No-one is in business for their health, and the food and diet industry is no exception. Many foods and snacks promoted as healthy are nothing of the sort. Sorting truth from hype can be quite a challenge, especially when the celebrities get involved.
Healthy eating is not very complex and does not need expensive guidance. It involves the correct mix of nutrients and food groups. According to the NHS ‘eat well’ campaign, a balanced diet is divided into three sections.
· One-third of your daily calories should come from fruit and vegetables
· One-third should come from complex carbohydrates. This includes bread, pasta and other starchy foods.
· The remaining third is divided almost equally between protein (meat, fish, eggs and beans) and dairy foods. A small amount of high-fat and high-sugar foods are also included in this section as the body needs a little fat, and we all like a little treat.
This combination will automatically include all the minerals and vitamins needed by our bodies. The amount of daily calories needed for constant weight is about 2000 for a woman, 2200 for a man. The exact figures vary between people according to their size and activity level. Children need fewer calories due to their smaller size, but the balanced diet is even more important for them to help growth and build strong bodies. Eating according to the information above will maintain good health and an acceptable weight for most people.
There is no medically proven need for low-carb diets, intermittent fasting, meal replacements or any of the other diet fads that come and go.
The problem for the diet ‘industry’ is that there is no money to be made from the advice above. There are four words that constitute the only real way to lose weight. These four words are ‘eat healthily, move more’ and they encapsulate the concept of a balanced diet, regular gentle exercise and a good attitude to food.
It is all really very simple – but those who eat too much or eat the wrong foods often refuse to recognise the real cause of their bad health or obesity. The quick fix is much more attractive than the slow improvement in health from proper eating and exercise. So it is human nature to seek that quick fix, and to believe the latest hype or fad. Everyone is entitled to earn a living, and there are plenty of ways to do that from food and diet hype. Here are some of the current crazes – in both senses of the word.
Celebrity influence and the manipulations of the media have a lot of influence on many people. Celebrities have to make a living, and those who are ‘famous for being famous’ need to be inventive in how they do this. At some point when we weren’t looking, actresses and models became acceptable authorities on food, childcare and all manner of other topics in which they may not have any real knowledge.
We do not appear to have learned much since the days when a model and a member of the royal family were sponsoring a ‘slimming tea’ – which turned out to be ordinary black tea leaves with no magical powers at all. One example is the promotion of smoothies. These are basically a baby-food style concoction of mashed fruit or vegetables. They have an aura of health, due to their high fruit or vegetable content – but this is not the whole story. One actress is currently promoting green smoothies. These are a combination of various green leafy vegetables, chopped and then blended. Naturally the process requires the use of a large and expensive blender, which coincidentally is also part of a current promotion. As a nutritionist noted, ‘why not just eat the vegetables?’
Pre-packed smoothies can contain more sugar than most fizzy drinks, and the fibre content of the fruit or vegetables is lost in the preparation. It is far better for teeth, digestion and wallet to eat the fruit or vegetables raw.
‘Healthy’ snacks are another cash cow for celebrity endorsements and big business. The trend for frozen yogurt is a good example. Despite the healthy image, commercial frozen yogurt contains a large amount of sugar, as do most low-fat foods. With the toppings on offer, a portion of ‘fro-yo’ can contain over a quarter of the daily calorie requirement for a woman, with very little nutritional value. Skinny celebrities may be seen with frozen yogurt, but they are unlikely to be consuming very much of it. Bio-yogurt is a better choice, as there are some real health benefits – but it is still important to check for sugar content.
Carrying a takeaway drink with a trendy logo is seen as giving an image of someone busy, high-powered, always on the go. Skinny lattes, fashionable coffees and energy drinks all promote themselves as quick boosts for the low points of a hectic day. Unfortunately these drinks are high in calories but low in nutrition, and drinking too many will mean ingesting far too much caffeine. A far better boost would be a sandwich or some vegetables, and a big glass of water. This may be less glamorous – but it is much healthier and cheaper.
A side-order of cynicism and reality should be served with all celebrity-endorsed meals or snacks. Anyone really puzzled about healthy eating should make an appointment for advice from their doctor’s surgery, a place with nothing to sell and every incentive to improve the health of those on their list.
by Kath Webb
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