Posted by Tracy in October's Magazine
One of the best things about exercising all day every weekday is that I really enjoy my food. You’d think being a personal trainer I would eat anything, but as I get older I become increasingly fussy about what I put in my body. I believe in quality over quantity. Many people try to economise on food, either time wise or financially. Many who are cash-strapped buy processed food because it’s ‘cheap and easy’. Busy office workers often fall prey to convenience food as they may come home from work ‘too late to cook anything’.
In this article I hope to explain why we all need to cook from scratch more. Supermarkets and processed foods form a vicious circle for consumers. They convince customers that ‘You’re too busy to cook’, with packaging on microwave meals portraying a gourmet feast (usually the photo doesn’t come close to resembling the brown slop inside). No worries about the appearance, it’s laden with salt and sugar to make it more ‘palatable’. Eating processed foods regularly can increase your blood pressure (the salt) and waistline (the readily available processed sugars). If you don’t usually eat them and you get served one, you also realise that they usually taste like shit.
You may be stuck in a habit of buying ready-meals, as they appear better value. I have news for you my friend; supermarkets inflate the cost of store cupboard ingredients, giving the illusion that processed foods are better value. Hummus at tesco (lowercase t please) costs £1; if you shopped for the ingredients in the cooking aisle, you would find chickpeas come in at 89p, and you’d get a lot more hummus. If you go up The Walk to Polypack continental shop, you will find chickpeas for only 39 pence. Ha!
Pop don’t stop
Another reason why home-cooked food is superior to supermarket mush is that it’s better for you. Fact. The food is mechanically processed, so there is less ‘processing’ for your digestion to do. This makes it higher on the Glycaemic Index, and gives you a blood sugar peak, and consequent crash. I have found that when fitness clients switch from processed food to more raw ingredients (fruit, veg and unadulterated wholegrains), they report having more energy and feeling less sluggish.
Also, be suspicious if a processed food item is making a health claim. How can Belvita breakfast biscuits be better than a basic breakfast? I quote from their website: ‘Belvita is a range of biscuits specially designed for breakfast. Made with wholegrain, rich in cereals, a source of fibre containing a selection of vitamins and minerals, these delicious crunchy biscuits have been scientifically proven to slowly release carbohydrates over 4 hours’. They have 40 ingredients! Why so many? To engineer the biscuit so it can make health claims on the front of the box (whilst the extensive ingredient list hides on the bottom of the box in small print)? If it’s fortified, chances are it’s had vitamins added as the goodness has been already mechanically processed out of the raw ingredients. Breakfast cereal is a good example of this. Better off with a bowl of porridge.
Food production is a huge industry that sends out many messages. The big shops press home the mantra that you don’t need to bother with the mundanity of cooking. Mass produced food exists for profits rather than nutrition. There’s more profit to be made on processed food as it uses cheap ingredients, mechanically produced for a few pence and then heavily marked up. Processed food ships better and keeps better than fresh food, so it’s a better business to be in.
Some people are shocked when they think about the prioritising of supermarkets towards making a profit, rather than having a responsibility to sell food that has some nutritional value. The biggest sellers are the crap food, the food that is irresistible so that ‘when you pop, you don’t stop’.
Hopefully I have convinced you that time spent in the kitchen is time well spent. Cooking should be easy and it should be a pleasure. Steamed vegetables with couscous take around six minutes to cook. If you enjoy your food, you’re more likely to enjoy the process of planning and creating it, and vice versa. Spend time getting good quality ingredients, and learn a few simple recipes, or revisit favourites. By being in control of the sugar, fat and salt levels of home cooked food you may find your palate adapting to the fresh options.
It seems counterintuitive that convincing my fitness clients to spend a bit more time in the kitchen actually helps their waistline, but I have proof that more time spent preparing food can aid weight loss. This includes planning your lunch and taking tasty healthy snacks to work. Food preparation is a sensual pleasure. So turn off your TV and switch on your oven. And you will also end up saving yourself money…