Eating less meat

Eating meat, or any animal produce, is a topic that people get very passionate about. Articles like this one is the Guardian are pretty scary and I’d encourage a read. My two key takeaways from reading the article, one is that humans and livestock make up 96% of all mammals, thats a frightening thought. All the cool mammals at the zoo, they barely exist in the wild because they’ve had to make way for humans and our food. And two, people in the West need to cut meat consumption by 90% to try and stop the damaging environmental effects associated with the consumption and production of meat. Stop eating meat and switch to vegetables is the message.

On the other hand, I’ve heard arguments against the growing of crops which is where we get all our veg. Modern intensive agriculture uses a lot of pesticides and fertilisers that are also bad for the environment. Ploughing a field destroys the topsoil and you lose carbon capture because you’re not giving roots time to bed in before they’re pulled out. This logic suggests that in an ideal world we’d ditch the vegetable farming, re-wild our fields, and use them for pasture raised animals. Although I don’t see that solution supplying enough for 7 billion humans.

It seems like you’re destroying the environment either way. My personal take from my own limited reading is that humans are meat eaters. But we’ve evolved to eat what we’ve hunted, which is substantially less meat than whats in most Western diets. I would typically have meat in two out of my three meals a day, and on the weekend if I have a fry, there could be meat in all three of my meals. The availability of meat today is at odds with the amount we’ve evolved to consume. I couldn’t shake the thought that all this meat was wrong for the human diet.

I set myself a challenge to eat less meat by just being aware of it. I don’t know if this will stop global warming at all, and as I said, I do think humans are meat eaters, but we’re not meant to eat so much of it. I tracked my results across 30 days. Over the 30 days, I had 9 meat free days. I could cheat and say it was 10 days as on one of the days my meat intake consisted of chicken soup which seemed light on the chicken. In any case, thats just over a week a month that is meat free. Make what you will of these results but I was proud. I was also surprised that it was easy, imagine if I’d make a real effort. I noticed no change in my training or energy levels. I won’t be going full on vegan or full on carnivore, but I will be reducing the amount of meat I eat because its just not needed and it can’t be good for you.

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This was a great Secret Santa gift from a colleague – easy meals
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Yummy
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Also Yummy

 

Carbs

I’ve known a few people to cut out carbs as way to get healthier. Although I’d be skeptical if the goal is to get healthier or to look better. Carb molecules encourage your body to store water, so by eliminating them, you’re essentially wringing your body like a sponge. So the pounds will fall off pretty quickly on a no-carb diet. Quick and easy weight loss success on a no carb diet is just dehydrating yourself and its just water weight you’ve lost.

On a slightly longer term view, a low carb intake means less muscle mass. Without the glucose found in carbs to burn off, your famished body turns to precious amino acids instead, causing you muscles to catabolise. And with this quick reduction in lean mass, your metabolism starts to stall, burning fewer calories, making real weight loss harder still.

And its not just your body, its your brain too. Your brain uses up over half of your bodies glucose stores. A few days into a low-carb diet and you’ll struggle understand all the subplots in the latest Fantastic Beasts movie.

Its true not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbs have been associated with obesity. I recently heard a phrase I like and it went something like this, “don’t ask if its good for me, ask when its good for me.” If you’re a professional athlete, you can handle a lot of carbs. If you spend most of your time watching Netflix, you should limit your intake.  Foods don’t exist in a vacuum, you have to look at your carbs in the context of everything else you eat and do. Its all about balance, and some days that means a pasta.

Eat to fuel your body for performance, not to look good.

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Pasta and broccoli – thats lunch sorted for a few days

How much fruit and veg?

I recently read that the Japanese government gifts their citizens a silver sake cup when they reach 100 years of age, and that the policy is being reviewed because last year it cost the Japanese government $2 million. In Okinawa, Japan, you’ll find the world’s highest prevalence of proven centenarians. Not only do they have the highest life expectancy in the world, but also the highest health expectancy, they remain vigorous and healthy into old age. I’m sure there are many reasons for this longevity, and diet must be one.

In Britain and Ireland we’re all familiar with the “five-a-day” maxim. The Japanese government recommends up to 13 portions of vegetables a day, plus four portions of fruit. A spokeswoman from the British Department of Health (I assume Ireland just copied these guys) said of the five-a-day campaign, “There must be a balance between what is healthy for the British public and what is feasible”. In other words, 5 was chosen because its a sufficiently low, unthreatening number.

Below is my attempt at an Asian style meal: rice, egg, spinach, and steak. Delicious yes, but a very Western slant on Asian cuisine, with just one portion of veg. It doesn’t help that the variety of interesting fruit and vegetables that grow in Ireland is low.

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There are many ways in which eating fruits and vegetables is beneficial for health. Both are high in fibre, which makes you feel fuller for longer, which can help reduce unhealthy snacking. Fruit and vegetables are also a natural source of numerous vitamins and minerals that are essential for maintaining good all-round health. I eat a lot of fruit, but I’m not so good with vegetables (the better of the two). If I want to live to see the year 2086 and beyond, I’ll have to add more veg to my diet. More fruit and veg, good advice for all.

Duck for Breakfast

Duck has to be one of my favourite meats, why not have some for breakfast instead of dinner? Duck is easy enough to cook, just fry it! Fry it skin side down but be careful not to have the heat too high, and watch it carefully, as it can burn easily. While duck has a reputation for being fatty (and I didn’t trim the fat off), its also high in iron and protein.

After the duck has been fried and looks cooked (cut it in half to be sure, its okay to be a tad red/pink), pour over some syrup, this sounds indulgent, but syrup is high in zinc, which your body doesn’t produce by itself, and zinc helps boost the immune system. Then bake for 4 to 6 minutes after that at 180 degrees.

Serve with a fried egg, a toasted waffle, and some extra syrup for the waffles, and what a great start to the day you’re having. Breakfast of champions.

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What to eat and cheat day

You can train and exercise all day and all night but if the food you eat isn’t right, isn’t healthy, then you’re not going to look as good or be as healthy as you want. I love educating myself about the human body, how we move, and different types of training techniques, but when it comes to food science, I’m in the remedial class. Trying to learn about calories, and fats, and all that stuff, its enough to put me to sleep.

Because I have no will to learn about food, I instead follow a much more basic philosophy, I eat what I know to be good, and stay away from what I know to be bad. The food industry doesn’t always help in this regard. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, is perhaps the father of modern advertising, and modern advertising makes it hard for ordinary people to know what to eat. Bernays used psychoanalytical ideas for PR and advertising. Beforehand, goods were advertised based on utility, “this is what it does”, while todays advertising targets your emotions and aspirations, “want to be cool – buy this phone” – “want to be healthy and slim like the celebs you love – then eat this”. You’re being sold a narrative that more often than not, the stuff you buy can’t deliver on. Check out the ingredients list on the “healthy snack” below, its massive, and sugar is mentioned 4 times!! Contrast that to the ingredients list on the banana, there is none, its a banana. Stay away from food that is marketed and packaged as healthy, and eat what you already know to be good for you.

Healthy Snack vs. Banana
Healthy Snack vs. Banana

Its unfortunate that our bodies have evolved to crave sugar for its positive effects in small quantities. For millions of years, our cravings and digestive systems were exquisitely balanced because sugar was rare. Modern technology has made sugar bountiful and we don’t seem to realise that our bodies are not adapted to large amounts of sugar and it’s making us sick.

I don’t “diet”, partly because I don’t like the word, it invokes imagines of starving oneself. I eat lots, I enjoy my food, and I eat healthy. But we’re all only human. Its hard to resist the constant media bombardment of delicious sugary foods and our own evolutionary inbuilt cravings. I have one cheat day a week, and on cheat day that Coca-Cola tastes incredible!!

My advice, have one cheat day a week, it doesn’t always have to be the same day each week, and stay away from foods with too big an ingredients list.

Prawn and Chorizo Risotto

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This one is a nice healthy energy booster. A simple list of ingredients; prawns, chorizo, brown rice, chopped tomatoes, chicken stock and some frozen peas.

Using Brown rice instead of white rice packs this full of complex carbs, so eat this earlier in the day, and you’ll have plenty of energy to keep you going. The Chorizo adds a rich flavour (if you like Chorizo, which I do) and the prawns add muscle building and protecting protein.

Make a large quantity of this in a big pot and it will do for your lunch for days!

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