Last week I received a Tweet offering me to discover tips on how to lose 22 lbs within 29 days. At the same time Facebook ran a side ad promising me to get flat abs thanks to a secret diet pill. Both were unsolicited, ludicrous and irrelevant.
Don't get me wrong: I am very much interested in being healthy and looking well, but I pay no attention to fad diets and mythical pills, promising me a magical transformation overnight or so. Surely, it is common knowledge what to eat and how important it is to exercise to maintain health and looks? Not so.
The media, be it periodicals or the internet, are notorious for feeding us latest diets, allegedly responsible for the fortunate looks of this or that celebrity. Television is flooded with sometimes baffling adverts of over-processed yet supposedly healthy products such as cereals or sugary yogurts. Finally, each year a new dieting manual climbs bestselling charts as consumers are desperately looking for a nutritional programme that works for them.
Whilst I thought I was well aware when I was "being good" and when I was "treating myself", the recently repeated BBC series Rip Off Food managed to surprise me. In one episode consumers were asked to guess which bowl of cereal contained more sugar. The choice was between Bran Flakes and muesli. I thought that because of dried fruit the answer would be muesli, but it turned out that Bran Flakes was the "winner", containing 20% sugar.
More surprisingly, an expert interviewed later in the programme, criticised processed cereal but advocated low fat milk. Unfortunately, this particular myth alluding that low fat products are healthier for consumption seems to be unfathomable. Indeed, consumers at large appear unaware that skimming milk also takes away good nutrients present in milk or other "full-fat" products in the first place; what's worse, "low-fat" products are sometimes bulked up with emulsifiers but how could chemicals be better than natural fats is a question worth asking. Fats in general are unfortunately subject to "bad press" as if trans fats found in fast food and fats found in oily fish and vegetables are the same thing.
"Fats are not just good for us but essential", writes Hattie Ellis in her thought-provoking, easy to follow book What To Eat? "All our cell membranes need a bit of waxy fat to stop dehydration." Moreover, Ellis explains exactly why trans fats, invented to be convenient for mass manufacturers, are bad for us: "the body can't process this new food property and, what's more, it actively prevents you from metabolising good fats".
Ellis's guidebook into the world of food is a rare find as most books on nutrition tend to propagate latest sensational discoveries, only to be displaced the following year by the next dieting "breakthrough". What To Eat is practical and entertaining, it asks ten "chewy" questions such as "What is the best breakfast", "Should I eat like a caveman?" and "Does any diet work?". A knowledgeable food writer, she advocates a "proper shift in thinking about eating good food rather than prescriptive "healthy eating"", home cooking, seasonal food shopping and variety.
However, what works for a freelance writer cooking for a family may not work so well for a commuter or a frequent business traveler. Sometimes reading a mind-opening book poses more questions. At the end of the day, everyone is different and has different habits. It appears we all have our own hot-burning questions, and I am ready to grill a dietician!