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Dani VennHealth

What should I eat? It’s a question that plagues the minds of many. The answer, in theory, is simple and has been best answered by one of my favourite authors Michael Pollan, ‘eat food, mainly plants, not too much’. But somewhere along the line, during the last one hundred years, the way we consume and grow food has changed dramatically, and left many Westerners confused and sick.

So when I heard that a speaking tour addressing the very question that made me start this blog, What Should I Eat? was happening in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, naturally I was intrigued. The impressive line-up featured some of Australia’s best known health and wellness authors including Sarah Wilson (I Quit Sugar), Lola Berry (The Happy Cookbook), Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos (The Mediterranean Diet), Professor Kerryn Phelps (The Cancer Recovery Guide), Dr Sue Sheppard (Low Fodmap Diet) and David Gellispie (Toxic Oil, Sweet Poison).

The night kicked off with an admission from facilitator, Chris Bath that the panel had just polished off some burgers back stage, as if we wouldn’t believe that healthy people eat burgers?! Apparently they do, or was it just a plug for Lola’s new burger at Grill’d? I’m not sure, sounded yum though. The opening question to the panel was ‘what food rules do you break?’ Maybe it was just a way to make the panel members seem like ‘one of the people’ but to me it highlighted the association of food and feeling guilty. The responses were fairly predictable and not really that sinful, ‘dark chocolate and wine,’ Sarah Wilson revealed (Shock! Horror!), Dr Catherine Itsiopolous mentioned everything in moderation is OK (hurrah!) and funnily enough David Gellispie the author of Toxic Oil, as in seed oil that chips are deep fried in, admitted that he has the ‘occasional’ hot chip. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t?

The discussion was broken down into fairly distinct topics of conversation, so to make this more digestible (see what I did there?) for you dear reader, I will summarize each focus area for you – and add in my ten cents worth along the way!

Who should we turn to for advice on what we should eat?

The can of worms was peeled open and between expertly qualified professors, doctors, scientists, nutritionist, food blogger/ journalist and former corporate lawyer, the cracks between differences of opinion were revealed. Dr Sue Shepard was quick to suggest dieticians as the leading expert, which I think is pretty solid advice. However, Sarah Wilson shut her down as some dieticians have vested interests and are associated with food bodies. Valid point. But should we be really relying on food bloggers like Sarah Wilson who don’t have any educational qualifications in this area? Apparently her 20 year plus experience as a journalist gives her cred. But ‘she who should not be named’ (hint: author of The Whole Pantry) has given ‘experts’ in the health and wellness industry a reality check and exposed the need for people to be responsible, authentic and transparent. Too true.

In short: Even experts with all the answers seem somewhat confused, or at least, cannot agree where we should turn to for advice.

Sugar – is it really that bad?

I think everyone agrees that we need to reduce the amount of refined sugar in our diet. But sugar is not just sugar; it’s broken down into two parts – glucose and fructose. The later, fructose, is the baddy and is blamed for the obesity epidemic and other food related disease. Fructose is naturally occurring in fruit, which before tonight, I thought Sarah Wilson was against eating, but thankfully I learnt that she advocates eating two pieces of whole fruit a day. It’s the fructose and hidden added sugars found in processed food and soft drinks that you need to worry about, amongst other things. Dried fruit and juice was also mentioned as items to be avoided. It made sense when David Gillespie gave the example that a box of sultanas designed for kids school lunches, really is like giving your child a whole bunch of grapes, why not give your kids a handful of fresh grapes to enjoy at school instead of a box of concentrated sugar? Same applies for juice, opt for one orange instead of the juice of five. Makes sense.

In short: Avoid processed and packaged food with added refined sugars, like High Fructose Corn Syrup, or anything you can not pronounce, or anything your great grandmother might not recognise as food.

Organics – just because it’s organic does this mean it’s healthy?

In relation to packaged and processed foods, no. I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow Coke one day brings out organic Coke, this doesn’t mean that it would be good for you. Reading the label is key, organic refined sugar is not any better for you than ordinary sugar. Sarah Wilson mentioned that health food stores are one of the unhealthiest places you can shop, I thought that was a bit rough, but I see her point that clever food marketers disguise their products as ‘healthy’ under the guise of being ‘organic’. Be savvy and mindful of ‘greenwashing’ always check what ingredients are on the label and keep in mind these general rules, 5 ingredients or less is best or if an ingredient sounds like it should be in a chemistry textbook, as Lola Berry warns, ‘be careful, it might just outlive you!’

In short: No. Be wary of the word ‘organic’ being used as a food-marketing tool to disguise unhealthy ingredients. But when it comes to fresh produce I personally think fresh organic produce is better for you.

Fats – what are the dangerous fats we should look out for?

Over the last one hundred years we have gone from getting most of our fat intake from animals, to now getting most from seed oils in the form of vegetable and canola oils. David Gillespie attributes this intake of trans-fats (those produced from vegetable oils) as well as refined sugars, to the major cause of increased food related disease, including some cancers. Professor Kerryn Phelps (The Cancer Recovery Guide) states it cannot be simplified that easily and you have to take into account our changing lifestyle factors also. David stresses that olive oil and coconut oil are not seed oils and are subsequently good for you (yay!) There is much disappointment noted by Kerryn that trans-fats should be part of nutritional labelling in Australia, which is compulsory in Europe and the United States.

In short: Don’t eat margarine. Use olive oil as the healthiest option in your cooking.

Caffeine and Alcohol – should we drink it?

Thankfully Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos (The Mediteranean Diet) chimes in with everything in moderation is OK, after all could you imagine Italy without espresso or glass of vino? Interestingly David points out how different ‘coffee’ is interpreted around the world and really it largely depends on how you have your coffee. In places like Italy and Europe, a shot of espresso is commonplace, in the United States a Caramel Flan Latte (espresso topped with caramel infused whipped cream and caramel syrup) – something that makes any self-respecting Melbournian shudder – is considered coffee! Sarah Wilson provides sound advice, ‘don’t let alcohol or coffee own you, if you feel like you need to have a coffee or a glass of wine everyday, just back off a little and let your body reset’. But it’s Kerryn’s fact that alcohol is classed as a carcinogenic and there is no known safe amount, that makes me worried about my lax ‘glass a day is kinda OK attitude’.

In short: Don’t get your coffee at Starbucks and don’t drink coffee or alcohol everyday. Brutal, I know.

There were other important topics spoken about including exercise (we should do more of it!) and food labelling (don’t necessarily trust it) but I’ll explore these topics a little more another time.

I’d love for you to let me know if there is anything you would like to find out about when it comes to our health and nutrition, if there is someone fantastic that you would like me to interview or just a question you would like answered. You can contact me via my website or hit me up on social media. I’d love to hear from you!

Thankyou Pan Macmillan for inviting me to this event. I think Kerryn Phillips should be our Prime Minister, and not only because she has a problem with any diet that eliminates an entire food group. Word.

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