breakfast.

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Jimmy’s Skinny Iced Coffee is a lovely fast day pick-me-up, it feels just like drinking some kind of full-fat frappe from a coffee shop but is only 36 calories per 100ml.

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Lastly, you can’t beat a boiled egg for simplicity and keeping you feeling full! If you can just bear to go without the soldiers, a boiled egg only sets you back about 70 calories.

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These are just a few of my go-to fast day foods that are quick to grab and enjoy during busy days and in the office. If you’re a 5:2 dieter I’d love to know what yours are…do tell.

I do have a few light and low calorie dinner suggestions to share as well but I’ll save these for a future post.

Right, time to get fasting after a bit of bank holiday excess! xXx