A review of the the book 'Spoon-Fed' by Tim Spector
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Where do you get the information you base your food and diet choices on?
I am really interested in health and wellbeing and have been studying and researching the subject for years, not only the ingredients that are in our makeup and skincare products, but also the food fads and diet recommendations that come our way on a constant basis.
From the government and various medical charities and institutions to newspapers and social media everyone seems to have a different idea about what constitutes a healthy diet, but how much of it should we believe?
I have a strong interest in staying healthy having had a stage iv blood cancer and try to live what I feel is a healthy lifestyle for me without making myself miserable. It's easy to give up trying though as you are constantly bombarded with headlines that scream that everything from a glass of wine to a rasher of bacon is going to cut your life short or up the chance of you catching some deadly disease.
All this conflicting evidence does is turn people off and make them think it's not worth the bother because whatever they do this month to try and improve their health there will probably be another study out next month telling them exactly the opposite. It's exhausting trying to keep up with it all.
It really is a maze of information out there and if you dig deep in to some of it you will find out that the studies that tell you that a particular heavily processed food or ingredient is actually beneficial to your health will probably have been funded by the very food manufacturer or organisation that promotes or sells it - hardly reassuring.
Over the course of many years I have flip-flopped from one idea to another and experimented with different 'healthy' eating lifestyles, mainly based on reports in the media or from government information but never really thought about how my mind and body felt, until I was ill. Suddenly everything I put in my mouth had the potential to help me get stronger and recover or possibly contain ingredients my body probably wouldn't recognise or utilise and would not help me to heal.
I became an avid label reader for food ingredients and started to delve deeper in to food and diet advice and the recommendations given to the public. I also began to look behind the headlines at the actual studies to see exactly who funded them, how they had been run and what they actually said.
I decided to listen to the one expert in all this - my own body
Have you ever had times when you just feel that what you are doing, or going to do is just right? Even if people are trying to tell you otherwise you just go with the flow and it all works out for you? Well I decided that after years of experimenting with all sorts of different types of lifestyle eating plans and all the information I had gleaned from years of research I would go with how my body felt, which was not necessarily in line with current food and dietary guidelines.
I know what is right for me
I know when I am at my most energetic and healthy, when I have a clear mind and skin and when I am up at the crack of dawn wanting to get on with my day, enthused and motivated. All this happens when the food that I eat is not heavily processed and is in as natural a state as possible. I stick to fairly low carbohydrate foods mostly avoiding things like bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. You might think this sounds extreme but to me it is just natural eating. I still have wine and chocolate and I still enjoy foods such as sweet treats, bread and cake, I just make them myself with different ingredients than you would find in the same shop bought items.
Too much sugar - the side effects
My body lets me know when all is well by giving me feedback and it can also let me know when I am off track. Too much sugar and I can literally fall asleep standing up and will feel constantly hungry! So I am quite happy with my diet and lifestyle and find it easy to stick to because it is not restrictive and I finetune it by listening to the feedback from my body on how I feel, my mood and how my body is working. However, I am always on the look out for new information or studies to help me gain more knowledge - there will never be a point in life where I can't learn more, or even change my mind.
The scandalous lack of science behind many food recommendations
I was very interested therefore to read the book 'Spoon-fed' by Tim Spector. Tim is Professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College London and honorary consultant physician at Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals. He is also an expert in personalised medicine and the gut microbiome and in 1993 he founded the UK Twins Registry of 12,000 twins, which is one of the richest collections of genotypic and phenotypic information on twins worldwide. He has written three previous books, Your Genes Unzipped (how your genetic inheritance shapes your life 2003), Identically Different (why you can change your genes 2012) and The Diet Myth (2015).
In Spoon-fed Tim delves deeper into well known food and diet recommendations and discovers a real lack of solid science to back them up. He talks about why different eating plans work for different people, very much emphasising the concept of personal medicine which seems to sort of back up my personal theory that a particular diet and lifestyle that works for me may not be suitable for someone else. Although I had absolutely no idea why this would be this book goes some way to explaining the reasons as well as showing how the foods I eat have an impact on my microbiome (gut bacteria), my mood and my immune system.
Tim Spector's PREDICT Study
As part of his PREDICT study (the largest nutritional science study of its kind anywhere in the world) Tim found that 99% of us do not conform to some artificial average in response to the foods that we eat, therefore as far as I can see diet and nutrition guidelines are probably completely meaningless to most of us!
Tim Spector Questions the Advice
What is really nice to read is Tim questioning the mostly outdated advice that continues to swirl around us and in particular his comments that a lot of what we do is rooted in our childhood and what we were told. For instance when I grew up in Yorkshire there were a lot of old wives' tales. My grandmother used to tell me that I should never wash my hair or have a bath when I was having a period as it would make me ill, that sitting on cold walls would give me piles and the famous 'eating the crusts on your toast will make your hair curly'. Even as a teenager I was suspicious of her advice because she could not back it up with any facts or science and I am pleased to report that I spent my teenage years washing my hair and bathing at inappropriate times, sitting on cold walls and eating my toast crusts and did not get ill from said hair washing and bathing, never fell victim to piles and despite eating many bread crusts my hair remained as straight as a poker. But the fact that I can remember this and a lot of other advice in relation to lifestyle and food shows just how easy it is to spend your life abiding by a set of rules that you were given as a child without even really knowing why.
If anything I think this type of advice in my early years set me up to question everything I was ever told about health, diet and lifestyle and encouraged me to do my own research and make my own decisions based on my own particular circumstances.
Tim Spector take on the Food Myths
In his book, Tim takes on a lot of 'myths' about food, you may have heard many of them before such as:
Calories accurately measure how fattening a food is
Saturated fat is a major cause of heart disease
Taking vitamin supplements improves our health and prevents disease
Sugar-free food and drinks are a safe way to lose weight
Food labelling helps us make healthier choices
All meat is bad for us
We all need to reduce our salt intake
Most of us have a food allergy
Gluten is dangerous
All processed food is bad for us
Pregnancy nutritional advice is reliable or evidence based
Drinking alcohol is always bad for you
We need to drink eight glasses of water a day
and my favourite, 'Doctors always know best'
Spoon Fed by Tim Spector - Review
The book lays out the current science and facts in an easy to read and understandable way. I would love to have a more detailed conversation with Tim though on his conclusion that you don't need vitamin supplements if you eat a good and varied diet.
Whilst I would have agreed with this about 50 years ago, the soil in this country has been devastated by intense farming, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides over the years and now does not contain anywhere near as much of the vital vitamins, minerals and trace elements that we need. One vitamin in particular is magnesium which is necessary for the proper functioning of some 700 - 800 enzyme systems in the body and a lack of magnesium has been implicated in a host of health conditions. Personally I reduced my blood pressure hugely by increasing my salt intake and supplementing with ionic magnesium, but again this may just be something that works for me and my body which is why I am so interested in the concept of personalised medicine.
Tim also touches on intermittent fasting and skipping meals both of which I have experimented with, and it is nice to read about some of the positive benefits associated with this such as challenging the body's metabolism.
Stop the stress and live the life!
The trouble with most 'diets' is that they are restrictive to such a degree that people find them difficult to follow and tend to end up bingeing on the very foods they are supposed to be avoiding. I just found alternative ways of making the foods that I normally bought and which were highly processed and full of additives from healthy ingredients. I don't feel deprived of anything because if there is something I really fancy I just find a way of making it in a healthier format. Of course I have takeaways now and again or eat food that does not fall within my normal dietary guidelines but the majority of the time I find it easy to stick to what I believe is a healthy diet for my body with the added bonus that I feel great as well.
The last thing you want is a lifestyle that is so controlled or extreme that it stresses you out, or you panic if you eat something that you think you are not supposed to. That's not living! You need to find a way of eating that is healthy and works for you.
Spoon Fed by Tim Spector is different
Spoon-fed is different in that it does not try and tell you what you should or shouldn't eat. It lists the common food 'mantras' and then gives you the information and facts so that you can make an informed decision for yourself. At the end of the book there is a chapter called 'Conclusion: How to Eat', which I won't spoil for you, along with a list of twelve general points relating to food and eating that are easy to remember or stick up in your kitchen.
I thoroughly recommend that you read Spoon-fed. I think you will find that it will free you up to make more informed decisions about what is best for you and your body and you will actually get to learn some real facts about many of the stale pieces of advice on food and nutrition that are out there.
As Tim says in the book, there is no 'one size fits all' solution and I find this hugely refreshing as it gives me the confidence to take my own health in to my own hands and not feel worried or guilty that I am not following a lot of the nutritional advice that is circulating. We all have control over our food, what we buy and what we eat and therefore over our mood, our immune system, our weight and much more. I don't think that being as healthy as we personally can be given our own individual circumstances should be hard. It should be something we can enjoy and get involved in and actually celebrate when we find something that works for us and our body.
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