How to Eat Well for the Homemaker

…Or Anyone Who Works With Children

Its all about steady energy levels so a billion things can be done each day, frequently all at once, whilst remaining calm and serene. Can this be possible?

If this is to be achieved, then breakfast is a must. And the best breakfast for all the family is one with a good level of protein and fat so blood sugar levels get off to a steady start. Then when you get back home after the school run, a stonking cup of coffee. Yum.

The benefits of stable blood sugar are good concentration levels for those at school and less mood swings for those left at home bog cleaning. Blood sugar is really all about the brain. The brain needs a steady supply of glucose. When carbohydrates are eaten (as in breakfast cereal/toast/porridge), they cause a blood sugar surge which is too much for the brain to handle. So then insulin is released by the pancreas to lower the high blood sugar levels leading to a big drop in blood sugar. Low blood sugar is also bad for the brain; mood and concentration levels dip and because the brain insists that something must be done to rapidly raise blood sugar levels it forces you to choose an easy source of sugar = biscuits/fruit/juice. Which leads to another blood sugar surge – and so the cycle goes on. So with a steady supply of blood sugar that a protein and fat breakfast give, it becomes clear as to why concentration and mood are just so much better.

A good reason for eating protein at breakfast is to do with the liver. The liver has a two-stage detoxification process, the second stage of which is heavily protein dependant. So no protein until lunchtime at the earliest leaves the poor liver struggling to detox our very toxic world. The very air we breath is toxic, being laden with car fumes, pesticides/herbicides/air freshener/perfumes/household cleaning stuffs etc. So eating a protein rich breakfast gets the liver off to a good start for all the family. Signs of a struggling liver include fatigue and bags under the eyes.

As you get used to the idea of protein at breakfast and you start to get more adventurous with the red meats, then you really hit gold. Red meat (steak, venison, lamb etc) particularly causes dopamine to rise in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that causes feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement. These feelings increase motivation to do or to continue to do activities. Low dopamine levels are found in the brains of children with ADHD. It is also the neurotransmitter associated with movement. This means you won’t miss the bog when aiming the cleaner at it.

So here we are in the morning, charging around playing hunt the muddy football boot as usual and I’m saying, ‘Bibs out, guys, lets do Breakfast!’ If the word pandemonium rings true then we are talking rolled up slices of ham/cold beef etc plus a handful of nuts. This is easier to eat on the run than a bowl of cereal! Of course, it is better to eat sitting down and breakfast doesn’t have to be a major cooking experience. It can be fish or shellfish, e.g. prawns and avocado. Eggs in various forms – but not everyday to avoid food sensitivity issues. Cold meats from the night before. Cold turkey or chicken fillets. Preserved meat/fish (e.g. ham, bacon or smoked salmon) can be eaten, but because of the preservatives are best eaten occasionally.

If the personal effort involved in getting the various members of your family up and running is Herculean, it may suit you better to grab a handful of nuts whilst getting them sorted. Then when you get home, take your reward by enjoying Breakfast and Coffee. Stable blood sugar, stable temper, stable energy.

Now fat is just the most fabulous way to help get that brain into gear and keep it there. Carbohydrates cause blood sugar to rise. However, there is clearly a huge difference between a caramel cream, a croissant, a carrot and a cabbage. Essentially you will have to eat a barrow of carrots or a hill of cabbage to cause a significant blood sugar rise. Protein will cause blood sugar to rise, but only if eaten in large quantities. Fat has no effect upon blood sugar, takes a while to digest so has a stabilising effect. At breakfast, the best source of fat is actually nuts – for sheer ease of eating, apart from anything else. And nuts are a good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals. Nuts are an ancient food and so are a far more natural part of our diet than grains. Other good sources of fat for breakfast are avocado pears or seeds – or coconut, a hypoallergenic ‘nut’.

Coffee or tea after breakfast is fab. The plus sides of coffee far outweigh the negatives. The positives are it is an excellent source of antioxidants and as such, studies repeatedly show it lowers cancer risks, has a very good effect on the liver and helps prevent type 2 diabetes. It is also a good source of magnesium and chromium (which mineral helps control blood sugar). Coffee is best organic to avoid excessive intake of pesticides. In order to preserve the antioxidants, coffee must be drunk with double cream or black. Milk, especially skimmed or semi-skimmed, negates these positive effects. Although skimmed or semi-skimmed milk apparently has more calcium that full fat milk, the uptake of calcium needs fat – at least 5% – the amount of fat in full fat milk. So any level of fat below this means the calcium is inaccessible and just peed away. Coffee and tea are good for you – but are best drunk before 4pm to avoid interfering with sleep.

To avoid feeling ravenously hungry late afternoon, it is a good idea to eat a handful of nuts/seeds/coconut mid morning. It is unlikely that you will be hungry at this moment and the few extra calories you take in then will save several hundred calories eaten at 4.30pm. It will also help maintain serenity throughout the day and evening.

Following the protein and fat breakfast with a handful of nuts mid-morning, when lunchtime arrives, you will be feeling pretty good. In order to keep this going, lunch consists of primarily of protein and plenty of vegetables. The simplest and best is to have saved some of last nights dinner, which could be reheated with additional vegetables or a salad and topped off with a bit of fruit. The danger of eating too many starchy carbs at lunch is that they make you sleepy. Apart from blood sugar drop or food sensitivity issues, they do this because all proteins break down to a variety of amino acids. And the amino acid that causes sleepiness is tryptophan. Normally tryptophan is over-powered by the other amino acids in the protein. But in the presence of insulin, some amino acids leave the blood stream and enter the muscles, leaving a higher concentration of tryptophan in the blood. Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin and melatonin, both of which cause happy sleepiness. The worst form of starchy carb to eat at lunch is wheat or rye. And I refer you to the wheat blog to find out why.

A great thing about plenty of vegetables/salad at lunchtime is they are a good source of vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. There is much debate about whether they are better cooked or raw. They are least degraded when raw – but harder to digest, so the goodness is harder to access. Lightly steamed, then rolled in butter is the optimal way of cooking them for maximum access to the nutrients. In the same way, if you eat a salad, eat it with oil and vinegar (eg balsamic or wine). This helps nutrient uptake and makes it tastier so you will eat more.

Then, having rattled through the afternoon, serious family feeding looms. And maybe serious HomeWork. Or the utter joy of the adolescent facing GCSEs. Do not get hungry. If you have eaten well up to this point, this is easy to achieve. The best snacks are either a handful of nuts or a bit of cheese – or a combo of protein (eg cold meat/ shellfish) and carbs (eg carrots, bit of fruit). If a meal has been missed or a high carb meal chosen, then this is not so easy to achieve and frequently results in uncontrolled eating, leading to mood swings, guilt and weight gain.

Dinner. Household vary so much. But however this is tackled, to eat well is simple. Cook it yourself. It needn’t be complex. Just make simple things tasty. Nigel Slater’s books on fast cooking are good sources of inspiration. So if mince is a staple, a) vary the meat mince and b) vary the things added – so not always onions and tomatoes. Could be minced pork with Chinese spices (star anise, soy sauce, ginger, a little honey), various stir fried vegetables and rice or minced lamb with aubergine and spices such as turmeric, cumin and ground coriander served with lentils. The addition of fresh herbs can pick up a very simple meal. A favourite rapid supper of mine is chicken legs roasted with lemon and garlic – involves speedy hacking at the lemon and scrabbling about with the garlic, then bunging in the oven with maybe a jacket spud or two whilst rushing off to do Other Things. Do add things to the vegetables – again herbs and spices, various oils and a little good salt – to make them tasty. Plain steamed is all well and good – but boring and no one will eat enough of them.

Pudding. It is normal to want something sweet at the end of a meal. What you eat is dependant upon obvious things like activity levels and weight control. So skinny family, skinny you, enjoy a good pudding. But usually there are time constraints upon pudding cooking, apart from anything else. So if yoghurt is the order of the day, just as with milk, in order to get the goodness in the yoghurt, buy full fat Greek yoghurt, add a little honey if wanted and some fruit. Shop bought yoghurts are either chock full of sugar, which will rev your little dears up when you want them quietening down or they are full of artificial this that and the other. Fruit can be a pudding. As can plain dark chocolate. If it is ice-cream, again buy the real stuff and not some low-fat alternative choc full of dubious rubbish. I sat through a lecture by Charles Poliquin comparing the insulin load of Tofutti (some ‘healthy’ American ice-cream) vs Haagen Dasz. Tofutti came in at 34, Haagen Dasz at 5….

Drink. Water is an absolute essential. What I have observed is that if people are very dehydrated, water tastes awful. I have observed it in myself when I’ve endured a mammoth shopping expedition, not drunk enough water (quite enough bags to cart about without lugging some bottle of water too) and next I know, water suddenly tastes not nice. So I force myself to drink water and after a bit, it tastes OK again. I have experimented with drinking loads and loads of water and can attest it tastes nicer and nicer. However, I was definitely drinking too much, and could see how it could develop into hyponatremia. This is actually a lack of electrolytes in the blood and can be brought on by a low salt diet. How much water to drink? Your body weight in Kgs x .033 if inactive or .044 if active. This amount goes up if it is hot of course.

Fruit Juice is generally to be avoided since it raises blood sugar too rapidly, with the concomitant problems arising. I suppose a home-made smoothie is better provided it has all the fibre of the fruit still in the juice. Fruit is better eaten whole.

Wine is very good for you provided its consumption is under control.

So to eat well involves forethought and sometimes a change of eating habits plus a wee stretch of the imagination. It does not have to require loads of preparation time. To eat well is a cornerstone to being well.

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