While I'm not a great fan of Hollywood health and diet gurus in general – finding much of their advice to be either ludicrous or bootcamp-plus tough and undo-able - one of them, even though he counts Goop girl Gwyneth Paltrow as one of his clients, has this week said something that is eminently sensible.
Dr Frank Lipman, who practises what he calls functional medicine and describes himself as a health evangelist, pronounced: “A lot of Western medicine is not preventative. We don't teach people how to take care of themselves, we just wait for them to get sick and then we give them drugs to suppress the symptoms.” A simple thought, but one that tells the truth.
A cornerstone of Lipman's 'preventative' advice and philosophy is to improve people's eating habits with a diet plan that is mostly unprocessed and sugar-free, so far so good. But I fall out with him slightly over several of his eating rules, as many perfectly decent and nutritious foods appear to be on his 'banned' list, including any farmed fish, pork, peanuts, cow's and soy milk and cheese. He also has a negative thing about all gluten-containing foods so wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats are all banned too, even if you aren't allergic to gluten.
So I won't be going to him for a nutrition makeover (even if I could afford it – just the initial consultation is nearly £400!) but I do think his advice, a version of the timeless saying 'prevention is better than cure' should be something we all try to take on board.
However, rather than focussing on banned foods, I prefer the positive approach – I like to get people I help on my own website, the diet detective, to start by writing a long list of all the fresh and wholesome foods they do enjoy, and then base a plan around those. Even for people who've lived on too many junk, salty, low-nutrient, high-cal, highly-processed foods can usually think of enough decent foods they enjoy to make this perfectly do-able.
And the blessing is that if you enjoy your foods and meals, then you'll stick with it.
Couple such a diet with small changes to ensure you don't spend all day sitting on your ever-increasingly ample bottom (assuming you're in reasonable physical shape and have no medical condition that forces you to sit). There are literally dozens of recent scientific research papers to show that standing, and moving, and working your body, is good, while sitting for long hours is bad (two hours at a time should be your max, apparently) and will almost inevitably lead to health problems and that raft of drugs Lipman mentions, sooner or later.
I woke up in the middle of the night and realised that the one thing I want in life is to be healthy as I age, for my body to be the best it can be. Everything else, when it is pared back, depends on that - my independence, my ability to enjoy my children and grandchildren in an interactive way, even my ability to work, up to a point. There can be no stronger motivation to lead a healthful life.
It's hard to promote our own health and wellbeing when most of us live in an environment which promotes the opposite – overeating and underexercising. But it can be done. Every time I feel like not going out for that walk, or I tell myself that extra glass or two or wine is fine, I deserve it, I'm starting to interrupt myself and ask, “Do I really want to be the architect of my own infirmity and ill health in older age?” If the answer is 'no', which it is for me – and I am sure it is for you, then there's only one option. Do as Dr Lipman says, and get preventing.
Ate last night:
Fish in a parcel. I've never been one for cooking things in foil or parchment in the oven, but I found a version of this in a weekend supplement and it's lovely. The aromas that hit you when you open your parcel are just gorgeous. It's also easy, healthy and ideal if you're trying to lose a bit of weight.
To serve two, put two squares of foil lined with baking parchment in a large roasting tray and lightly oil the centre of the parchment. On each square, put a good thick fillet of your choice of white fish (cod or hake is ideal). In a bowl, combine two small chopped preserved lemons (you can buy them in a jar), 1 tsp each smoked paprika, fennel seeds and cumin seeds, one medium red chilli, chopped, and a handful each of fresh chopped mint and coriander. Add one large crushed garlic clove, the juice of half an orange and some salt and black pepper. Stir thoroughly then spoon over the two fillets. Sprinkle over some finely-chopped spring or red onion and about four peeled raw prawns to each fillet, then drizzle over a tad of olive oil, seal the parcels and bake at 190C for 15 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through.