Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Farm Direct delivery service

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

If like me, you believe in eating good quality, seasonal, local produce but don’t feel you have the time to regularly visit farmers’ markets, a delivery service could be the thing for you.

Having tried organic delivery services in the past and finding them expensive and sometimes inconvenient (having to buzz in the delivery person at 5.30am…), we have been very pleased with Farm Direct (http://www.farm-direct.com/). This is an Islington-based service that delivers food from local and regional farms to addresses in north London, and because the cost of transport, storage, packaging, etc. is low, they offer excellent quality seasonal food at reasonable prices. They also offer the option of collecting your package from their depot off Holloway Road, if your address is not in the catchment area, or if that works better for you. Deliveries can be arranged within a 4 hours time slot, with a text to let you know when to expect arrival. The company has an easy to use website, and has recently started to offer midweek deliveries.

So far we have enjoyed delicious meat, veg, fruit, eggs and butter from the service and will continue to do so. The quality of the food is a reminder that there is a vast gulf between a supermarket vegetable and the “real thing”.  If “real” vegetables were more readily available, perhaps more people would enjoy them! The same goes for fruit – the Katy apples I ordered from Farm Direct were literally a world away from the bland offerings in the shops, flown in from the other side of the world.

Give it a try and you will be convinced that eating healthily and sustainably is far from boring.

Review: “In Defence of Food”

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Overview

Michael Pollan’s “In Defence of Food”  outlines a very simple strategy for eating -  “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants”.

Positives

Whilst there are many excellent books on approaches to diet and the dangers of “nutritionism” (such as Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories”), this is perhaps the clearest, easiest to follow and most balanced – as well as the shortest.

It argues that the nutritional research trend of reducing food to its components (fat, protein, carbohydrate, phytochemicals, vitamins, etc.) is largely unhelpful, citing the case of whole grains as an excellent example. Scientists still do not know what it is about whole grains that makes the people who eat them healthier. It is not due, as initially thought, to fibre, phytic acid or any specific vitamin. However, the general public is now extremely nutrient-conscious, and attentive to fat content, carbohydrate content and vitamin enrichment – the ideal market for the nutrient-adjusted “food-like” substances produced and marketed by food companies.The fact that manufacturers of crisps and desserts can receive a “heart healthy” approval (for a fee) because of their engineered fat content is sickening.

The Western diet, based on refined flour and sugar, is presented as the main cause of the “Western” diseases – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Pollan explains how humans can thrive on a variety of diets – vegetarian, high protein, low fat, high fat – but not the Western diet.

The last section of the book gives suggestions for escaping the Western diet.

Negatives

It is difficult to find real fault with this book. The suggestions for escaping the Western diet will be largely unhelpful for people with limited resources in terms of money and potentially time, though (organic delivery services will help with the time aspect). I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of spending a little more to get good quality meat and vegetables, but this is not an option for everyone.

Also, the focus on eating “mostly plants” is at odds with the fact that there are a number of very healthy human populations who eat little or no plant material, as reported in the book. Pollan does not promote vegetarianism as the only way forward, though, stating that since humans have been going to so much trouble for so long to obtain meat, it probably has a place in the diet. It is also fair to say that eating more plant food would not be a bad idea for most people.

Finally, Pollan dismisses supplements as useless, except perhaps multivitamins for the over-50s and in some cases a fish oil. Fish oil is well researched, with benefits for insulin metabolism, inflammation and cardiovascular health and I would put it ahead of multivitamins in terms of importance – even for people who eat well. I would also advise supplementation with vitamin D3 for most people living in the UK.  As for other vitamins, supplementing with B complex may be helpful for improving energy levels and mood, and I suggest a good quality multivitamin as an optional extra for those who place excessive demands on their bodies – such as frequent, heavy exercise, an extremely busy work and travel schedule or an ambitious fat loss plan. It is not yet clear whether multivitamins have significant health benefits, although studies do not generally discriminate between types of multivitamins (and there is likely to be a huge difference in biological activity).

Verdict

Everyone should read this book! Real food should be easily available and affordable, not an effort to obtain, or a luxury – and perhaps the most likely way to achieve this is through consumer power. If Farmers’ Markets and organic delivery services blossom, and the non-food taking up most of the space in our supermarkets is shunned, producers will have to change their practices.

The Dukan Diet: Review

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Overview

The Dukan Diet may be the next diet phenomenon in the UK – it has already been a runaway success in many countries, including its native France, where it is reported to have over 5 million adherents. Designed by Dr Pierre Dukan, a medical doctor, it is promoted as the most realistic way to achieve lasting weight loss. In addition to the book, email coaching, online forums, etc. are available.

The diet can be used by anyone wishing to lose weight (fat), but may be particularly suited to people who are very overweight (with high body fat percentages).

Positives

  • A very structured approach, that starts with a strict, protein-only Attack phase, and progresses through intermediate phases to the Stabilisation phase, where the previously overweight person can eat normally – except for 1 day per week, when they must eat only protein. Followers must also include oat bran in their diet, never again use lifts or escalators and walk every day. These simple rules make the overall approach seem reasonable and easy to follow
  • Coverage of how to address unhealthy weight in children – an important topic (unfortunately)
  • Useful insights, such as “diet resistance” – the state where having tried so many diets in the past, a person cannot lose weight on any regime. May be good for some readers to hear that this is recognised!
  • Understanding that food is a source of pleasure for many people, Dr Dukan does not require dieters to make a permanent switch to seeing food as fuel
  • The author has years of experience and offers coaching and support

Negatives

  • Focus on weight loss, rather than fat loss, although this is common to many diet books
  • Notion that aspartame and artificially sweetened “foods” can be used with impunity – even giving children sweet tasting but low calorie foods is allowed. There is no discussion of how this might encourage cravings for the “real thing”. Safety concerns about asparatame are simply brushed aside
  • Despite Dr Dukan rejecting the low-calorie approach to dieting, he lists numerous ways in which to create a caloric deficit, including, for the very overweight, the use of cold food and cold environments! In some places in the book, there is the feeling that food is inherently a bad thing – one of the reasons Dr Dukan prescribes daily oat bran is that he claims it can prevent full intestinal absorption of nutrients. Also it is implied that people become overweight largely due to a lack of self control
  • There are areas of waffle, and scientific explanations are not included (for example, the pleasure aspect of food is explained entirely without reference to neurotransmitters) – although admittedly the simpler explanations may be welcomed by many
  • Some feeling of a patronising approach towards women. It is assumed that it is the goal of women to be “seductive” (this word is used many times throughout the book), and there are references to typical female sterotypes – hypersensitive teenage girls, and unbalanced, water-retaining perimenopausal women, for example

Verdict

If you are signficantly overweight (with a body fat percentage that is above average), and have tried, and given up on, numerous diets in the past, the Dukan Diet may help you – it has helped many other people and includes some sensible advice. If you are serious about your goals, you could benefit from the structured, progressive nature of the programme, the opportunities for support, and the no-nonsense approach to lifestyle modifications. The message there is that if you are overweight and want to lose weight (fat), you must accept moving more as an absolute necessity, with no excuses.

However, do your own research into sweeteners and consider avoiding the sweet taste entirely for some time if you have an attachment to it.  Whilst being honest with yourself about your food intake, and challenging overuse of food as a comforter/stimulant/social aid, try not to pay too much attention to the inference that greed is the cause of weight (fat) problems, and do not think of food as your enemy or start counting calories obsessively. Finally, if you are female,  perhaps prepare yourself for some mild annoyance on reading the book!