Thursday, 5 January 2012

Dr Dukan's proposals to tackle obesity

This week France has been scandalised by Dr Dukan’s proposals defined in his new book ‘"Lettre ouverte au futur président de la République".  In his book he suggests (as part of a public health policy to tackle obesity) that students in their final 2 years of school receive additional points for their Baccalaureat  if they maintain their weight within a reasonable range.  Mon Dieu! 

I suspect/hope that these remarks might have been taken out of context (and plan to read the book myself) though, I must admit I am not a fan of the Dukan regime.  The regime works (initially) but consuming vast amounts of animal protein is (I feel) unethical, environmentally unfriendly, unhealthy (China study anyone?) and expensive.  As for the oat pancakes (galettes d’avoine) he recommends on his regime and which you can buy for a small fortune in shops, I would rather stick my head in a box and eat the cardboard....

To penalize students for being overweight smacks of discrimination (to penalize anyone for being overweight also smacks of discrimination!). The “BAC’ is oh so important at determining future universities and ‘grandes ecoles’, so gaining/not gaining additional points could actually have an impact on students future careers.  This is also an incredibly stressful time for students who absolutely do not need the additional pressure of a bi annual weigh-in, which could end up by demotivating and upsetting them.  There’s also a question mark in my mind around the use of BMI, as this is not always the best measure of assessing health.

A successful public health policy aimed at tackling obesity, should focus on education, support, inspiration and motivation.  Punishment is never particularly successful in any form.  One of the recent positive moves in primary schools has included increasing the nutrient content of lunches by reducing the salt, sugar and fat content and this is the type of direction that public health policies should follow.

Enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

10 Healthy Steps to optimise your health and wellbeing

A quick blog to wish everyone a happy and healthy 2012, and also to outline the 10 easy (?!) steps that you could think about adopting in order to optimise your nutritional health and wellbeing in 2012.  I’m happy to say that some of the steps involve eating ‘more of’!! 
  1. Eat more vegetables and fruit

    While it might be a struggle to get our little cherubs to eat their 5 a day, we have absolutely NO excuse and should be aiming for 7-8 servings a day.  They are bursting with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals and research consistently links fruit and vegetable consumption to improved health and a lower risk of cardiovascular and other diseases.  A portion is 80g/or a palm sized serving, and the aim should be to eat as wide a variety as possible.  Potatoes do not count, in any form, as they as deemed a starchy food!

  2. Eat more unrefined grains

    Try to replace white bread, pasta and rice with wholemeal varieties when you can as unrefined grains contain more nutrients and fibre (which is needed for digestive health and helps to promote satiety - ie it keeps you feeling full longer).  Do also try to experiment with other grains, such as millet (no, it’s not just for birds!) and quinoa.

  3. Eat more omega 3 fats

    There is increasing evidence suggesting that our modern day diet is deficient in these fats which are so incredibly important for our health.  These fats are known for their ‘anti inflammatory’ effect on the body and are also essential for optimising brain function. Omega 3 fats are found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines) nuts and seeds, so try to eat 2 servings a week of oily fish as well as munching on seeds and nuts as a healthy snack.

  4. Limit sugar, refined and processed foods

    Sugary foods are a source of ‘empty’ calories and play havoc with your energy levels.  They are digested quickly and initially flood the bloodstream with sugar, only to then cause crashing ‘lows’ in energy a couple of hours later as the body tries to control its blood sugar levels.  Limit cakes, desserts and biscuits to once or twice a week and try to ‘ home-bake’ when you can, so you can add healthier ingredients such as dried fruit, seeds and wholegrains, rather than buying processed goods.  Try to avoid processed foods which can be high in fat, sugar and salt and when this is not possible, select processed foods which a)  resemble something you could make yourself and b) have a shorter ingredients list such as pizza and ready made pasta sauces!!

  5. Drink more water

    Easy.  Cheap.  So why do we not drink enough of it?!  Next time you think you are hungry, try having a glass of water as we often mistake ‘thirst’ signals for ‘hunger’.  Try to have a glass of water with meals and a glass in between meals and note that is is better to drink small regular glasses of water than to gulp a large volume of water in one go.

  6. Drink less alcohol

    Yes, I know there is the ‘French Paradox’ and yes I know that red wine contains a substance called
    resveratrol, a phytochemical which helps to protect cells from damage and is associated with being cardioprotective.  However, the amount of wine that might actually be beneficial to us is really just a small (50-60 ml) glass a couple of times a week, and not huge quantities that we tend to drink!  Excessive alcohol is linked to a higher risk of diseases such as liver disease and cancer.  Interestingly enough, one of the reasons why alcohol could increase cancer risk is because it depletes the vitamin folic acid ( found in leafy green vegetables for example).  Folic acid helps to prevent damage to cellular DNA. While this does not necessarily mean you can down your bottle of wine accompanied by a large salad, it is another good reason to keep eating your vegetables!  Try to have 2-3 non alcohol days (NADs!) every week and when you do drink limit your consumption to 1-2 drinks a day.

  7. Respect your food

    In a world where there are huge discrepancies in the amount and quality of food available to people, shop carefully, select foods in as natural a state as possible and do not waste food.  If  you have the time and budget, try to select the environmental/humane alternatives.  I’d also add here (and I don’t mean to sound ‘new agey’!) that if an animal has suffered or died in order to be part of your meal, than at the very least you can cook it as well as you can, savour the meal (rather than gulping it down!) and have a silent few seconds where you mentally say ‘thank you’ to the animal on your plate.

  8. Respect yourself in relation to food

    One of the first steps in long term weight management, is making sure that you eat when you are hungry.  So many of us eat when we are stressed, tired, angry or miserable for example and this is a starting point for a bad relationship with food.  Food is neither a 'treat' or a tool for denial, it is there to nourish us.  Food obsessions/or eating problems should be tackled as quickly as possible, because, unlike other addictions, it is impossible to avoid food, and we absolutely have to eat.

  9. Watch your stress levels

    Some stress is good, as it can ‘spur’ us on to achieve incredible things, however constant every day chronic stress (dealing with children, finances and relationships) can drag us down, leaving us exhausted and miserable.  It can be difficult to reduce stress levels, but what we can learn to do is to change the way in which we respond to stress, managing stress through gentle exercise, relaxation time and learning that for some situations we just have to ‘let go’.

  10. Exercise regularly

    A minimum of 3 sessions of at least 30 minutes a week.  Find something you enjoy doing ( I love walking!) and make sure you schedule exercise time into your week.  Try to keep moving - gardening, running around in the garden with the children, dancing in the kitchen etc etc.  For more detail on exercise ideas, you can contact Alison Laborderie at
As always a recipe:

Moules Marnieres a la Charlotte
So easy and so good for you.  Mussels are a good and relatively cheap source of omega 3, zinc, iron selenium and folic acid.  In the spirit of a healthy and lean January, I have not added creme fraiche to the sauce (though you can do!).  Serve with a bowl of brown rice to soak up the juices and a large green salad.

For 4 people
- 4 litres of mussels
- 30 g butter
- 2 shallots
- 1 glass of dry white wine
- 1 glass of fish stock 
- parsley
- salt and pepper

Prepare the mussels:
Clean them in a sink full of water.  Scrape off any ‘beards’ and discard any which are open.

In a large saucepan ( Le Cruset is ideal!), melt the butter and fry the shallots for 5 minutes until golden.  Add wine, stock and mussels and cover and cook for 5-10 minutes until the shells open.  Sprinkle with parsley.
Serve with a 1 very, very small glass of dry white wine!