Steak is not necessarily bad for you. ‘Low fat’ is not always good. So just what should we eat if we want a healthy diet?
By Lucy Cavendish
5:47PM BST 26 Oct 2013
Two years ago, I went to see Dr Pierre Dukan – of the Dukan Diet fame – at his plush office on the Champs-Élysées. He was keen to discuss the latest thinking about his high-protein weight-loss programme, which hundreds of thousands of people across the world had taken up.
There were naysayers, of course, as there had been with the Atkins, the protein-heavy diet that predated Dukan’s. He told me that, as a source of protein and energy, red meat had been unfairly demonised. “It’s a myth that red meat is bad for you,” he said. Indeed, he said, if you did just one thing to lose weight, eat steak – and as much as you like.
At the time, the world was going “low-fat” and “free-from” mad, so a protein-rich diet seemed sacrilegious. Shoppers hell-bent on following a “healthy” lifestyle were buying “free-from” products from which gluten, fat and – in some cases – taste had been annihilated.
Fast forward two years and I am talking to Dr Michael Mosley, the doctor-turned-TV science presenter, about his Fast Diet. The premise is that the dieter eats whatever they like for five days, and then drastically restricts calorie intake for two. I told him I had found the 5:2 regime hard to stick to because the 500-calorie limit on fasting days seemed so restrictive. “Then try eating only protein on diet days instead,” he said, adding: “Atkins was on to something.” I nearly fainted in shock.
This got me thinking. We think we know what’s good to eat. We know we need to cut down on dairy, sugar, salt, fats. We are often swayed by the endless fads of new diets that encourage us to eat according to our blood type or like a caveman or whatever. We try the best we can to be “healthy”.
Everyone knows the real evil is processed food. But what if it’s not just sausages, frozen pizzas and salami that are bad for you? What if those “low-fat”, “dairy-free” and “gluten-free” ranges – which were once confined to health-food stores but are taking up more supermarket shelf space than ever – aren’t as good for us as we think they are? Could it be that foods we think of as unhealthy are, in fact, perfectly fine, and that those sold to us as healthy are, in reality, far from it?
“We are deluded as to what is healthy and what isn’t,” agrees Telegraph food writer Xanthe Clay, “because what we think is good for us – and is marketed that way – isn’t necessarily that great.
“The biggest con is ’low-fat’. Take low-fat frozen yogurt: it’s loaded with sugar to compensate for the loss of what manufacturers call ‘mouth-feel’. You’ll get a sugar buzz, then a crash. I think we should be asking ourselves, if a product is ’free from’ something, what has it been replaced with?”
For years, the food industry has been creating and marketing ranges that are low in fat – but there has been a steep learning curve. After the earliest diet products had their natural fat removed, the customer realised how awful they tasted, so the manufacturers added sugar and starch to make them more palatable. Yet consumers were still sold the message that “low‑fat” equals low body fat.
But it is not just “free-from” products that are the problem. “Even supermarket fruit is being bred to be sweeter and sweeter,” says Clay. “Do you remember when we were kids and grapefruit was sour? These days, fruit needs to be consumed with care.”
Last week, another food myth was put under scrutiny as cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra raised a question about whether the risk from saturated fat, in foods such as butter, cakes and fatty meat, is being overstated. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Malhotra said there was too much focus on fat, with other factors such as the sugar content of food often overlooked. This echoed the Government’s “responsibility pledge”, also announced last week, in which companies signed up to cut saturated fat in some of their products (Kit-Kats and Oreos, for instance) – yet, as critics pointed out, the sugar levels in them would remain exactly the same.
Saturated fat has long been assumed to be the biggest contributor to heart diseases, but it is in fact rich in vitamins A and D, calcium and phosphorous, which can lower blood pressure, said Dr Malhotra. Millions of people who take statins every day might do as well to regulate their diet.
He concluded that the food industry has compensated for lowering saturated fat levels in food by replacing it with sugar, which also contributes to heart disease and is highly addictive – and that it is time to “bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease”.
Well, maybe it is. Can it be true that we can actually rejoice in eating our bloody steak while laughing at the faddy diet industry? Have we all been avoiding saturated fats for no good reason?
Dr Mosley says Dr Malhotra has a point. “Butter was demonised because of dodgy studies done in the Seventies,” he says. “Problems come when you add stuff to food that was not there in its natural state. When the manufacturers took out fat, they added sugar. When they turned unsaturated fat into a solid margarine, they introduced trans fats.” These artificial fats – which are used to increase shelf life and, until recently, were found in thousands of processed foods, from biscuits and cakes to pastries, crisps and luncheon meats – are now held up as the real villain.
So is sticking to a diet free from unprocessed foodstuffs the solution? Not entirely, given how many “natural” products have had their fair share of bad press. Former health minister Edwina Currie prompted a consumer boycott of fresh eggs when, in 1988, she suggested that most of Britain’s egg production was infected with salmonella. And home‑grown beef was shunned for years in the panic over mad cow disease.
I pride myself on how healthily my family eats. With wheat and gluten vilified in recent years, I have, in the past, cut both food groups from our household diet – and it has cost me a small fortune. As Sir Terry Leahy, the former chief executive of Tesco, revealed in his autobiography, Management in 10 Words, launching a gluten-free range was one of the best things he ever did: if one person in the family is gluten-intolerant (or thinks they are), the weekly food shopping can be supplemented with additional (and more expensive) products from the “free-from” ranges.
Food nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche warns against thinking that gluten-free products are inherently healthy. “Many naturally gluten-free foodstuffs, such as quinoa , are far more suited to a 'free-from’ way of life than products manufactured for that purpose.”
The implications of all of this may be as tough to swallow for the food industry as for the consumer. But going back to real, rather than processed, food is the best thing we can do. As a rule of thumb food should be recognisable as something that grows naturally in a field, on a farm or in an orchard, before it’s packaged up and sold – no processing necessary.
Or, as Dr Mosley puts it: “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognise it, think twice about eating it.”
Healthy eating is not about strict nutrition philosophies, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, stabilizing your mood, and keeping yourself as healthy as possible—all of which can be achieved by learning some nutrition basics and using them in a way that works for you. You can expand your range of healthy food choices and learn how to plan ahead to create and maintain a tasty, healthy diet.
There is a new nutrition company Yevo International with a patented process of getting the 43 daily essential nutrients in the body. No supplements or green drinks. Regular food that people eat everyday like mac n cheese, mash potatoes, oatmeal etc. They have their breakfast foods available now and will have 100 food choices by years end.