Health on a plate

Dr Nick Kats checking out the fish, fruit and vegetables on offer at Ernie's shop, Sea Road.

Dr Nick Kats checking out the fish, fruit and vegetables on offer at Ernie's shop, Sea Road.

Do you sometimes despair about ever getting your family to eat healthy foods? You make all the effort and stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables yet they invariably turn up their noses at your offerings.

Most of us fall into the trap of preaching about what’s right but not leading by example. We nag our children about eating their greens yet we avoid broccoli like the plague ourselves and think carrots are only for rabbits.

The messages we give our children about food are as important as the nutrients in it, say health experts. The seeds of lifestyle illnesses are planted in childhood. The eating patterns formed then tend to remain with many of us through life. Children who grow up eating high-fat and sugary foods with little or no fruit or vegetables may find it difficult to alter their eating habits in later years.

Research highlights two vital facts in relation to children’s food. The first is the extent to which bad eating habits in childhood can create serious health hazards in later life. The second is the stark fact that a great many Irish children have a daily diet that does not meet their needs - this is true of all social classes. The immediate effect of a poor quality diet is not only a lack of energy but reduced concentration and an inability to remain alert at school.

Food education

Dr Nick Kats, a US trained doctor who specialises in natural medicine and is based in Galway, believes food education should be mandatory in schools and colleges. It would give teenagers and young adults an opportunity to understand how to eat well for the rest of their lives, he says. It might also make them think twice about eating “junk” food, he believes.

“Good food is, by definition, life eating life. Junk food, is life eating junk. Each path has expected consequences. Junk food is highly processed food and is the cheapest possible food consistent with reproducible taste and texture. Health is not a priority. The priority is selling food. The junk food addict is great for business.

“Sweetness is addictive and addictive substances are by nature deficient. Sugars and refined carbohydrates have little or no minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids or fibre. Highly processed oils are stripped of vitamins and are in toxic forms which require more nutrients to deal with these toxins. Regular salt, stripped of minerals, is addictive.

“I think there is a pattern of addictive substances being either devoid of nutrients or being to some extent toxic which requires more nutrients. In both cases we create a deficiency. It seems to me that creating a deficiency is a characteristic of addiction.”

Dr Kats claims many fast foods are severely deficient. “But they are tasty/appealing. Emotional pathology is part of the problem. A person who feels good about himself and life in general, tends to eat well. The same person, when chronically depressed, angry, etc, tends to let things slide, and tends to make the choices he knows he should not be doing. He may shift to quick processed foods and fast foods. This of course will aggravate his sense of wellbeing. People seeking ‘comfort food’ don’t reach out for apples and oranges.”

Junk food

He claims children who eat a lot of junk food are at high risk of obesity, diabetes and attention deficit disorder with heart disease and cancer “much more likely” in time.

“When I see children with ADD the first thing I want to know is, what do they eat? Typically the problem may be high glycemic index carbohydrates, meaning sugars and highly processed wheat products like most boxed cereals and white bread. Another aspect of the ADD diet connection is a deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFAs ). Both problems are addressed by a whole food diet which will have carbohydrates low in the glycemic index and which will have adequate amounts of EFAs.”

Any specific food can be great, mediocre, or outright toxic, eg, carcinogenic, he outlines. The quality of a particular food depends on how it was grown/raised and processed. Understanding this gives us the knowledge to make the right or wrong choices.

“Wholefoods are good. This means whole fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts. It also means products using these wholefoods without destroying their goodness. Meat and fish when these creatures move freely and feed themselves. Dairy products and eggs from free range animals. Whole grains, not polished. (Wholegrain rice is abundant in minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and fibre while polished rice is severely deficient in these. ) Nuts, seeds and vegetable oils properly extracted and treated carefully, not the same oils extracted using high power industrial methods.

“Be careful with processed foods. I’m not saying to cut it out but we need to understand food. We need to understand in practical terms that all foods are anywhere from wholesome to moderately processed to ultra processed. When processing is needed, try to do it yourself. This way you know what processing was done. Processed food can lead to all sorts of health problems. This is well documented. Witness America where food industrialisation is more extreme than anywhere else on the planet and where the problem associated with eating processed foods is also more extreme than anywhere else. Americans are experiencing an epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.”

Absolute freshness

Rather than buying prepackaged fruit yogurt or sweetened yogurt, chop and add the fruit yourself or put in a spoonful of jam or add whole sugar, honey, etc, recommends Dr Kats. ‘In other words you do the adding, not the industry.”

If you make your own bread he suggests buying a grain grinder and grinding whole grains. “This guarantees quality and absolute freshness. The essential fatty acids in freshly ground flour are intact. In aged whole flour these same fats can go off, turning into toxic forms. White flour has no EFAs and has almost no minerals, vitamins and fibre. Supermarkets do not refrigerate their flours. There are no labels saying when the flour was ground only telling you the shelf life.

“If you make jam, you control how much sugar is going in and which sugars. You can use whole sugar - meaning dried sugar cane juice - or honey. An alternative to jam is to freeze the berries with little or no sugar. Thawed later, these are delicious and make great jam. This works well with blackberries and raspberries.

“When cooking, try to cook as little as possible. Don’t boil vegetables into limpness or partial dissolution. When getting olive oil buy only extra virgin. Absolutely stay away from margarine.”

He advises people to make their own salad dressings as he claims commercial ones can have a lot of additives.

Switch to whole sea salt too. “These should be sticky and have colour; if dry and white they have been processed and washed with loss of minerals. Use whole sugar. These are simply pressed sugar cane juice that has been dried out. Whole sea salt and sugar are far more satisfying and one ends up eating less.

“The less additives the better. Look out for nitrates in processed meats. Stay away from artificial sweeteners which deceive the digestive and hormonal system into thinking a shot of carbohydrates is on the way down. Avoid added sugars, often the label will repeat sugar in different forms. Fructose, aka, corn sugar/syrup is the worst of the sugars because you have to eat a lot more fructose than other sugars before triggering the satiety reflex. Added salt is always processed salt. Frozen food is generally not a problem.”


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