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Should you be changing your diet?

Too many of us have eaten the wrong food for years. Heavy advertising, endorsements of expensive fad foods by so-called celebrities and the easy availability of junk food is partly to blame for this. As a result, over the years harmful toxins have found their way into our foods, and lots of the nutrition lost. We've trusted that what we eat is fit for consumption. However, if you read the labels on some ready-made meals, a lot of it isn't food as we know it. Much of it is heavily processed and packed with additives, such as artificial flavourings and sweeteners, salt, preservative, colouring, thickening agents and water, held in place by emulsifiers. Owing to legislation, all food-related businesses, from industrial-sized growers and processing plants to supermarkets and fast food chains must now, with clear details, tell us what's in our food, so at last we can make informed decisions about what we eat.

Starvation and over-eating are as bad as each other

Losing weight quickly can seriously damage your health by starving your body of essentials. We are in the middle of an obesity epidemic but this seems to affect younger people more than we over-sixties. However, if you do need to lose weight make sure that you have taken properly qualified advice first. A 21-year-old may appear to get away with crash or yo-yo dieting but someone of 60+ could suffer badly. So, do it in moderation. At the other extreme, many older people suffer from malnutition because of various illnesses, or treatments for those illnesses, which severely depress their appetites. If this is a problem GPs can prescribe products such as Aymes Shake which provide a balance of minerals, vitamins, protein, carbohydrate, fats and calories. Mixed and shaken with water or milk they provide a nourishing drink, which is easy for most people to get down, in various flavours.

On the other hand many of us have an over-eating habit. We may have had physically demanding jobs which meant that we needed plenty of calories, but that is in the past now. We don't need as much bulk food, but we still need the essential nutrients and vitamins, so eat less but better. Cut out the sugars (EVERYBODY should cut out the sugars!), sweets, cakes, white bread, and heavily processed food and you won't go far wrong. If you love rice throw away the white variety (which is almost pure starch) and substitute the brown one; it needs cooking for a little longer but it's low on calories but highly nutritious with fibre, protein, manganese, selenium, phosphorus and B vitamins.

You don't have to pay a fortune for good food

Oily fish is a great source of vitamin D, selenium, B-vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. In short it's a miracle food without the expense that normally entails. OK, salmon may be pricy but mackerel and sardines aren't and they are more tasty too. Broccoli is a good source of both calcium (which we need for strong bones) and vitamin K; and did you know that we usually throw away the best bit? We all eat the florets but the stalks are highly nutritious too and they can be sliced up and cooked or made into a soup. Bananas are cheap and contain a lot of the essential element potassium (but don't go overboard; take medical advice if you have kndney problems). Tomatoes contain a fair bit too, as well as vitamins A, B2 and C, plus folate, plus the antioxidant lycopene. Cooked tomatoes are actually better for us than raw ones, since the lycopene is made easier to absorb; try frying them in olive oil or simply add some commercial puree to soups, casseroles and stews. Frozen veg is usually excellent too, although fresh is usually tastier. Chickens are cheap and the range of recipes is endless. Turkey legs are practically given away at certain times of the year; casserole tham slowly and they are delicious. In short, fresh food should cost a fraction of the cost of the processed variety, and it doesn't contain any potentially harmful additives, adulterations or e-numbers!

Consider supplements

As we get older we become less efficient at absorbing vitamins and certain essential elements. We also eat less, with the risk of starving our systems even further of these vital constituents. Housebound people can suffer from lack of sunlight and so develop a vitamin D deficiency. We need calcium for strong bones, particularly when we reach an age when osteoporosis may be something to be concerned about. Zinc, magnesium, potassium are all essential for the more complex workings of our bodies. Iron is essential for blood production. However; a surplus of any of these can be positively dangerous so you should always - yes always - get proper medical advice, including a blood test, before taking vitamin pills or other supplements.

Carbohydrates, whole grains and your heart

You don't have to live on rabbit food. One-third of our diet should include carbs. Bread, white rice,and pasta are all carbohydrates, but they're refined, and that's not good unless they include wholegrain varieties. Studies carried out by numerous researches, including Harvard Medical School, show that wholegrain foods help lower cholesterol. They keep you full for longer and give you more energy and by providing roughage they help to keep your digestive system moving properly.

Unfortunately if refined carbs, such as anything made with white flour or white rice, are not exercised away, they turn into sugar and fat which clings to your waist and puts pressure on your heart. They also make you lethargic, which doesn't bode well with motivation.

Fresh, fresh, fresh!

You can get preserved fruit and veg in tins and it's not all bad. However they often contain sugar, salt and preservatives so there's no substitute for fresh produce. If you keep wasting stuff because you're alone, consider cooking in bulk and freezing meals for later, or get friendly with your greengrocer or community gardens so you can buy a mixed bag of fruit and veg instead of buying packs you'll waste. If you like gardening, you could grow some things, maybe barter the excess. If you can't cook, learning could be fun, help save your life and give you something to do.

No excuses

Maybe you physically don't want to eat your 5 a day. Get a juicer. Juiced fruit and veg is crammed with vitamins and nutrients, you don't lose any goodness. If you can't afford one, ask around; ask a younger relative to put an add on a social media site for one for free or cheap, they're always in and out of fashion and there'll be one out there needing a home.

Really, it's just about balance and cutting out the bad stuff. If you want to eat super-healthy, or know what preventative and healing compounds certain foods hold, ask a search engine or visit your library. You can start eating better now, but don't forget to chat with your healthcare professional before you make any big changes. Finally, remember, food aside, water is the source of all life - drink it up. And don't get too fond of a low-salt diet, whatever the newspapers say; having too little can kill you too. If you drink a lot or sweat a lot, then feel ill, get swollen legs or suffer from cramps, get to a doctor immediately; sodium difficiency is serious. Fashionable diets can be dangerous but a varied one, with selections of fresh vegetables, fruit, chicken, fish, and (yes) the occasional lamb chop or beefsteak should give you a good chance of taking in sufficient minerals, vitamins and nourishment to keep you going for many more years to come.

Looking for life insurance?

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