Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Nanny State and its Seven Portions

The BBC reports on
7 Portions
The latest news on diet is that we should actually be eating seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day... except that some people are suggesting that all those portions should comprise entirely of vegetables, because anyone eating seven portions of fruit a day is probably consuming far too much sugar.

Of course, we already know that we’re only allowed fourteen or twenty-one units of alcohol per week, depending on whether we’re a man or a woman. Some suggest three eggs a week is a good limit, but that three portions of oily fish is a minimum, except there are others who worry about water pollution, and... is it mercury? Then there’s the red meat debate. How much is too much? A glass of red wine a day is a good thing, but caffeine is bad and taurine is worse. Then there’s salt. How often are we warned about salt?

Burnt toast and crisp bacon will give you cancer, not to mention tomato skins, and what about battery chickens and GM crops?

What about walking ten thousand steps a day or getting three thirty-minute workouts a week?

What about my BMI? What about yours?

I’m all for good advice about healthy living, but my grandparents had none of these rules. All of my grandparents lived long into their eighties, except for my grandmother who died of cancer in her seventies. The women in her family generally did. We know now that there’s a genetic component to that.

The difference was, they didn’t need rules about eating, because they ate real food. By which I mean that they had routines for eating three meals a day, there was no such thing as a snack, and none of their food was bought ready prepared.

Like a lot of women, I’ve had all sorts of issues with food since I was a kid. The bottom line is, though, that I live a pretty sedentary life, and I don’t actually need a lot of calories. I like food and I like it to be good. I’ve thrown away all the official rulebooks. I’m going to die one of these days, but while I’m here, I’m going to live.

I think there are better rules to live by, and I do like rules and routines, so, for what it’s worth, here are some that suit me. I realise that they might not suit you, but some of these come from wise old sources. To begin with it might be worth saying that my daily routine is to eat one meal of one course, but that I eat what I fancy. I listen to my body. Obviously there are days when I eat more than one meal, and meals when I eat more than one course. Most people want to eat more often than that every day, obviously, but that’s what I do. The rest is as follows.

     1. Eat more things with 0 legs and 1 leg (eggs, fish plants) than you eat with two legs or four legs, and eat nothing with three legs unless it’s your husband.

Sound advice, but not too prescriptive. This was given to me by my grandmother, but I think it rings true in the modern era and steers me clear of mass produced meat and GM foods.

     2. Eat no more in one sitting than you can comfortably hold in your two cupped hands.

Smaller people, smaller portions... stands to reason for weight control. Also works well for people who like to eat more often.

     3. Never eat standing up or moving around.

Prevents snacking. If you’re hungry enough to eat, you’re hungry enough to take time to make a meal of it.

     4. Try not to eat alone, but never eat in company you don’t like.

Another one from my grandmother. A holistic approach to our bodies isn’t a bad thing. Lots of people eat for comfort. Learning not to eat when you’re uncomfortable can begin to break that cycle. (If I’m eating alone I usually put music on rather than the tv.)

     5. If you can’t visualise an ingredient in its natural state, don’t eat it. 

This one dramatically cuts down on the ready prepared food you’ll eat, or will help you make better choices.

     6. If an animal is worth killing it’s worth eating all of it.

There’s the grandmother again. People are often shy of this one, but offal is higher in nutrients and lower in fats than a lot of muscle meat, and it’s delicious.

     7. Eat nothing white.

For all sensible purposes there is no white food in nature. Ok... cauliflowers... let’s call them green. Milk from cows was never meant for humans, but we all use it all the time. I’m talking about white flour and white sugar. Cut them out and you’ll cut out a huge amount of fat with them. It’s fine, no one sticks to this one, which is why we have rule number 8.

     8. Home make all your own junk food.

You’ll know what’s in it, there won’t be any preservatives and you’ll have burnt some calories in the making. There’s a nice sense of satisfaction from cooking, and the end results will be far superior to anything you can buy. Homemade hamburgers made from good steak are practically a delicacy in our house, as is the dort’s world class carrot cake.

     9. If your grandmother wouldn’t recognise it, it probably isn’t food.

I used this principle on my children when they were small, so they did have chocolate buttons, but not Haribou, and they did have Robinson’s barley water, but not Coke. The same applies to choosing the local fish and chip shop over MacDonalds, for me at least.

     10. A little bit of something wonderful is always more exciting than a lot of something bland.

Give me a couple of olives or a spoonful of caviar over a two day old loaf of shop bought white bread any day of the week.

So, there you have it. 

Now, go away and do whatever you please, and when that survey comes around or when your doctor asks the tough questions, do what everyone else does and fib about how much alcohol you drink and how much fruit and veg you eat. 

Me? I tell my doctor the truth. I’m going to die one day, but, in the meantime, I’m going to live a little.


  1. Alex just wrote this comment on my FB page, and I couldn't resist sharing it here:

    I hate 'health nazi'-ism. Informative advice is fine, but we're adults and should be able to make our own informed choices about what's best for us and our children, without having draconian rules enforced!
    I'm like you - I'd rather live and enjoy my food!
    I'm not a particularly healthy eater (although I'm not nearly as bad as I used to be either), but I do get tetchy if there's not enough vegetables on offer!
    But these people who actively try to ban things or forcibly stop people from choosing what they want really drive me nuts.

    True story: When I was at uni, a friend offered to make one of his fabulous chocolate orange cheesecakes if I bought the ingredients for it. This sounded like an excellent deal to me, so I trundled off to Tesco with the list he gave me. One of the items was Philadelphia cream-cheese. At the supermarket, I was most dismayed to find that they had a clubcard promotion on Philadelphia Light, but not the regular one, despite them being exactly the same size, price etc. So I filed an official complaint that they were 'discriminating against thin people'. Alas, I never heard back.

    I did enjoy some excellent cheesecake though.

    1. I try to eat but I am lucky if I remember to eat at least during the day. I spend my time worrying if my girls are healthy in their choices and not so much myself.

    2. Try eating with them as much as you can. It worked for us.